Community has big stake in coral reefs' health
Font size: [A] [A] [A]
The Caribbean is known for its coral reefs: the vast and beautiful ecosystems that lie below the surface of coastal waters of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The corals are vital to the environment and local economies, yet many people don't realize that coral reefs are in trouble.
Rising water temperatures associated with climate change bleach the coral and make them more susceptible to pollution and disease. Discharges of raw sewage damage their health and over-fishing has also had a negative impact on these cherished natural resources.
The U.S. Virgin Islands' waters were severely threatened 40 years ago. Industries discharged pollution directly into harbors and the ocean causing serious water pollution problems. Thanks to the federal Clean Water Act, these discharges are now regulated. But aging wastewater infrastructure and inadequate maintenance still allow sewage to run into coastal waters and human activities continue to threaten the U.S. Virgin Islands' coral reefs.
The benefits of saving coral reefs are substantial. Each year, hundreds of thousands of visitors travel to see these natural wonders first-hand, generating millions of dollars for the local tourism industry.
Coral reefs help protect shore communities, shielding the land from damaging storms and ocean surges. Reefs create habitats that are vital to maintaining bountiful fisheries and harbor organisms that can be harvested to produce medicines.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is creating standards that will allow the agency to take the health of coral reefs into account in developing permits that limit the discharge of pollutants into Caribbean waters. The EPA will also work with local governments to reduce the impacts of storm runoff that carries pollutants into ocean waters when it rains.
In addition to government, there are actions that individuals and businesses can take to protect the health of coral reefs.
Boaters should pump on-board sewage into proper pumpout stations instead of discharging sewage into local waters.
Snorkelers and swimmers can preserve corals for others to enjoy by refraining from touching them. Marinas and the tourism industry can encourage visitors to enjoy the corals while increasing awareness of their fragile state and how to protect them.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has launched the Caribbean Coral Reef Protection Group to combine the resources of federal and local agencies in protecting coral reefs. Today, from 1 to 3:30 p.m., the EPA and other federal and Commonwealth agencies will bring communities in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands together for a listening session in St. Thomas on the state of coral reefs and the best ways to protect them. The listening session will take place at UVI on St. Thomas in the first floor Conference Room at the Administration and Conference Center. The session will be broadcasted live on St. Croix in the Great Hall at UVI.
Ultimately, coral reefs can be revitalized if government agencies, businesses and communities have a vision for their future and work together to ensure their protection.
For information on the coral reefs listening session, visit: http://epa.gov/region2/coralreefs/
- Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator