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EPA to Study Coral Reefs in U.S. Virgin Islands

Release Date: 02/24/2009
Contact Information: John Senn (212) 637-3667 (office) or (908) 420-8957 (cell), senn.john@epa.gov or Jim Casey (340) 714-2333, casey.jim@epa.gov

(St. Thomas, V.I.) For nearly three weeks, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will study coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea around the U.S. Virgin Islands. Starting today, EPA’s ocean survey vessel, the OSV BOLD, will conduct a series of scientific observations to help protect and improve the environment in the waters around St. Thomas and St. John. The ship will also be open to the public when it docks in St. Thomas on March 5.

“The coral reefs off the U.S. Virgin Islands are some of the most ecologically-significant in the world, so protecting their health is a priority for EPA,” said EPA Acting Regional Administrator George Pavlou. “The state-of-the-art OSV BOLD represents EPA’s commitment to scientific research at the highest level and allows our scientists to collect valuable data that supports the conservation efforts of our partners in the region.”

EPA scientists and divers will observe and analyze coral reefs at some 60 locations near St. Thomas and St. John to create a robust and quantified record of existing coral conditions; a similar study took place last year near St. Croix. Data from the studies will be used to develop water quality standards under the Clean Water Act and to enhance the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Natural Resources’ (DPNR) coral reef monitoring. The study contributes to EPA’s ongoing effort to understand and quantify the benefits ecosystems provide, known as ecosystem services.

EPA scientists will be joined by researchers from DPNR, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and The Nature Conservancy throughout the 19-day voyage.

EPA and DPNR scientists will also document the presence of crabs, lobsters, sea urchins and conchs, and monitor water quality for potentially harmful nutrients.

On March 5, the OSV BOLD will be open the public and the press from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Crown Bay Marina in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.

The 224-foot-long, 43-foot-wide OSV BOLD is equipped with state-of-the-art diving, sampling, mapping, and analysis equipment that scientists use in a variety of ocean monitoring activities. The ship is a converted U.S. Navy T-AGOS class vessel. It can house up to 18 scientists, 19 crew members and remain at sea for weeks as they collect water quality and sediment samples, fish and other organisms. EPA divers working off the OSV BOLD monitor coral reefs, and other sensitive habitats for impacts from pollution. The OSV BOLD operates in the waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.

Coral reefs are vital to ecosystems because they provide habitat for fish and invertebrates, and support local fisheries and tourism. The physical presence of coral structure protects shorelines from erosion by waves and currents. In recent years, the majority of coral reefs around the U.S. Virgin Islands have suffered severe degradation from numerous environmental stresses, including increased sea surface temperature, contaminants from land-based sources, nutrient and sediment pollution, and vessel discharges.

Before its research in the Virgin Islands, the OSV BOLD spent nearly two weeks in the waters near Puerto Rico where EPA scientists performed a series of water quality tests and mapping exercises.

EPA scientists will detail their research and experiences living at sea on EPA’s blog at http://blog.epa.gov/blog/. For more information on the OSV BOLD, visit: http://www.epa.gov/bold. For more on EPA’s work in the U.S. Virgin Islands, go to http://www.epa.gov/region02/cepd/vilink.htm. For information on EPA’s Ecosystem Services Research Program, go to http://epa.gov/ord/esrp/.

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