UVI to host symposium on Salt River Bay bioluminescence

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ST. CROIX - What causes the glow in the water when things move at night in a small, unnamed bay in Salt River?

The answers to that question - the very nature of the tiny creatures that create the bioluminescence - will be the topic of a symposium Saturday at the University of the Virgin Islands.

"You want to see how science works? This is a great place to come and do it," said David Goldstein, the chief of interpretation and education for the National Park Service sites on St. Croix.

The Salt River Bay Mangrove Lagoon Bioluminescence Project Symposium is scheduled to run from 9:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Saturday at the UVI Great Hall on St. Croix. Educational and research posters will be on display from 9 a.m.

The unusual glowing when something moves in the man-made inlet at Salt River Bay first was documented in the last 10 to 15 years, according to National Park Service officials.

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.

In certain areas at Salt River Bay where the concentration of the one-celled bioluminescent organisms is high, any movement in the water agitates them and causes them to light up like glow sticks. The organisms that cause the phenomena are one-celled, two-tailed organisms called dinoflagellates.

The studies to be discussed at the symposium were conducted at Salt River, as officials start the planning work for a proposed Salt River Bay Marine Research and Education Center that they hope will occupy a piece of National Park Service land, with access to Salt River Bay through the man-made lagoon where the bioluminescence seems to be thriving.

With the plan to place the proposed research center there, those involved in the project wanted to learn more about the bioluminescence to ensure that the comings and goings at the research center won't affect the bioluminescence.

Officials have not yet found funding for the proposed research center, which is a partnership among the National Park Service, the Office of Insular Affairs, the Joint Institute for Caribbean Marine Studies and the Government of the Virgin Islands. The Joint Institute is a consortium of four universities: UVI; the University of North Carolina Wilmington; Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey; and the University of South Carolina.

There are bioluminescent bays in different areas around the world, including one at Vieques that has become a major tourist draw. Much of the previous research on bioluminescence has been done in the Philippines. The bioluminescence at Salt River Bay is less well known, but seems to be gaining popularity as a tourist attraction.

"St. Croix is home to some of the very few bays in the world where this phenomena is so vibrant," a release about the symposium states.

During the last year, researchers from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, the University of South Carolina, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and UVI have been studying the phenomena at Salt River. Funding for the majority of the studies came through the Department of the Interior. The Scripps Institute's participation was supported by the St. Croix Environmental Association, according to the release.

Goldstein described the work that will be featured on Saturday as "pretty comprehensive."

"It includes three universities and there are five different major areas of research," he said.

During the symposium, researchers will present their findings and the implications. In the afternoon, there will be a roundtable discussion featuring the principal investigators where the audience can ask questions.

According to the release, students from local high schools and UVI will display posters of their research with the various university teams.

The research and educational posters will be on display from 9 a.m., and remarks and the research presentations are scheduled to run from 9:30 a.m. until 1:10 p.m.

The event is open to the public and free.

On Saturday evening, the St. Croix Environmental Association is sponsoring an event to kayak the bioluminescent bay at Salt River with the scientists, which is also a fundraiser for the association.

That kayak trip runs from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday. It is $45 and requires advance registration.

For more information on the kayak event, call the St. Croix Environmental Association at 773-1989.

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

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