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ST. CROIX - The National Park Service, which is planning a research project on the bioluminescence in Salt River Bay, will provide the public with information about the project at a meeting Jan. 11.

Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism.

In the sea around St. Croix, there are two areas that are known for bioluminescence: one at Salt River and the other at Altona Lagoon, according to David Goldstein, chief of interpretation and education at the National Park Service sites on St. Croix.

The research project will be in the Salt River Bay area.

At the meeting Jan. 11, Jay Pinckney, an associate professor of marine science and biology at the University of South Carolina, will present information about the year-long research program to study the bay. Pinckney will oversee researchers from the University of South Carolina, the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, the University of the Virgin Islands and the National Park Service, according to a statement the park service released.

Throughout the year, a number of scientists from those institutions - which are partners in the proposed Salt River Marine Research and Education Center - "will examine why and how the phenomenon in the bay developed and persists," the statement said.

"There are organisms in the sea that, when they are slightly disturbed, give off this bioluminescence," Goldstein said.

Scientists hope to identify the organism causing the phenomenon in Salt River and to describe its ecology from the research, which will include taking a series of water and sediment samples throughout the year.

In the 1970s, a lagoon was dredged out for a planned hotel development in the Salt River Bay area, Goldstein said. The hotel - which was constructed partially but never completed - was built on top of the fill taken from the lagoon.

"That lagoon, in the last five or 10 years, has started to demonstrate that it's bioluminescent. There's an organism living there that's bioluminescent," Goldstein said. Different organisms "do this in impaired or stagnant waterways that don't have a lot of inflow," he said.

One reason for the research at Salt River is the proposed Marine Research Education Center.

The plans for the center "have us using that bay to dock, as a place to bring boats in and out. We just need to make sure that what we're doing isn't going to be affecting the bioluminescence," Goldstein said. "We've asked our university partners working with the Marine Research Education Center to come to St. Croix now and begin working to figure out what the causes and ecology of this particular organism are."

At the presentation Friday, Pinckney will explain the plan and protocols.

"We want to study the bay before we disturb something that we can't repair," Goldstein said.

The Park Service is inviting the public to learn more about the project and ask questions.

"It's a meet and greet," Goldstein said. "We're all excited. This is the first go-around for all of our people working together."

The public meeting is scheduled from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday at the Salt River Bay Visitor Contact center above Columbus Landing. At the same time, the "Artifacts of St. Croix's Past" exhibit, celebrating the Folmer Andersen archaeological collection, will be on display.

The project is being funded by the National Park Service, using money from the Department of the Interior's Office of Insular Affairs.

- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email jblackburn@dailynews.vi.

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