Scientists studying sediment in reserve


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ST. THOMAS - Scientists are working on a project in the St. Thomas East End Reserves to see how much sediment and pollution washes into the protected marine sanctuary.

The marine reserves include Compass Point Pond, Cas Cay/Mangrove Lagoon and St. James Marine Reserve.

Tony Pait, a scientist at the Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment - a program under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science - is working with the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources, the University of the Virgin Islands and The Nature Conservancy to assess land-based sources of pollution and its effects in the St. Thomas East End Reserve.

The collaborative project was requested by DPNR and is funded through NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program.

In a blog post on NOAA's website, Pait said he attended a workshop in San Juan to discuss the environmental assessment capabilities that NOAA could provide to the U.S. Caribbean territories.

"Folks from the U.S. Virgin Islands were very interested and requested our help to assess the level of chemical contamination, biological impacts, and a survey of the biological resources within the St. Thomas East End Reserve or STEER," Pait said.

The two-year project is about halfway completed.

The first year involved collecting sediments throughout the STEER region with sediment traps on the ocean floor, Pait said. The sediment currently is being analyzed for chemical contaminants and for toxicity.

The second year of the project will involve a biological survey of the STEER, as well as an assessment of chemical contaminants in marine organisms, such as coral, conch and fish, Pait said.

UVI researchers also are conducting monthly monitoring in the reserve for nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus. They also will record the total amount of suspended solids, which is a measure of turbidity in the water column. Sedimentation is measured using the sediment traps deployed at five locations.

The project will result in a baseline assessment for STEER that can be used to understand current conditions and optimize restoration and management efforts to enhance the territory's valuable resource, Pait said.

Pait said the St. Thomas East End Reserve contains extensive mangroves, seagrass beds and coral reefs, but adjacent to the protected area is a large active landfill, numerous marinas, various commercial and industrial activities, an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund Site, and residential areas with individual septic systems - all of which may be impacting the reserve with various chemical and bacterial contaminants.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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