Study shows potential reef trouble spots in V.I.

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The results of an 18-month Reefs at Risk study that focused on where soil erosion could destroy coral reefs in the U.S. Virgin Islands were released Monday as the V.I. Department of Natural Resources and Planning’s Non-point Source Pollution Conference started at the Westin Resort and Villas.

At notably high risk of erosion, the study results showed, are St. John’s Coral Bay, Great Lameshur Bay, Hawksnest Bay and Leinster Bay; St. Thomas’ Perseverance Bay, Fortuna Bay and Botany Bay; and St. Croix’s Buck Island, Turner Hole and North Side.

The Washington, D.C.-based World Resources Institute, a non-profit group that studies environment and development issues, made calculations based on the slope, soil type, land cover, number of roads and average amounts of rainfall in the 53 major watersheds on the territory’s three islands.

The result was a “map of potential trouble spots,” project manager Lauretta Burke said. Sediment endangers coral reefs by blocking light, reducing their ability to grow. Nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from farms and discharge from sewers, and toxic chemicals also can damage reefs, but the institute’s study did not examine those pollution sources.

Compiling erosion indicators is the first step in protecting reefs, Burke said. “The vulnerability map is useful for planning in terms of what areas to avoid development. If it’s steep and the soils are erosive, maybe you shouldn’t put a road or a development there.”

After the World Resources Institute conducted a similar study for southeast Asia several years ago, the Malaysian government passed legislation to restrict development in certain coastal areas, she said.

Burke presented the study results to several dozen of the roughly 160 conference participants Monday, the first of day of the three-day event. Representatives of businesses and government agencies in the U.S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland attended, conference chairwoman Diane Capehart said.

Non-point source pollution can include any material that rainwater picks up on its slide from land to the ocean.

Source: Virgin Islands Daily News