This blog is one in a variety of pollution posts designed to provide readers with insight into the work being done by NCCOS in the area of pollution.
In May 2009, I was attending a Coral Reef Ecosystem Integrated Observing System (CREIOS) workshop in San Juan, Puerto Rico. As part of the workshop, we met with representatives from the US Caribbean to discuss the environmental assessment capabilities that NOAA could provide. Folks from the US Virgin Islands were very interested and requested our help to assess the level of chemical contamination, biological impacts, and a survey of the biological resources within the St. Thomas East End Reserve (STEER).
Located in the southeastern corner of St. Thomas, the STEER contains extensive mangroves, seagrass beds and coral reefs. Adjacent to the STEER, however, there is a large active landfill, numerous marinas, various commercial/industrial activities, an EPA Superfund Site, and residential areas served by individual septic systems, all of which may be impacting the STEER through the input of various chemical and bacterial contaminants.
During the workshop, the weather outside was pretty bad; rainy and windy, so we were able to have some good discussions, without the risk of having folks run off to enjoy the sun, sand, and surf. During these discussions, representatives from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) voiced their concern that chemical contaminants were impacting the biological resources within the STEER; elevated levels of chemical contaminants have been found in the adjacent watershed. DPNR concluded that filling the information gap on chemical contaminants and effects, along with an assessment of biological resources (e.g., coral, fish, and conch) present within the STEER was critical to making informed management decisions.
We applied for and received preliminary funding from NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) in 2010, and the full project was funded by CRCP in 2011. This past April, we met with the STEER Core Management Group in St. Thomas, made up of representatives from the various DPNR divisions and from the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) to discuss the approach to characterize the STEER (sample design and analysis). In June 2011, we conducted the field mission with our partners from DPNR (i.e., Divisions of Coastal Zone Management, Fish and Wildlife, and Environmental Protection),
The Nature Conservancy UVI. We collected sediments for chemical contaminant analysis, toxicity testing, and for the analysis of the number and diversity of organisms living within the sediments, a measure of environmental health. We are now working with UVI to start up monthly monitoring for nutrients and sedimentation, which is the amount of sediment entering the STEER at various locations, which can stress the organisms living there, including corals.
The next stage of this project will include an assessment of the biological resources within the STEER, along with and assessment of chemical contaminants in the marine biota inhabiting the STEER, which will be highlighted in future posts.
The work being conducted in the STEER is integral to the overall management strategy being implemented by our partners. The STEER Core Management Group and others are working to assemble various data sets ranging from water quality to socioeconomics to better assess the status of the Reserve and what types of actions may be needed to preserve and enhance this valuable resource. The data being developed from the project is critical to this effort, providing a better understanding not only of the condition (e.g., chemical and biological) of the STEER but also a baseline which can be used to assess improvements that may occur as a result of management actions.