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Project Details

Characterization of Land-Based Sources of Pollution and Effects in the St. Thomas East End Reserves (STEER)

Project Status: This project began in April 2011 and was completed in September 2014

We are assessing the condition of the St. Thomas East End Reserves, establishing a baseline from which we can evaluate the effectiveness of restoration activities. This is the first reserve-wide integrated ecological assessment and includes chemical contaminants in sediments, coral, fish, and conch; toxicity of sediments; nutrient levels; and sedimentation rates.

Why We Care
The extensive mangroves, seagrass beds, and coral reefs of the St. Thomas East End Reserves (STEER) support tourism and fishing and protect shorelines of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. The watershed also hosts several potential sources of pollution including a large active landfill, marinas, commercial/industrial activities, a Superfund Site, and residential areas served by individual septic systems.

Elevated levels of chemical contaminants have been found in the watershed, and anecdotal information from the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) suggests that fish from Mangrove Lagoon within the STEER are already affected by the pollution. The DPNR has stated that filling the information gap on the effects of chemical contaminants in the STEER is critical to making informed management decisions to protect and enhance this valuable resource.

What We Are Doing
We are establishing a baseline assessment of chemical contaminants, and toxicity, and living marine resources in the STEER. In 2011, we quantified chemical contaminants in sediments and document the impact of those contaminants on marine life via a series of sediment-toxicity bioassays. In 2012, we are conducting the first-ever biological survey of the entire STEER. We are also collecting coral, conch, and fish samples for chemical contaminant analysis, and continuing the monthly monitoring for nutrients and sedimentation.

Next Steps
In 2014, we will combine  these results to develop an integrated ecological assessment for the STEER. This information will provide STEER resource managers with an assessment of the current conditions (both biological and chemical), so that informed management decisions, including restoration actions, can be developed and implemented.

Regions of Study: Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, US Virgin Islands

Primary Contacts: Ian Hartwell, Laurie Bauer, Tony Pait, John Christensen

Research Themes: Coastal Pollution (Chemical Contaminants) • Science for Coastal Ecosystem Management (Biogeographic Assessment, Human Dimensions)

Related NCCOS Center: CCMA

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