Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), on Coral Planulae and Cultured Primary Cells and Its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands

Managing exposure of corals to oxybenzone, a common ingredient found in sunscreen lotions, is critical for managing for coral reef resilience. A new study found that coral planulae exposed to oxybenzone became deformed and sessile, and had an increased rate of bleaching which increased with increasing concentrations, affecting coral recruitment and juvenile survival. Because oxybenzone is a photoxicant, high light levels at or near the surface of the water where planulae of broadcasting species spend 2-4 days before settling may place them at higher risk than was seen in this laboratory study. Water samples were also collected in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Hawaii to determine oxybenzone concentrations occurring around swimming beaches. In this study, cell death was seen in seven Indo-Pacific and Caribbean coral species at concentrations similar to the water samples taken. Caribbean species sensitivity to oxybenzone was similar to the model of coral tolerance to other stressors (Gates and Edmunds 1999)—boulder corals and other slow growing species have a higher level of tolerance to stressors. For management, the data from this study can help predict changes to coral reef community structure in places with significant oxybenzone exposure and can be integrated into reef resilience management plans.

Author: Downs, C. A., E. Kramarsky-Winter, R. Segal, J. Fauth, S. Knutson, O. Bronstein, F.R. Ciner, R. Jeger, Y. Lichtenfeld, C.M. Woodley, P. Pennington, K. Cadenas, A. Kushmaro, and Y. Loya
Year: 2015
View Full Article

Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. doi: 10.1007/s00244-015-0227-7

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

Environmental and Biotic Correlates to Lionfish Invasion Success in Bahamian Coral Reefs

Lionfish (Pterois volitans) from the Indo-Pacific have recently invaded the Caribbean and southeastern coast of North America. This study looked at lionfish abundances and the physical and environmental characteristics of the invasion process of reefs on the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas. Lionfish abundance was significantly higher at sheltered sites compared to wave-exposed environments. This finding suggests that high-energy environments can provide native fish populations with natural refuges to lionfish invasions. It was further found that the abundance of medium prey fish and large native predators (large native groupers) did not negatively affect abundance of lionfish, however there was a relatively low biomass of large grouper on the island. The authors recommend that managers continue to protect and restore lionfish predators in the Caribbean.

Author: Anton, A., M.S. Simpson, and I. Vu
Year: 2014
View Full Article

PLoS ONE 9(9): e106229. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0106229

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

It’s not loo late for coral reefs

In a new article published today in the world’s leading academic journal, Science, Mark Spalding, Senior Marine Scientist for The Nature Conservancy looks at the broad issues surrounding the current situation of coral reefs and highlights points of hope.

“There is growing concern around coral reefs,” said Spalding. “For decades they have had to survive a growing array of human threats and now climate change has added to this. It’s the new threat on the block and it’s a deep worry, but it is too early to proclaim the end of reefs.”

Many corals are showing some degree of adaptive capacity to both warming and to acidification, more than some scientists were expecting. Spalding notes that such adaptive capacity, alongside the natural resilience of reefs can enable them to recover even from quite severe perturbations. For example, most reefs in the British Indian Ocean Territory and the Seychelles, which lost virturally all their coral in 1998 due to warm-water induced coral “bleaching”, showed good recovery within a decade. Read more.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

U.S. Virgin Islands – MPA Management

How do we use our Marine Space? Mapping Human Uses of the East End Marine Park

St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

The Challenge
The St. Croix East End Marine Park (STXEEMP) is the U.S. Virgin Islands’ first and largest marine protected area. Its waters are cherished for a variety of commercial and recreational uses by fishers, recreational boaters, charters, hotels, and marinas. The Park also contains extensive mangroves, seagrass beds, coral reefs, sea turtles, beaches, and fish species, which provide invaluable ecosystem benefits. While the extent and health of the biological resources are well understood, human use and social dimensions of the Park are not well researched or documented.

A central objective of marine spatial planning (MSP) is the identification and reduction of conflicts among human uses, and between human uses and the environment. In order to achieve this objective, it is necessary to have accurate and thorough spatial data representing both important and sensitive benthic habitats as well as the location, temporal distribution, and intensity of human activities. Unlike datasets related to physical and biological information, coastal human use information is less common in geographic information systems (GIS). However, collecting and putting this information into GIS allows for it to be visualized and analyzed for the purpose of MSP and management. This project filled those human activity data gaps through a coastal use mapping project.

Participants at the coastal mapping project for the St. Croix East End Marine Park represented a number of organizations including national and local government agencies, fishers, hoteliers, charter companies, and recreational boaters. © TNC

Participants at the coastal mapping project for the St. Croix East End Marine Park represented a number of organizations including national and local government agencies, fishers, hoteliers, charter companies, and recreational boaters. © TNC

With support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Conservation Program (NOAA CRCP), The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural resources (USVI DPNR) convened partners and stakeholders to conduct the STXEEMP Coastal Use Mapping Project. Designed to collect information on how a community is using a coastal or marine area, a representative group of stakeholders were invited to provide input on how they use the waters and coastal areas of the Park. In order to ensure accurate representation from users of the STXEEMP, project partners assembled a list of every human activity within the STXEEMP. Key stakeholders from each activity were invited to workshops to represent their knowledge of that activity. This data will help resource managers understand both the range and intensity of key activities.

Workshops were held with stakeholders on St. Croix on April 16 and 17, 2015, to map key uses in the coastal environment, with a particular focus in the St. Croix East End Marine Park. Representatives from different marine sectors (recreation, watersports, marina, charter boating, SCUBA diving, and fishing industries) as well as NGOs and territorial and federal governmental partners met to provide first-hand information on the spatial and temporal distribution of human use activities in nearshore areas of USVI.

Stakeholder Mapping WS

Participant mapping coastal activities using E-Beam™ technology. @ TNC

This information was captured using the method of “Participatory GIS Mapping.” Participatory mapping provides participants a map on which to indicate the location of their activities, while moderators generate representative spatial data files in real time. E-Beam™ technology, an interactive tool that allows users to draw electronically on a map, was used to aid the participatory mapping method. During the workshops, maps of the STXEEMP were projected on the wall in front of the group. Representative stakeholders of each activity (i.e. snorkeling) walked to the front of the room and electronically mapped the location while the group provided input.

This work represents an ongoing effort by TNC, USVI DPNR, NOAA CRCP, and members of the Caribbean Regional Ocean Partnership (CROP) to update human use data throughout the USVI in support of resource managers and regional MSP.

Heat map of cumulative activities shows the most intensely used areas of the STXEEMP.  Red and orange areas indicate heavily used areas of the Park. © Lynnette Roth

Heat map of cumulative activities shows the most intensely used areas of the STXEEMP. Red and orange areas indicate heavily used areas of the Park. © Lynnette Roth

How Successful has it been?
The following human activities and subsequent mapping layers were created during the STXEEMP Human Use Mapping Workshop in April 2015:

  • Boat Ramps and Slips
  • Marinas
  • Moorings
  • Recreational and Commercial Boating
  • Motorized and Non-motorized Personal Watercraft
  • Dive and Snorkeling Sites
  • Marine Restoration
  • Camping Beach Areas
  • Fish and Conch Fishing Area
  • Surfing

Data collected during the mapping workshops has been made available to workshop participants on the CROP Data Portal to the general public and resource managers as maps, GIS mapping layers, and analytical products reflecting the variety and extent of ocean uses. The summary report will be available electronically at Where possible, layers were combined to create a regional file for the entire territory of the USVI.

Map of motorized and non-motorized personal watercraft activity (i.e. kayaking) in the STXEEMP.  © Lynnette Roth

Map of motorized and non-motorized personal watercraft activity (i.e. kayaking) in the STXEEMP. © Lynnette Roth

These data are available to local and regional managers for the purposes of marine spatial planning, management, conflict reduction amongst user groups, and resource protection.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
In order to conduct a participatory mapping process, several key factors come into play including:

  • Participatory mapping depends on human resources and knowledgeable stakeholders must attend workshops and share their valuable information on human activities. Effort should be put towards recruitment of these stakeholders.
  • Technical resources including personnel that can manipulate GIS spatial files is critical.
  • Base maps of existing data are critical to getting accurate results.
  • E-Beam™ technology facilitates the collection of real time data in a participatory manner.

Funding Summary
This project was conducted by The Nature Conservancy with support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Conservation Program (NOAA CRCP) through Cooperative Agreement #NA13NOS4820145. Through this Partnership, TNC and NOAA work on site level management and conservation strategies for the STXEEMP. The STXEEMP management and staff supported the project by identifying stakeholders, creating outreach materials and advertising the event.

Lead Organizations
The Nature Conservancy

USVI Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Coastal Zone Management, East End Marine Park
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral Reef Conservation Program

Reef Connect
Caribbean Regional Ocean Partnership Portal

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

Minimizing the Short-Term Impacts of Marine Reserves on Fisheries While Meeting Long-Term Goals for Recovery

No-take marine reserves are often proposed as management tools to recover small-scale fisheries, which, if enforced, can improve mid to long-term harvests and profits. However, the short-term losses may prevent fishers from supporting and implementing no-take reserves, resulting in a loss of recovery of fisheries. Trade-offs between short-term loss in profits and long-term benefits to small-scale fisheries were quantified, using a multispecies model of coral reef fisheries for one case study. Impacts of reserves at different time scales depend on the social and management context, but the key to gaining support for marine reserves is to quantify the trade-offs at different time scales for stakeholders and policy makers. Policies for implementing marine reserves that are flexible can offer options with less short-term losses for fisheries that can be more appealing to fishermen, while still reaping the long-term recovery benefits.

Author: Brown, C.J., S. Abdullah, and P.J. Mumby
Year: 2014
View Full Article

Conservation Letters 8(3): 180-189

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

U.S. Virgin Islands – Fisheries Management

Reef Responsible Sustainable Seafood Initiative – A Market-Driven Approach to a Sustainable Seafood Industry in the U.S. Virgin Islands

St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

The Challenge
Together, overfishing and destructive fishing practices, are one of the top three stressors to coral reefs throughout the Caribbean, and have contributed to dramatic declines in coral abundance, distribution and health.  The overharvest of “pot fish” (a term that locally refers to a number of fish species – many of which are herbivorous coral reef inhabitants), and the die-off of the herbivorous long-spined sea urchin (Diadema antillarum) have caused coral reefs in the Caribbean to shift to algal-dominated reefs. The introduction of the invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish, a fish without natural predators in the region, has also increased stress on reefs in the region. These fish may over-populate local reefs, removing important coral reef fish species, and further compromise the ability for coral reefs to remain resilient.

The Reef Responsible Sustainable Seafood Initiative’s mission is to establish and support a sustainable seafood industry in the US Virgin Islands. © TNC

Actions Taken
In an effort to reduce the stress on coral reefs from overfishing and harmful fishing practices, the Reef Responsible Sustainable Seafood Initiative was developed with the goal to encourage alternatives for consumption to important coral reef fishes.

The Initiative is comprised of the following four main components:

  1. Development and maintenance of a list of sustainably harvested food fishes and invertebrates of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).
  2. Education and engagement of commercial fishers on fisheries regulations and the importance of healthy reefs to fisheries.
  3. The Reef Responsible Restaurant Certification to empower restaurants to support local commercial fishers through purchasing and serving sustainably harvested seafood.
  4. The Reef Responsible Awareness Campaign to help consumers make informed decisions about the seafood purchase.

Good Choice, Go Slow, and Don’t Eat Seafood List for the U.S. Virgin Islands
The first step for the Initiative was to form an advisory group to guide and develop activities. Fisheries staff from territorial (USVI Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Division of Fish and Wildlife—DPNR) and federal regulatory agencies (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—NOAA) in the region, were recruited as advisory group members. Representatives from local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the University of the Virgin Islands working on fisheries issues were also selected. The group then worked to compile and agree on a list of sustainably harvested food fishes and invertebrates for the US Virgin Islands. The resulting Good Choice, Go Slow, and Don’t Eat Seafood List for the US Virgin Islands was developed based on current USVI local and US federal fisheries regulations. The list provides information on commercially important fish and invertebrate species caught in local U.S. Virgin Islands and U.S. federal waters and uses the following three easy to understand categories to inform decisions about the seafood purchase:

After the list was developed work began to engage and educate fishers, restaurant owners and consumers on sustainable seafood options.

Education and Engagement of Commercial Fishers
In partnership with local and federal fisheries management agencies DPNR and NOAA fisheries, reef responsible training information has been integrated in to the annual process for fishing and vessel registration. Trainings are given as part of the registration process each year and are designed to increase participants’ understanding of fisheries regulations including seasonal closures, gear restrictions, and size limits. Trainings also deliver information on how catching seafood according to regulations can support the future of the USVI commercial fishery. Fishers are also connected to local restaurants that express interest in purchasing locally harvested sustainable seafood. As a result of this partnership a new program activity is underway to work with the Fisheries Advisory Council and the local and federal fisheries agencies to develop criteria for certification of sustainable seafood fishers.

Sustainable Seafood 11 Restaurant Owners and Caterers Attend Workshop

Restaurant, owners, chefs and wait staff undergo comprehensive training to become Reef Responsible Certified. © TNC

Reef Responsible Restaurant Certification
The Reef Responsible Restaurant Certification was developed to empower restaurants to support local commercial fishers through purchasing and serving sustainably harvested seafood. To become a certified Reef Responsible Certified Restaurant, owners, chefs and wait staff undergo comprehensive training. The trainings are designed to increase participant understanding of how purchasing, serving and consuming locally harvested seafood can positively influence the future of the USVI commercial fishery and coral reefs. Participants are provided with outreach materials with information based on the best available science and are briefed on the negative impacts from the overharvest of herbivorous fishes, which play an important role to remove algae from reefs and provide space for corals to thrive. They also learn about seasonal closures and receive calendars with closure and catch size information. Participants are also introduced to the Good Choice, Go Slow, and Don’t Eat seafood list. Additionally, cooking demonstrations are provided on how to prepare “good choice” fish like invasive lionfish.

Sustainable Seafood Chef Mike preparing

Chef Mike from Savant prepares a Reef Responsible dish. © TNC

The Reef Responsible Restaurant Certification program is voluntary and after the training participating restaurants must commit: 1) to support local fishers, 2) to purchase and serve fish that adhere to size limits and seasonal closure rules, 3) not to purchase or serve fish on the “Don’t Eat” portion of the Good Choice, Go Slow, and Don’t Eat Seafood List for the USVI and 4) to spread awareness of Reef Responsible information through restaurant staff and patrons. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) staff and partners visit the restaurants throughout the year to check menus and specials making sure that the fish being served meets the Reef Responsible guidance listed above.

Restaurants are required to have participation at the training of staff members responsible for purchasing seafood. They are also encouraged to have wait staff attend trainings so they better understand and communicate Reef Responsible seafood options with restaurant patrons. If wait staff of an interested restaurant cannot attend the training it is requested that certified restaurant owners provide training information to staff.

Hostess Sarah with the Reef Responsible plaque at restaurant Savant, a certified Reef Responsible Restaurant on St. Croix. © TNC

Once the training is completed, the restaurant is certified as a Reef Responsible Restaurant, receives a plaque to showcase in the restaurant and is celebrated for their commitment through free advertising supported by TNC program staff. Newspaper, radio, special event and social media coverage is used to promote certified restaurants. Connections have also been made with the department of tourism to list certified restaurants on their website. The program has formed a successful partnership with the Taste of St. Croix, a premier food and wine event on the island. Reef Responsible Certified Restaurants are acknowledged at the event to further encourage community patronage. At the event the program also has a booth to provide information for interested restaurants on the program and holds lionfish cooking demonstrations. Interested restaurants are then invited to participate in Reef Responsible training workshops. See an example of the workshop invitation here.

The following outreach materials were developed to support the Training and Certification:

  • Good Choice, Go Slow, and Don’t Eat Seafood List for the USVI
  • Seasonal Closures Calendar
  • USVI Fish Fact Cards
  • Reef Responsible Certified Restaurant Plaque

Reef Responsible Awareness Campaign
The Reef Responsible Awareness Campaign was designed to create community support for the Reef Responsible certified restaurants and the overall awareness objectives of the Reef Responsible Sustainable Seafood Initiative. The campaign targets seafood consumers through newspaper articles, advertisements, radio talk shows, social media and events (such as A Taste of St. Croix and St. Croix ReefJam) to share information about the importance of healthy reefs and how purchasing locally, sustainably sourced seafood can help support reef recovery. Through the campaign, we also encourage people to ask questions and learn more about the seafood that they purchase and consume, whether it’s from a restaurant or directly from a commercial fisher.

How Successful has it been?
By engaging multiple stakeholders, promoting reef responsible seafood alternatives (i.e. lionfish), and highlighting the benefits to people and reefs of sustainable seafood, this Initiative has the promise to reduce fishery-related stressors, helping to build the resiliency of USVI coral reefs. The Reef Responsible Restaurant Certification was launched in April 2014 at A Taste of St. Croix where nine initial certified restaurants were announced. Since then an additional 5 restaurants have been certified as Reef Responsible restaurants making the new total 14. One of the originally certified restaurants closed in 2015. To date all certified restaurants have successfully followed through on their Reef Responsible commitments. The 14 certified restaurants are celebrated for their commitment to a sustainable seafood industry for the U.S. Virgin Islands. They have also applauded TNC and the Sustainable Seafood Initiative partners for leading the development and implementation of this program, and are excited to be better connected to local fishers. Training participants have also been helping to encourage other restaurant owners and staff to become certified. The USVI Department of Tourism has expressed interest in the expansion of the Reef Responsible Restaurant Certification to St. Thomas and St. John as well as interests to replicate this program in the British Virgin Islands and in the Bahamas. Based on information gathered in follow up visits to certified restaurants, to date all have successfully followed through on their Reef Responsible commitments.

Current Certified Restaurants include: Savant, Dashi, Café Christine, Twin City Coffee House, The Mermaid, Empress Fresh Foods, eat @ cane bay, Rhythms at Rainbow, Above the Cliff, Ital In Paradise, Zion Modern Kitchen, Shoreline at Chenay, La Riene Chicken Shack, and Kendrick’s at Buccaneer.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
The Reef Responsible Sustainable Seafood Initiative has received support from a diverse group of stakeholders including, fishers, private sector restaurants, fisheries managers and NGOs. This is likely a result of the transparent and inclusive processes for development and implementation of Initiative activities.

Important lessons include:

  • When developing seafood lists, seasonal closure calendars, and other outreach materials it is critical to use the best available science and current local fisheries rules and regulations.
  • Develop professional outreach materials. Restaurants are profit- and consumer- driven and will appreciate polished materials. If possible solicit communications expertise for the development of materials and media products. This will help ensure they join the program.
  • Support a group of restaurants certifying at the same time. This creates a peer group of restaurants and helps increase excitement and support for certification.
  • The support and buy-in of local fishers to the Good Choice, Go Slow, and Don’t Eat Seafood List was very important. If the fishers and fisheries council had not supported the list we would not have proceeded with the certification effort. Their support for the list gave it and the Reef Responsible activities increased credibility.
  • Use a transparent process to develop sustainable seafood lists. Share information with all stakeholders on how the list was developed.
  • Use the best available science and regulations to develop the list and training materials.
  • Be flexible and make sure that the times of trainings or meetings are convenient for your target audience. For example the restaurant workers often cannot meet on evenings or weekends. Fishers as well cannot often attend meetings during normal business hours.
  • Plan for capacity to support communications for certified restaurants. Do not underestimate the time or expertise it takes to support this aspect of the activities.
  • The use of YouTube videos to share how to breakdown and prepare lionfish were very useful and expanded the reach and accessibility of trainings. These videos could be used and shared by participants outside of official trainings.

Funding Summary
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral Reef Conservation Program

Lead Organizations
The Nature Conservancy
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration USVI Fisheries Liaison

The Reef Responsible Program is a collaborative effort among:

The Nature Conservancy US Virgin Islands
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coral Reef Conservation Program
NOAA Fisheries
USVI Division of Fish and Wildlife
The Marine Education and Outreach USVI Style’s Initiative – Don’t Stop Talking Fish Project
Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service
St. Croix Reef Jam

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

We’re excited to announce a new coral reef fisheries module!

Coral reef fishery managers have spoken up, and we heard you! TNC’s Global Fisheries and Reef Resilience have teamed up to bring you the latest coral reef fisheries science and management strategies.

The new Coral Reef Fisheries Module was created through generous funding from partners including WildAid and covers key topics including coral reef fisheries stock assessment methods, tools for managing fisheries, and surveillance and enforcement systems.

You will also find coral reef fisheries case studies describing management challenges and actions taken and helpful summaries on the importance of reef fisheries and what you can do to boost their resilience. Now DIVE IN to explore!

If you are interested in adding a section to the new reef fisheries module, or have comments, questions, or suggestions about Reef Resilience, visit or reach out to the Reef Resilience Team.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

U.S. Virgin Islands – Disturbance Response

The U.S. Virgin Islands BleachWatch Program

U.S. Virgin Islands

Bleaching Coral. Photo © TNC

Bleaching Coral. Photo © TNC

The Challenge
In 2005, coral reefs throughout the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean were severely impacted by a mass coral bleaching event triggered by prolonged exposure to above normal water temperatures. The bleaching observed in 2005 caused some direct mortality and was also followed by an increased incidence of disease outbreaks. Multiple studies reported this pathway of bleaching followed by increased incidence of disease, with corals varying in degree of mortality resulting from both stresses. This event caused resource managers to realize a formal plan was needed to better respond to coral bleaching events and communicate with stakeholders.

Actions Taken
The U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) BleachWatch Program was developed to assess and monitor coral bleaching primarily from warm water events and document the distribution, severity and impacts of bleaching to reefs and reef communities. The program was developed by adopting and modifying strategies from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Florida’s successful BleachWatch programs.

BleachWatch BCD Tag

BleachWatch BCD Tag. Photo © TNC

Program Development
To guide the development of bleaching response efforts a steering committee was formed. The committee was composed of reef experts from local and federal government resource agencies, non-profit organizations, and academia. The Bleachwatch Program is one of five main components of the US Virgin Islands Reef Resilience Plan (VIRRP), a larger planning effort to conserve coral reefs in the USVI and promote coral reef resilience.

The VI Reef Resilience Plan and steering committee were necessary to generate and document agreed upon protocols between key stakeholders for the Bleachwatch Program. The Plan provides details on the purpose, response activities and triggers, monitoring protocols and community volunteer training. See further details of the plan below:

Assessment and Monitoring
NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch (CRW) Program, provides current reef environmental conditions to identify areas at risk for coral bleaching, and is used to prepare and respond to mass bleaching events. The following CRW products are monitored by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in the USVI to provide a early warning system: Alert Areas, Hot Spots (current thermal stress), Degree Heating Week (DHW), Sea Surface Temperature (SST) and Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly (SSTA). These products are available free to researchers and stakeholders to understand and better manage coral bleaching in the region.

USVI Bleachwatch response activities are directly based on advisories and alert levels received from NOAA along with local temperature data. When a Bleachwatch alert is received from CRW by TNC, volunteers are mobilized. They are the first eyes in the water, reporting basic observations such as presence or absence of bleaching. Volunteers are asked to collect data for any areas they visit and also asked to survey specific sites of interest such as coral nursery outplantings and sites assessed with high resilience. If a more severe event takes place, TNC alerts the steering committee and the scientific community. During this time, volunteers might continue to assist with monitoring, but data is more specific and collected at a finer scale to estimate of the percentage of coral reef affected.

Alerts are issued by NOAA only when a station experiences a change in thermal stress level. Table 1 presents a summary of the advisories/alert levels from NOAA monitored by TNC, definitions of the each levels and the response of the USVI Bleachwatch program to each advisory.

BleachWatch Table 1

Community Volunteer Training
Individual volunteers from the public are a main component of the USVI Bleachwatch Program and contribute to the assessment of coral bleaching. BleachWatch assessment methods are taught through in-person training sessions (Since 2013, 4 volunteer trainings have been conducted in St. Croix and St. Thomas). Training sessions are 1 hour in length and focus on the identification of corals reef, fishes, and other creatures. Differences between bleaching, disease and mortality are discussed. Each session also includes training on survey methods, materials, methodology and guidelines for submitting data. A USVI Bleachwatch website was developed to communicate with volunteers and the public. Volunteers have the option of submitting reports through an online datasheet, by email or mail.

USVI Bleachwatch Volunteer Survey Methodology
Conduct a 15 minute roving snorkel or dive pausing each 3 minutes to document a “survey station”. At each survey station:

  • Take a photo or record data for a 1 m2 surface area of the reef
  • Estimate percent coral coverage and percent bleaching of coral
  • Report observations of the absence of bleaching
  • Record other findings such as number and types of herbivorous fishes, number and types of invertebrates and types of diseases
  • Record your findings on the VIRRP BleachWatch Reef Assessment Data Sheet

Materials Needed

  • Diving or snorkeling equipment
  • Underwater clipboard or slate
  • Underwater datasheet and pencils
  • Coral Watch Bleaching Cards
  • Underwater digital camera or video camera – if available (optional)

How Successful Has it Been?
Since the launch of the USVI BleachWatch Program over 35 individuals on St. Croix and St. Thomas have been trained to identify and quantify the severity of bleaching. In 2014 the program protocols were tested for the first time. A Bleachwatch alert was sent out and volunteers were successfully mobilized to survey sites for bleaching. Over 30 reports were received and, fortunately, no bleaching was observed. The secondary response components of the program have been fully tested, as there has not been significant bleaching of corals in the territory since 2005.

The USVI Bleachwatch Program has resulted in increased support and capacity for resource managers to identify and respond to bleaching events. Volunteers are functioning as an early warning system for bleaching events. Managers and the scientific community have a clear plan for assessment and response to bleaching events to inform the proactive management of coral reefs during severe bleaching events.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
The most important lesson learned is to be mindful that not all volunteers will collect data uniformly. In some instances volunteers are comfortable only sharing whether or not bleaching was observed, which is also important information. It is important to be mindful of volunteers’ time and welcome any level of information that they are willing to share.

Here are some additional recommendations to consider when developing a program:

  • Have a point person in place to keep program organized and lead communication with steering committee members and volunteers. During the development of the program it is critical to determine who can serve as point of contact for the program, this requires staff time for coordination. Consider where point of contact responsibilities can be integrated into existing or complementary efforts for example coral reef monitoring efforts.
  • Clearly defining benefits, incentives, and creating a feedback loop to the volunteers is important.
  • Be flexible and realistic about of the quality of data you hope to receive and the format in which you will receive it from the volunteers – some will fill out the entire form, some will just send an email.
  • Provide other alternatives and options for reporting such as a mapping tool to make it easier for people to report the event.
  • Group volunteer time effort – consider expanding the topics included in a training to include other issues affecting coral reef health that volunteers are interested in reporting for example; invasive species, grounding damages.

Funding Summary
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral Reef Conservation Program

Lead Organizations
The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy
The University of the Virgin Islands Center for Marine and Environmental Studies

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

Density-Dependent Effects On Initial Growth Of A Branching Coral Under Restoration

Coral reef restoration is a process by which key habitat-forming species are reestablished in threatened coral ecosystems to help them recover from severe declines. However, alternative possible outcomes may result from out-planting coral fragments individually or in larger aggregations. It has been suggested that out-plants within aggregations might suffer from either negative interactions with neighbors (e.g. competition for space) or may benefit from such interactions (e.g. buffering wave disturbances). Given these possible contrasting outcomes, experiments are required to determine how spatial configuration and density affects the success of out-planted species. This study evaluates whether coral fragments should be out-planted individually or in larger aggregations by experimentally testing how aggregation density influenced initial coral growth over 3 months. The study was conducted on a degraded reef in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, using out-plants of the critically endangered staghorn coral Acropora cervicornis.

Results showed that coral growth declined as a function of aggregation size. In addition, out-plants within larger aggregations had fewer and shorter secondary branches on average. These results indicate horizontal competition for space, suggesting that wide spacing of individuals will maximize the initial growth of out-planted branching corals. Researchers suggest explicit considerations of out-plant spatial arrangement and density in ongoing and future coral reef restoration projects.

Author: Griffin, J. N., E.C. Schrack, K.-A. Lewis, I.B. Baums, N. Soomdat, and B.R. Silliman
Year: 2015
View Abstract
Email for the full article:

Restoration Ecology. doi: 10.1111/rec.12173

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone