A Forest History of the US Virgin Islands

This lecture profiles past and present deforestation and reforestation in the US Virgin Islands. The geography, ecology, and humans of the three islands will be discussed. St. Thomas and St. John form one ecological and cultural unit, whereas St. Croix, located approximately 40 miles to the south, makes up another unit. Different periods of human occupation have left their marks on the islands, including extinctions and introductions of plant and animal species.

Michael Morgan has worked at the UVI Agricultural Experiment Station for the last 8 years where he conducts forestry and ecology research. Most of his professional experience was obtained in the tropics. In 1995, he joined the Peace Corp. He was assigned to work in the Cerro Blanco Protected Forest; 12000 acres of tropical dry forest outside of Guayaquil, Ecuador. His original mission was to instruct the park guards in wildfire suppression techniques; however, he soon discovered his true vocation: the propagation of rare dry tropical forest trees.
After the Peace Corp assignment ended in 1997, he was offered a position managing the Cerro Blanco tree nursery and directing its ecological restoration projects. He did this until 2006 when he was offered a graduate assistantship in the University of Florida’s School of Forest Resources. He received his MSc from the University of Florida in the fall of 2009. He is originally from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. Prior to his time in Ecuador he received a BS degree in forestry from the Pennsylvania State University, and worked for the USDA Forest Service, in Charleston, South Carolina.

2018 Buck Island Sea Turtle Nesting Season Has Started!

CHRISTIANSTED – The National Park Service celebrates its thirty-first year of research on the sea turtles nesting at Buck Island Reef National Monument. The National Park Service along with our partner agencies(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USVI DPNR Division of Fish and Wildlife, VICZM, St. Croix East End Marine Park, and The Nature Conservancy) would like to take this opportunity to inform the public about sea turtles and the special consideration we need to give them while they are here in our islands to nest on our beaches.

The nesting season for Virgin Island sea turtles (leatherback, green, loggerhead, and hawksbill) begins in March and continues through December of each year. There are several key nesting areas on St. Croix
including Buck IslandReef NM, USFWS Sandy Point NWR, St. Croix’s East End Beaches – Jack’s, Issac’s, and East End Beaches, Southgate, Coakley Bay, and Hay Penney Beach on the south shore.
Nearly ALL beaches, however, on St. Croix are utilized by nesting sea turtles! Beaches on Buck Island Reef NM will be patrolled nightly to protect nesting turtles and to continue long- term research on these endangered sea turtles in the US Virgin Islands beginning July 21st and will last into October. As a reminder Buck Island Reef NM beaches are closed to visitors after sunset until sunrise. All boats overnighting at West Beach Anchorage will have to confirm overnight permit with NPS Law Enforcement prior to stay. Please contact 340-773-1460 or 340-277-6794.

If you encounter turtles nesting or hatchlings on ANY St. Croix beach, it is important to remember the following:

1. Protected – all sea turtles are protected throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands under the U.S.
Endangered Species Act. Beach users need to closely follow all regulations, especially pertaining to
beach fires, dogs, no digging in dry sand and never use tent stakes. Violations are subject to
prosecution under civil and criminal laws and charged heavy penalties.
2. Drive Slow – boat operators should drive cautiously;sea turtlesrise slowly to the surface to
breathe, and it takes them several secondsto dive to safety when they hear an approaching
motor boat.
3. Shield Lights – bright lights along beaches will disorient nesting adultsea turtles and hatchlings.
Coastal property owners are encouraged to modify/shield or discontinue use of outdoor lights.
4. Keep your distance – do not interfere with nesting or hatchling sea turtles; observe from a
distance. Do not use flashlights or flash photography.
5. How to help – if you find an adult or nest or hatchling sea turtle in distress please contact
one of the following parties:
At Buck Island Reef National Monument
NPS Resource Management 24 hour: (340) 277-6794
NPS Headquarters Christiansted: (340) 773-1460 (8:30 am to 4:30 pm)
Sea Turtle Assistance and Rescue Network (STAR)
24-hr hotline: 340-690-0474
At Sandy Point National WildlifeRefuge
USFWS: (340) 773-4554 or (340) 690-9451
All other locations
VI DPNR Enforcement: 340-244-9066
VI DPNR Division of Fish & Wildlife: 340-773-1082

Variability of blue carbon storage in seagrass habitats in the U.S. Virgin Islands

CHRISTIANSTED – The National Park Service will be partnering with the University of the Virgin Islands to conduct seagrass surveys at Buck Island Reef National Monument on Thursday, August 2nd. Researchers will be snorkeling and diving in the seagrass beds to the west and south of West Beach. Please be aware of the researchers and maintain a safe distance from them while they are in the water. Dive flags will indicate their location. These surveys will be part of a larger effort to understand the capacity of seagrasses to sequester and retain carbon that might otherwise rise up and trap heat in the atmosphere. Increases in atmospheric temperature can compound existing environmental stresses and lead to, for example, stronger hurricanes.

In the context of the global carbon cycle, “blue carbon” habitats like seagrass meadows, are substantial carbon sinks and provide a key ecosystem service by sequestering and storing significant amounts of carbon, particularly belowground in plant roots and rhizomes. Recent work shows that within these habitats, sediment carbon concentrations vary spatially, with depth below the ground surface, and with time since establishment and that this variation can be explained by species- specific differences in vegetation and geomorphic context. These relationships are not well understood for seagrass species common to the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). Previous work on St. Thomas, USVI explored carbon storage in two native seagrass species (Thalassia testudinum and Syringodium filiforme), the invasive seagrass (Halophila stipulacea) and un-vegetated sand. Results suggest that H. stipulacea may be storing carbon in a comparable amount to native seagrass species.

Collecting additional sediment cores around Buck Island seeks to answer the question of carbon storage in seagrass habitats with time since establishment- another key variable that may play a role in predicting carbon storage in these habitats. Halophila stipulacea was fist documented in St. John in 2012, then in St. Thomas in 2013, and finally St. Croix in 2016. The invasion history of H. stipulacea across the USVI sets up a natural experimental design and allows for researchers to gain a better understanding of seagrass habitats as blue carbon ecosystems.