Our beautiful coral reefs and marine ecology are fragile! Friends programs support coral related research, create safeguards like anchorless moorings, teach our youth to be stewards of the future, and inform Park visitors what steps to take to avoid damaging coral.
CORAL AND MANGROVES
The coral reefs within Virgin Islands National Park and Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument are monitored by biologists for deterioration due to bleaching, diseases, sedimentation, overfishing, and damage from boats. Additionally, the impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria (September 2017) are being studied.
Corals do not typically thrive in mangrove environments. However, corals are growing on and near the prop roots of red mangrove trees in Hurricane Hole, an area within the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument. A star coral study funded by Friends and published by Dr. Caroline Rogers in Unique Coral Community in the Mangroves of Hurricane Hole, St. John, US Virgin Islands (August 2017) summarizes knowledge of the remarkable biodiversity of Hurricane Hole. Over 30 scleractinian coral species, about the same number as documented to date from nearby coral reefs, grow here. No other mangrove ecosystems in the Caribbean are known to have so many coral species.
Following the 2017 hurricanes, Dr. Rogers evaluated the impact in Immediate Effects of Hurricanes on a Diverse Coral/Mangrove Ecosystem in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Potential for Recovery (August 2019) She finds that damage was particularly severe in this unique mangrove/coral ecosystem but although many corals were overturned or buried in rubble, colonies of most of the species, including four that are listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, survived.
In a December 2019 presentation titled Hurricanes and Mangroves: Structural Impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria on the Unique Mangrove Resources of St. John,* Dr. Ken W. Krauss of the U.S. Geological Survey, Wetland and Aquatic Research Center in Lafayette, LA, with Dr. Caroline S. Rogers and Andrew S. From summarized the current state of the mangroves:
“While mangroves are considered stress-adapted ecosystems, there is a limit of that adaptability made more difficult by human-impacts to the landscape, limited regeneration potential in some environments, genetic bottlenecks, and lack of seed/propagule sources to promote expedient recovery.
"That said, how the mangroves on St. John appeared before the hurricanes already represented recovery to that stage from past hurricanes. Legacies of past impact are part of being a disturbance-adapted ecosystem.”
*Note the additional presenter notes in the upper left hand corner of the presentation.
CORAL REEF PROTECTION: Lionfish and Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease
Friends of Virgin Islands National Park partners with the Caribbean Oceanic Restoration and Education Foundation (C.O.R.E.) to help train first responders to spot, report and kill invasive lionfish in Virgin Islands National Park, and to assess and respond to Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD).
To protect coral reef and sea grass beds within the Park, the Friends worked with the National Park Service to install over 300 moorings. Friends continues to contribute to the maintenance of the mooring system. Mooring locations can be found on this interactive boater awareness map.
Protect Our Reefs
Avoid standing on or otherwise touching any coral or creature underwater, wear sun protective clothing and reef-safe sunscreen, and properly use moorings and access channels for beach entry.
Have fun and enjoy our beautiful under-water world safely:
-- Don't touch anything on the bottom, especially orange or other brightly colored objects. There are many organisms on the reef that can cause a painful sting. Corals are also fragile creatures and can be significantly harmed if handled.
-- Avoid snorkeling in shallow water of the reef for your own safety. A large wake could throw you onto corals hariming you and damaging the reef.
-- Avoid walking in shallow rocky areas as sea urchins can inflict a nasty sting.
Help us protect our coral reefs! In 2020 sunscreen that has ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate will be banned in the USVI because it is believed to contribute to coral bleaching and is harmful to marine life. When coral bleaches, it is not dead, but under significant stress and subject to increased mortality levels.
Reef safe sunscreen has a titanium oxide or zinc oxide base. Stop by the Friends stores at the NPS Visitor Center or Mongoose Junction to purchase the good stuff!
Star Coral Study
Photos by Dr. Caroline Rogers