Building Resilient Reefs of the Future: Innovative Coral Conservation, Restoration, and
Monitoring on St. Croix

 

The Caribbean is ground zero for coral reef degradation. Unseen and unheard, corals are
dying – taking with them habitat that supports fisheries, recreational sites that enhance local
economies, and natural coastal barriers that protect some of the world’s most vulnerable
communities. The Nature Conservancy has been a leader in coral conservation for decades,
investing in coral restoration techniques, including in-water coral nurseries and out-planting.
Unfortunately, the rate of decline of corals is outpacing the rate at which we can restore reefs
through these traditional methods.
This lecture will present TNC’s new coral strategy to dramatically scale up coral restoration
and conservation in the Caribbean, with St. Croix serving as a “coral innovation hub”. We are
establishing a state-of-the-art coral propagation and research facility where the latest
techniques to grow diverse corals will be applied and tested in collaboration with a network
of partner organizations. In parallel, the use of advanced remote sensing tools and aerial
mapping is allowing for assessment of reef condition and extent at an unprecedented scale
and resolution, to better inform and monitor our coral conservation and restoration efforts.
Using these synergistic approaches, the Conservancy’s US Virgin Islands innovation hub will
serve as an incubator for ideas on global coral conservation and restoration, playing a vital
role in disseminating today’s science and technology throughout the Caribbean and around
the world.

Dr. Ashlee Lillis, USVI Coral Manager, The Nature Conservancy

Dr. Lillis is a marine scientist with an interdisciplinary background in ecology and
oceanography, and a passion for increasing our understanding of ocean ecosystems and the
ability to conserve them. Despite growing up in the mountains of Canada, Ashlee’s
fascination with the sea led her to study marine ecology on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of
her home country, before migrating southward to undertake a PhD in North Carolina. Over
the past 15 years her research interests have steadily expanded from cold oceans to include
temperate and tropical habitats, and she now feels most at home in the warm waters of the
Caribbean.
Ashlee’s research expertise is in the larval ecology of reef-building invertebrates such as coral
and the use of acoustic monitoring to study reef ecosystems. Prior to joining The Nature
Conservancy, Ashlee was a postdoctoral researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institution, where she combined field observations and experimental approaches to study
coral larval processes and reef ecology in several locations in the Caribbean, including the
USVI, Cuba, and Curaçao.