VIRGIN ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK             March 2008

                                   A Resource Assessment

Center for State of the Parks

More than a century ago, Congress established Yellowstone as the
world’s first national park. That single act was the beginning of a
remarkable and ongoing effort to protect this nation’s natural,
historical, and cultural heritage.
    Today, Americans are learning that national park designation         REPORT SUMMARY                        1
alone cannot provide full resource protection. Many parks are
compromised by development of adjacent lands, air and water pollu-       VIRGIN ISLAND S AT A
tion, invasive plants and animals, and rapid increases in motorized
                                                                         GLANCE                                3
recreation. Park officials often lack adequate information on the
status of and trends in conditions of critical resources.
    The National Parks Conservation Association initiated the State of   RATINGS                               4
the Parks® program in 2000 to assess the condition of natural and
cultural resources in the parks, and determine how well equipped the     RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
National Park Service is to protect the parks—its stewardship capac-     HIGHLIGHTS          9
ity. The goal is to provide information that will help policymakers,
the public, and the National Park Service improve conditions in
                                                                         KEY F INDINGS                       10
national parks, celebrate successes as models for other parks, and
ensure a lasting legacy for future generations.
    For more information about the methodology and research used         THE VIRGIN ISLAND S
in preparing this report and to learn more about the Center for State    ASSESSMENT
of the Parks®, visit or contact: NPCA,
                                                                            NATURAL RESOURCES                12
Center for State of the Parks®, P.O. Box 737, Fort Collins, CO 80522;
                                                                            A Sanctuary, Above and Beneath
Phone: 970.493.2545; E-mail:
                                                                            the Sea

Since 1919, the National Parks Conservation Association has been            CULTURAL RESOURCES 28
the leading voice of the American people in protecting and enhanc-          Comprehensive Resource
ing our National Park System. NPCA, its members, and partners work          Identification, Documentation,
together to protect the park system and preserve our nation’s natural,      Protection, and Treatment Needed
historical, and cultural heritage for generations to come.

                                                                            STEWARDSHIP CAPACITY             38
* More than 340,000 members
* 22 regional and field offices
* 35,000 activists                                                       APPENDI X:
                                                                         METHODOLOGY                         44
A special note of appreciation goes to those whose generous grants
and donations made the report possible: Dorothy Canter, Ben and
Ruth Hammett, and anonymous donors.

                                                                         COVER PHOTO: KELLY O'ROURKE

                                                                                                                                    ELIZABETH MEYERS

                                                                                                                                                       Virgin Islands National Park / Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument
Few experiences compare to snorkeling through       millions of tourists annually.                        Verdant islands and
tranquil turquoise waters, gliding effortlessly         Located on St. John, Virgin Islands National      turquoise waters draw
                                                                                                          hundreds of thou-
among colorful fish, sea turtles, and spectacular   Park was established in 1956 and comprises
                                                                                                          sands of visitors to
coral formations; or walking along a warm,          more than half the mountainous island’s land          Virgin Islands National
white sand beach at sunset, swaying palms           area. The park includes most of the north shore       Park each year.
whispering in the evening breeze. Visions like      and most of the central and southeast portions
this draw tourists to the Caribbean Islands, and    of the island, including 7,259 acres of terrestrial
the U.S. Virgin Islands are no exception. St.       and shoreline habitat and 5,650 acres of adja-
John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix, the three main     cent submerged lands (off-shore underwater
islands of the U.S. Virgin Islands group, draw      habitat, added to the park in 1962). The park

Virgin Islands National Park / Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument

                                                                                           The remains of           also includes Hassel Island, located in Charlotte    Park was designated as an International
                                                                                           hundreds of 18th-        Amalie harbor on St. Thomas, which was added         Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations
                                                                                           century plantation
                                                                                                                    in 1978. In 2001, Virgin Islands Coral Reef          Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization
                                                                                           structures are found
                                                                                           throughout Virgin        National Monument was established to protect         (UNESCO). The park was one of the first
                                                                                           Islands National Park.   an additional 12,708 acres of submerged lands        protected areas to receive this designation in the
                                                                                           The park lacks suffi-    and associated marine resources around the           United States. Of the hundreds of UNESCO
                                                                                           cient funds to locate,   island. In sum, the Park Service owns and oper-      biosphere reserves worldwide, it is one of only
                                                                                           document, and main-
                                                                                                                    ates nearly 57 percent of the land area of St.       30 containing both marine and terrestrial
                                                                                           tain all of them,
                                                                                           which means that         John and more than 18,000 acres of offshore          ecosystems. It provides vital habitat for 138 bird
                                                                                           nearly all are at risk   underwater habitat.                                  species, 400 reef-associated fish species, 17
                                                                                           of deteriorating.            The park and monument offer protection to        species of whales and dolphins, more than 230
                                                                                                                    unique features in St. John’s marine areas. Sea      species of invertebrates, up to 13 reptile species,
                                                                                                                    turtles, fish, conchs, and lobsters rely on coral    and a variety of corals and sponges. Many of the
                                                                                                                    reefs and seagrass beds as habitat. Virgin Islands   species within the park’s and monument’s
                                                                                                                    National Park also protects some of the last         borders, both underwater and terrestrial, are
                                                                                                                    remaining native tropical dry rain forest in the     federally listed as endangered or threatened.
                                                                                                                    Caribbean. In 1976, Virgin Islands National             The abundance and diversity of the park
units’ cultural resources rival that of their        VIRGIN ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK AND
natural resources and include prehistoric
archaeological sites, hundreds of historic struc-    VIRGIN ISLANDS CORAL REEF NATIONAL
tures, offshore shipwrecks, and museum collec-       MONUMENT AT A GLANCE
tions that encompass artifacts dating as far back
as 840 BC. The Virgin Islands have been inhab-       • The present economy of the U.S. Virgin Islands is based on
ited for at least 3,000 years, beginning with          tourism. More than 2 million people, 64 percent from the
hunter-gathers of the Archaic Period.                  United States, visit annually. According to Park Service esti-
Settlements continued throughout prehistory            mates, more than 677,000 people visited Virgin Islands
and ended with the Taino, the pre-Columbian            National Park in 2006. Many come for the isolation in a popular
culture present when Columbus explored the             island setting: Virgin Islands National Park boasts some of the
New World. When Europeans arrived, the                 most secluded and undeveloped beaches in the Caribbean.                  3
Virgin Islands became a melting pot, inhabited         More than 20 hiking trails wind through the mountainous park,

                                                                                                                           Virgin Islands National Park / Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument
by people who came from around the world to            and scenic overlooks along roadways offer visitors spectacular
make a new life on the islands. These colonial         views of sparkling water and white sand beaches.
settlements date from the 17th century through
                                                     • Forty-four percent of Virgin Islands National Park and 100
the 19th century. Visitors can explore the ruins
                                                       percent of Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument are
of hundreds of historic structures to get a sense
                                                       marine environments. Visitors can explore the seascapes by
of this history.
                                                       snorkeling and diving among more than 400 reef fish species.
    Recognizing the significance of the natural
                                                       Trunk Bay boasts a self-guided, 255-yard snorkeling trail,
and cultural resources found within Virgin
                                                       marked with underwater signs identifying coral reef organisms.
Islands National Park and Virgin Islands Coral
Reef National Monument, NPCA’s Center for            • Hurricane Hole on the east end of St. John may be the most
State of the Parks® assessed the current condi-        pristine of the remnant mangrove habitats left in the U.S. Virgin
tions of these resources. Although the park and        Islands (more than half of all mangroves in the U.S. Virgin
monument are two units of the National Park            Islands have been destroyed—by a combination of develop-
System, their resources are intertwined and            ment and natural forces—during the past 50 years). Mangroves
managed by the same staff, so they were                provide vital ecological services: They filter sediment, serve as
assessed as a single unit. Center for State of the     nursery areas for many coral reef fish species, and provide
Parks® researchers interviewed park staff, exam-       nesting and roosting sites for birds.
ined resource conditions on the ground,
                                                     • Virgin Islands National Park is home to hundreds of historic
consulted Park Service experts, and reviewed
                                                       structures, including plantations, factories, fortifications,
available publications and documents.
                                                       schools, and thousands of house sites that were inhabited by
Researchers then analyzed this data using the
                                                       enslaved workers on the island.
Center for State of the Parks® comprehensive
methodology, in order to arrive at numerical         • The waters of Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument
scores for natural and cultural resource condi-        and Virgin Islands National Park may harbor the remains of
tions (see “Appendix”). The following report           some of the 28 ships known to have wrecked in the vicinity of
describes Virgin Islands National Park and             St. John between 1713 and 1916. In 2006, the park archaeolo-
Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument’s          gist and a fellow researcher discovered shipwreck sites that
diverse natural and cultural resources, summa-         require analysis and documentation, both to preserve their
rizes current conditions of those resources, illu-     integrity and to advance knowledge of the maritime history of
minates resource threats, and describes some of        St. John and the West Indies.
the ways resource managers are working to
improve resource conditions.
Note: When interpreting the scores for resource conditions, recognize that critical information upon which the ratings are based is not
                                                                             always available. This limits data interpretation to some extent. For Virgin Islands National Park and Virgin Islands Coral Reef National
                                                                             Monument, 68 percent of the information associated with the natural resource methods was available while 90 percent of the cultural
                                                                             resource information was available.

                                                                             RESOURCE CATEGORY                         CURRENT

                                                                             NATURAL RESOURCES

                                                                             Overall conditions                                                                                                   73 FAIR
                                                                             Environmental and Biotic Measures                                                                                         77
4                                                                              Biotic Impacts and Stressors                                                                                  70
Virgin Islands National Park / Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument

                                                                               Air                                                                                                                                87
                                                                               Water                                                                                                                         82
                                                                               Soils                                                                                                                        80
                                                                             Ecosystems Measures                                                                                         68
                                                                               Species Composition and Condition                                                                        67
                                                                               Ecosystem Extent and Function                                                                                  72

                                                                             R AT I N G S S C A L E

                                                                                                                       CRITICAL                         POOR                   FA I R                   GOOD       EXCELLENT

                                                                             CULTURAL RESOURCES

                                                                             Overall conditions                                                                              55 POOR
                                                                             Cultural Landscapes                                                          37
                                                                             Ethnography (Peoples and Cultures)                                         35
                                                                             Historic Structures                                                                   46
                                                                             Archaeology                                                                                                          73
                                                                             Museum Collection and Archive                                                                              68
                                                                             History                                                                                    53

                                                                             R AT I N G S S C A L E

                                                                                                                       CRITICAL                        POOR                    FA I R                   GOOD       EXCELLENT

                                                                             The findings in this report do not necessarily reflect past or current park management. Many factors that affect resource conditions are a result
                                                                             of both human and natural influences over long periods of time, in many cases pre-dating the park’s creation. The intent of the Center for State
                                                                             of the Parks® is to document the present status of park resources and determine which actions can be taken to protect them into the future.
RATINGS                                              identified and documented. To preserve some
Current overall conditions of the known              of these structures, the park needs funds to
natural resources in Virgin Islands National         support a crew of masons and other skilled
Park and Virgin Islands Coral Reef National          craftsmen trained in historic preservation. The
Monument rated a “fair” score of 73 out of 100.      park used to have four masons on staff, but
Non-native species, visitor damage, and habitat      these positions were cut as a result of funding
fragmentation from the development of inhold-        shortfalls.
ings are major concerns. Natural disturbances           The parks need storage space to safely
and disease are also factors that threaten natural   accommodate irreplaceable artifacts, and they
resources in the parks.                              must find the staff and funds to protect archae-
   Land clearing and other agricultural practices    ological sites from erosion and damage caused
of the colonial plantation system forever            by trail clearing and increased visitation.                                                      5
changed the natural landscape of St. John, intro-    Numerous reports and studies have yet to

                                                                                                                                                 Virgin Islands National Park / Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument
ducing cultural features such as walls, terraces,    receive funding, including historic resource
roads, and non-native plants. Natural distur-        studies, a cultural landscape inventory, and
bances, including hurricanes and drought, have       ethnographic studies. All of this work is time-
                                                     sensitive, but perhaps the most urgent are the     The windmill at the
also shaped the parks in the past, and continue
                                                                                                        Annaberg Sugar
to threaten the island’s ecosystem. Overfishing,     ethnographic studies. Oral histories of people     Plantation is one of
as well as anchor damage to reefs and seagrass       who have ties to park resources must be gath-      the park’s best-
beds, has hurt fishery resources. Boats are also a   ered before the opportunities are lost forever.    preserved structures.
leading source of pollution in these fragile

                                                                                                                                KELLY O’ROURKE
marine environments. Tourists who swim,
snorkel, and dive also inadvertently degrade reef
health by stepping on, kicking, or otherwise
damaging fragile coral and other reef organ-
isms. Non-native wild goats, hogs, donkeys,
rats, and cats have roamed the island for more
than a century, preying on sea turtle eggs, native
plants, lizards, and birds. Animal grazing erodes
the landscape and increases sediment in park
waters, which in turn reduces water quality. The
park does not have funds to hire staff dedicated
to controlling non-native species; instead, the
park relies on contractors as funds allow.
   Overall conditions of the known cultural
resources in Virgin Islands National Park and
Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument
rated 55 out of a possible 100, indicating “poor”
conditions. With just one full-time cultural
resources staff member, one term curator, and
no funds to support research and preservation
projects, hundreds of historic structures
languish as dense tropical vegetation grows
around and destroys them. Many are being
reduced to rubble before they can be properly
Virgin Islands National Park / Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument


                        Virgin Islands National Park / Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument
AN ISOLATED PARADISE ON A                                About 1,400 acres within the park are owned
                                                                                                       POPULAR ISLAND                                        by private interests and the Virgin Islands
                                                                                                       St. John, with nearly 50 miles of shoreline, is       government. The Park Service must make
                                                                                                       surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north         purchases or trade to acquire these private
                                                                                                       and the Caribbean Sea to the south. Located           lands, known as “inholdings,” that are scattered
                                                                                                       near the northeastern corner of the Caribbean         throughout the park. These inholdings include
                                                                                                       plate, St. John is the smallest of the three inhab-   large parcels or clusters of parcels throughout
                                                                                                       ited U.S. Virgin Islands. The island is situated      the park, which are often subdivided and sold
                                                                                                       about 70 miles east of Puerto Rico and measures       for development. Recently, the Trust for Public
                                                                                                       roughly nine miles long and five miles wide.          Land, a conservation group, acquired 419 acres
                                                                                                       Together, the U.S. Virgin Islands and British         on Maho Bay. These lands are now safe from
8                                                                                                      Virgin Islands constitute the eastern extent of       development, and they will be transferred to the
                                                                                                       the Greater Antilles, part of the Antilles Island     Park Service as funds become available in the
Virgin Islands National Park / Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument

                                                                                                       Arc that separates the Caribbean Sea from the         next few years.
                                                                                                       Atlantic Ocean.                                          In 2001, Virgin Islands Coral Reef National
                                                                                                           Virgin Islands National Park was established      Monument was established by a presidential
                                                                                                       in 1956 as a result of a land donation to the         proclamation to protect an additional 12,708
                                                                                                       federal government from Laurence Rockefeller          acres of submerged lands around St. John. This
                                                                                                       and the Jackson Hole Preserve Corporation. In         newly protected area is a “no-take” zone, which
                                                                                                       1952, Rockefeller began purchasing more than          means that fishing and other harvesting are not
                                                                                                       half of the land on St. John with the intent of       allowed, with the exception of bait-fish harvest-
                                                                                                       preserving the majority as parkland and devel-        ing at Hurricane Hole and blue-runner harvest-
                                                                                                       oping a restored sugar plantation/resort on a         ing that uses a rod and line.
                                                                                                       portion of Caneel Bay. The Caneel Bay area,              The climate of Virgin Islands National Park
                                                                                                       currently maintained as an exclusive resort, is       is temperate year-round, with mild, dry
                                                                                                       privately operated.                                   winters and warm, humid summers. Rain

                                                                             Virgin Islands

                                                                                                                                                                                                                 KELLY O’ROURKE
                                                                             National Park boasts
                                                                             some of the most
                                                                             secluded and unde-
                                                                             veloped beaches in
                                                                             the Caribbean.
                                                                             During the busiest
                                                                             months of the year,
                                                                             however, beaches
                                                                             are packed with
                                                                             thousands of people
                                                                             each day, which
                                                                             strains park facilities
                                                                             and can result in
                                                                             resource damage.
generally falls in brief showers lasting only a      RESOURCE MANAGEMENT HIGHLIGHTS
few minutes, though storms can be severe.
Hurricane season extends from June through           • Mooring Buoy and Marker Buoy Installation. Improper boat
November, and at least 12 major hurricanes             anchoring and groundings damage coral reefs and seagrass.
and tropical storms have passed over St. John          To minimize this damage, the Park Service has instituted
since the mid-20th century. Seven moderate or          anchoring restrictions, installed a mooring buoy system, and
severe droughts have also occurred on the              deployed marker buoys to warn boaters of shallow coral and
island during the 1900s.                               rocky areas.
    The present economy of the U.S. Virgin
                                                     • Air Quality Monitoring. Virgin Islands National Park is
Islands is based on tourism, with the majority
                                                       involved in several air quality monitoring initiatives, including
of visitors coming from the United States.
Beginning in the 1950s, St. Thomas became a
                                                       the Interagency Monitoring of Protected Visual Environments              9
                                                       (IMPROVE) program, which focuses on visibility; the Clean Air
popular destination for Caribbean cruise ships

                                                                                                                           Virgin Islands National Park / Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument
                                                       Status and Trends Network (CASTNET); and the National
that sent passengers to St. John for day trips.
                                                       Atmospheric Deposition (NADP) and National Trends Network
Visitors to Virgin Islands National Park and
                                                       (NTN), which focus on dry and wet deposition of pollutants,
Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument
are treated to some of the most isolated and
pristine beaches in the busy Caribbean.              • Ongoing Research. Park staff are engaged in a host of inter-
Opportunities to swim among and observe                disciplinary research projects that focus on coral disease, sedi-
coral seascapes by snorkeling and diving are           mentation rates, fisheries population biology, and watershed
unparalleled. Local residents have adapted to          delineation, to name several. Partnerships with universities, the
the development that tourism has brought with          Sierra Club, and Elderhostel help the park take on cultural
it. The island—which once harbored fewer than          resource projects and research that would not be possible
800 people living mostly in two-room wooden            otherwise because of budgetary shortfalls.
cottages without indoor plumbing, electricity,
                                                     • Danish Colonial Architecture Archive. The park is using
or telephones—has undergone a dramatic
                                                       three-dimensional mapping to document crumbling historic
transformation. Today, a permanent population
                                                       structures, thanks to a partnership with the engineering
of about 4,200, with a median household
                                                       department of the University of Maine. Architecture within the
income of $32,482, lives on the island, with
                                                       park is being documented in a digital archive that allows users
most residents in Cruz Bay.
                                                       to view structures in three dimensions.
    Virgin Islands National Park and Virgin
Islands Coral Reef National Monument are             • GIS Database. The park is working with students from
refuges, not only for countless species of             Syracuse University to develop a geographic information
wildlife, but also for human visitors who want         systems (GIS) database that includes the locations of historic
to experience the Caribbean in its natural state.      properties such as archaeological sites, historic structures, and
The park contains some of the last remaining           shipwrecks.
native tropical dry forest in the Caribbean, the
                                                     • Research Partnership with Danish University. Danish settlers
only area of this forest type protected by the
                                                       colonized the Virgin Islands in the late 17th and early 18th
United States. Ten other terrestrial and shoreline
                                                       centuries. Today, most of the park’s written history (AD 1665-
vegetation types occur on the island, which is
                                                       1917) resides in Denmark. Park staff are working with the
surrounded by miles of protected marine
                                                       history department of the University of Copenhagen to locate
habitat. The park and monument constitute a
                                                       the first settlement sites and other lost plantations using
true paradise amid a well-trafficked area, where
                                                       historic research and ground surveys.
people, plants, and animals can find refuge and
KEY FINDINGS                                      ings and careless anchoring. Coral
                                                                                                                                                      diseases are also of concern and have
                                                                                                                                                      killed corals in and around the park and
                                                                                                    • Private lands, known as inholdings, are
                                                                                                      scattered throughout Virgin Islands
                                                                                                      National Park. Many of these inholdings       • Browsing, grazing, and predation by non-
                                                                                                      have been subdivided, resulting in further      native wild goats, sheep, hogs, cats, rats,
                                                                                                      forest fragmentation and development            and mongooses threaten the survival of
                                                                                                      around historic sites. This development         native plants and animals and harm
                                                                                                      has destroyed historic landscapes and           natural communities and processes. The
                                                                                                      historic and prehistoric archaeological         presence of non-native Cuban tree frogs
10                                                                                                    sites. Intact forests are important habitat     on St. John also concerns biologists. This
                                                                                                      for migratory birds, and fragmenting            species preys on other frogs and can out-
Virgin Islands National Park / Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument

                                                                                                      these areas could have drastic conse-           compete native species for limited food
                                                                                                      quences for birds that spend winters in         supplies.
                                                                                                      the park. The Park Service works with
                                                                                                                                                    • Historic destruction of the natural vegeta-
                                                                                                      nonprofit organizations such as the Trust
                                                                                                                                                      tion on St. John has been extensive,
                                                                                                      for Public Land and Friends of Virgin
                                                                                                                                                      encompassing nearly 90 percent of the
                                                                                                      Islands National Park to acquire inhold-
                                                                                                                                                      island. As a result, some native and
                                                                                                      ings, but high real estate prices make this
                                                                                                                                                      endemic plant species have become
                                                                                                                                                      extinct or nearly extinct. Additionally, the
                                                                                                    • Marine ecosystems within the parks face         introduction of invasive plants also may
                                                                                                      a variety of threats. Natural disturbances      have contributed to the demise of some
                                                                                                      such as hurricanes and drought have             of St. John’s native plants. Today, intro-
                                                                                                      harmed mangroves, coral reefs, and              duced invasive species can be found in
                                                                                                      seagrass beds, while visitors are responsi-     most communities across the island,
                                                                                                      ble for damage caused by boat ground-           particularly near historic structures and in

                                                                             Thick vegetation

                                                                                                                                                                                                     ELIZABETH MEYERS
                                                                             grows quickly on St.
                                                                             John, covering
                                                                             historic structures
                                                                             and causing them to
recently disturbed open areas such as              inventory will include an overall entry for
  roadsides and construction sites. The              the entire park as well as individual inven-
  Park Service is currently considering inva-        tories for each identified cultural land-
  sive species management options for                scape. This information is needed to
  Virgin Islands National Park.                      guide further cultural landscape research
                                                     and to begin to understand historic struc-
• One permanent employee (the staff
                                                     tures in the context of their surroundings.
  archaeologist/cultural resource manager)
  currently handles all cultural resource         • Poaching of building materials from
  issues within the two parks. In fact, the         historic sites is a problem within the park,
  parks’ cultural resources budget is so            but without enough staff and funds to
  limited that paying this employee’s salary        survey and protect endangered sites, this          11
  leaves no funds for projects and research.        illegal activity is likely to continue. In addi-

                                                                                                       Virgin Islands National Park / Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument
  Because of the threat of vandalism and            tion, without baseline cultural resource
  environmental factors (beach erosion,             studies, staff do not know the extent of the
  hurricanes, and dense vegetation) that            park’s cultural resources and cannot gauge
  are threatening cultural resources—               the severity of the poaching problem.
  including sites that have yet to be identi-
                                                  • Traditional use studies, oral histories, and
  fied and documented—staff are needed
                                                    in-depth ethnographies are needed to
  to continue documenting and assessing
                                                    help Virgin Islands National Park staff
  sites, conduct the required archaeologi-
                                                    better understand groups of people
  cal mitigation and research where threats
                                                    whose lifeways are traditionally associ-
  are identified, reduce encroaching vege-
                                                    ated with park resources. These studies
  tation, and stabilize historic structures.
                                                    must be done before older island resi-
  Additional full-time cultural resource staff
                                                    dents pass away, but funding shortfalls
  positions (such as archaeological techni-
                                                    prevent the park from gathering even
  cians, a historic architect, a preservation
                                                    baseline information.
  specialist, and historic masons) are
  needed to address the growing needs of          • Currently, the park is using an outdated,
  neglected sites in the parks.                     temporary storage facility to house its
                                                    museum collection and archive. Between
• Virgin Islands National Park has identified
                                                    2002 and 2006, the park worked to
  400 historic structures that should be listed
                                                    update this facility to increase its storage
  on the park’s List of Classified Structures;
                                                    capacity and bring it up to established
  currently only 236 of these structures are
                                                    standards. Despite these efforts, the
  listed. Dense vegetation threatens nearly
                                                    building is corroding and is not designed
  all of the sites. The park risks losing irre-
                                                    to protect the collections from severe
  placeable Virgin Islands history as struc-
                                                    weather. Acquiring adequate storage
  tures are reduced to rubble before they
                                                    space is critical as the park continues to
  are identified and documented.
                                                    recover threatened resources that must
• Virgin Islands National Park may contain          be stored.
  as many as 100 cultural landscapes, but
  without funds to complete a cultural land-
  scape inventory, these important park
  resources remain undocumented. The
                                                                             CAROLINE ROGERS

Virgin Islands National Park / Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument

                                                                                               Virgin Islands          NATURAL RESOURCES—                                  park resources, ongoing forest recovery from
                                                                                               National Park and       A SANCTUARY, ABOVE AND                              clear-cutting events of the sugar planting era,
                                                                                               Virgin Islands Coral
                                                                                                                       BENEATH THE SEA                                     invasive species effects, land development, and
                                                                                               Reef National
                                                                                               Monument provide        The assessment rated the overall condition of       the occurrence of natural disturbances such as
                                                                                               habitats for a multi-   natural resources at Virgin Islands National Park   hurricanes and drought. All have negatively
                                                                                               tude of species,        and Virgin Islands Coral Reef National              affected the parks’ ecosystems.
                                                                                               including spotted       Monument 73 out of 100, which ranks park
                                                                                               eagle rays.
                                                                                                                       resources in “fair” condition. Prominent factors
                                                                                                                       influencing the ratings are a continuous rise in
                                                                                                                       park visitation and associated disturbances to
PAST AND CURRENT LAND USE ON ST.                       source of sediment runoff to the marine envi-
JOHN—HUMAN FOOTPRINTS ON AN                            ronment. Re-opening and paving some of the
ISLAND ECOSYSTEM                                       defunct cart roads would certainly contribute to
Native peoples in the Virgin Islands were all but      forest fragmentation, non-native plant spread,
driven to extinction by the Spanish in the 16th        and increased erosion as well.
century, as explorers sought out new territories          Virgin Islands National Park is hugely
for colonial expansion. In the 17th and early          popular with vacationing tourists. Visitation to
18th centuries, Denmark colonized St. Thomas           the park has increased from about 130,000 in
and St. John. Forests on the islands were              the early 1970s to more than a half-million visi-
cleared and land was terraced for the produc-          tors annually. Many guests spend their time in
tion of sugar cane. This and other crops, such as      or near the water, where carelessness can result
cotton, tobacco, and indigo, were grown using          in severe damage to park resources. Swimmers,                                              13
labor provided by enslaved peoples, and a              snorkelers, and divers can hurt underwater

                                                                                                                                                  Virgin Islands National Park / Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument
plantation system began to develop on the              communities by stepping on, kicking, picking
islands. By 1780, the majority of St. John was         up, and otherwise disturbing or killing fragile
under cultivation. It is estimated that about 90       corals and reef organisms.
percent of the island was cleared for planta-             Boat groundings and anchors can break
tions during the 1700s.                                corals and tear up seagrass beds, which are
    The plantation system began to erode in            important food sources for wildlife like sea
1848, when slavery was abolished in the Danish         turtles. In 1998, a single anchor drop from a
West Indies. The breaking point for most               cruise ship destroyed more than 3,200 square
remaining plantations occurred in 1867 when a          feet of reef. Monitoring at this site has revealed
major hurricane and an earthquake prompted             no significant recovery of hard coral since the
many plantation owners to abandon their land.          incident. In 1987, a survey of 186 boats revealed    Boat groundings and
Island populations declined, and cultivated            that 32 percent were anchored in seagrass beds       anchoring can
                                                                                                            damage fragile
land began to revert to natural vegetation. Only       and 14 percent in coral communities. To mini-
                                                                                                            underwater ecosys-
a few plantations lasted into the 20th century.        mize damage, the Park Service has instituted         tems such as coral
With the establishment of Virgin Islands               anchoring restrictions and installed a mooring       reefs and seagrass
National Park, the Park Service undertook the          buoy system and marker buoys to warn boaters         beds. The park has
task of mitigating the effects of almost 250 years     of shallow coral and rocky areas. Private dona-      markers to warn
                                                                                                            boaters of shallow
of cultivation while at the same time assuming         tions helped fund the installation of 215
                                                                                                            areas and anchoring
the responsibility of preserving and interpreting      mooring buoys in the national park in 1999           restrictions to mini-
significant cultural landscapes.                       and 17 moorings (not counting storm moor-            mize damage.
    When steep hillsides on St. John were cleared
                                                                                                                                    RAFE BOULON

for agriculture, the result was both the loss of
native species and the spread of non-native
plants such as Brazilian pepper (Schinus tere-
binthifolius), tan tan (Leucaena leucocephala), and
limeberry (Triphasia trifolia), as well as increased
soil erosion. Numerous paved and unpaved
roads run through and adjacent to park lands,
including old Danish cart roads that date back
to the plantation era. Roads can sometimes
block the dispersal of plants, animals, and other
organisms, and unpaved roads are a significant
ings) in the national monument in 2004.                are privately owned. In recent years, many
                                                                             Mooring buoys and size limits on vessels               of these parcels have been subdivided and
                                                                             allowed in park waters have resulted in less pres-     developed. For example, there were 261 parcels
                                                                             sure on reefs, but in some areas there is little       in 1991 and about 322 parcels in 1992. The
                                                                             coral left to protect.                                 Park Service works with nonprofit organizations
                                                                                 Visitors on land can also negatively affect the    such as the Trust for Public Land and Friends of
                                                                             park’s natural resources. Some beaches within          Virgin Islands National Park to acquire inhold-
                                                                             the park are extremely busy at certain times of        ings, but high real estate prices make this diffi-
                                                                             the year; visitors damage vegetation and create        cult. When inholdings are developed, ecological
                                                                             social trails by taking shortcuts to trails, parking   communities are fragmented, native vegetation
                                                                             areas, and beaches. Some visitors illegally            is cleared, and non-native ornamental species
14                                                                           remove plant material for crafts, home gardens,        are often planted.
                                                                             and to create vistas, threatening park forests. But        Activities in surrounding waters also affect
Virgin Islands National Park / Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument

                                                                             overall, visitor effects on land are minor when        park resources. Commercial and recreational
                                                                             compared to those on marine systems. Limiting          fishing, cruise ship traffic, and development on
                                                                             visitation in particularly sensitive areas may be      nearby islands can harm marine populations,
                                                                             necessary in the future.                               water quality, and coral reef health.
                                                                                 Additional threats related to increased
                                                                             human visitation on St. John include sewage,           VIRGIN ISLANDS MARINE HABITAT—
                                                                             fuel, and other waste from boats, soil erosion as      AN UNDERWATER HOME TO MANY
                                                                             a result of development, septic tank seepage,          The seagrass beds, coral reefs, and hardbottom
                                                                             and an increase in trash production. All trash on      areas in and adjacent to Virgin Islands National
                                                                             St. John is compacted and removed to a landfill        Park and Virgin Islands Coral Reef National
                                                                             on St. Thomas. Waste disposal space is at a            Monument are important marine habitat. More
                                                                             premium in the Virgin Islands; all landfills are       than 400 reef-associated or inshore-ranging
                                                                             near or over capacity. A recycling program             pelagic species are found in the nearshore
                                                                             should be developed and implemented in the             waters surrounding St. John. The two most
                                                                             park, as well as in “gateway communities” such         important herbivorous fish families on
                                                                             as Cruz Bay, St. John. If recycling is not an          Caribbean reefs are parrot fish (Scaridae) and
                                                                             option in the immediate future, a glass crusher        surgeonfish (Acanthuridae). Both of these fami-
                                                                             would help to conserve waste disposal space in         lies face strong fishing pressure in waters
                                                                             the short run.                                         around the U.S. Virgin Islands, but they are
                                                                                 Adjacent land use greatly influences ecosys-       protected from commercial fishing within the
                                                                             tems in the park and monument. While park              parks. Aggregating fish predators—large, carniv-
                                                                             lands account for more than 50 percent of the          orous fish that are solitary hunters—also repre-
                                                                             island of St. John, about 5 percent of the island      sent an important component of the reef
                                                                             is owned by the Virgin Islands government. The         ecosystem. The term “aggregating” refers to the
                                                                             remaining portion of the island is private land,       fact that these species must gather in large
                                                                             currently undeveloped or used for residential or       groups to effectively reproduce. Examples of
                                                                             light commercial activity. In the last 40 years,       these fish species include snappers (Lutjanidae)
                                                                             residential and tourism-related development            and groupers or sea bass (Serranidae).
                                                                             has rapidly increased on privately held lands.            For many fish species in the region, coral
                                                                                Park staff are particularly concerned about         reefs provide shelter from predators, a source of
                                                                             development of inholdings. About 1,400 acres of        food, and a place to spawn. Juvenile fishes of
                                                                             land within V irgin Islands National Park              many species (such as the great barracuda and

                                                                                                                      Underwater habitats
                                                                                                                      at the park and
                                                                                                                      monument harbor
                                                                                                                      countless marine
                                                                                                                      organisms, including
                                                                                                                      this octopus.


                                                                                                                                             Virgin Islands National Park / Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument
            gray snapper) find shelter amid red mangrove          Harvestable invertebrate species include the
            prop roots. Some species, such as the bucktooth       Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus), queen
            parrotfish (Sparisoma radians) and fringed file-      conch (Strombus gigas), and whelk (Cittarium
            fish (Monocanthus ciliatus) live their entire lives   pica). These species may be fished, with restric-
            in seagrass beds. Other species use the seagrass      tions, within the national park, but not within
            beds as nurseries or for nocturnal feeding. Even      the national monument.
            habitats dominated by gorgonians (types of                Marine mammal abundances and distribu-
            coral), sand, or algae are essential for some         tions in U.S. territorial waters of the Caribbean
            fishes, including the scrawled filefish (Aluterus     are poorly understood. At least 17 species of
            scriptus), which feeds on gorgonians; the spotted     whales and dolphins have been reported in the
            snake eel (Ophichtus ophis), which lives in sand;     region of the parks, including the federally
            and the chalk bass (Serranus tortugarum), which       listed endangered humpback whale (Megaptera
            lives on the algal plain.                             novaeangliae). Marine areas surrounding the
                A wide variety of marine invertebrates is also    island provide both feeding and reproductive
            found in the waters of Virgin Islands National        grounds for some migrating mammal species,
            Park and Virgin Island Coral Reef National            while others do not migrate, but feed and repro-
            Monument. This diverse group of organisms             duce in northwestern Caribbean waters
            includes sponges and a host of reef-building          throughout the year.
            and non-reef-building corals. Other marine                Two federally listed sea turtles are commonly
            invertebrate community members include                found in park and monument waters. The
            annelid worms, mollusks, and arthropods.              hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate)
requires coral reefs for food and refuge. Peak      variety of causes, including natural disturbance
                                                                                                                         nesting season on park beaches occurs from July     and human activities.
                                                                                                                         through November, although nesting activity            Hurricanes have affected coral reefs around
                                                                                                                         may take place any month of the year. Green sea     the parks since the islands formed, and they
                                                                                                                         turtles (Chelonia mydas) are found in seagrass      have caused significant damage. At long-term
                                                                                                                         beds in park waters, though they rarely nest on     monitoring sites around St. John, coral cover
                                                                                                                         St. John’s beaches. The federally listed            dropped from about 30 percent to 8-18
                                                                                                                         leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)       percent following Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
                                                                                                                         may also be found in waters surrounding the         Studies have shown that no substantial recov-
                                                                                                                         park and monument.                                  ery in total coral cover has occurred to date,
                                                                                                                                                                             although corals are reproducing. In September
16                                                                                                                       CORAL REEFS—FRAGILE SYSTEMS IN                      1995, two hurricanes (Luis and Marilyn) hit
                                                                                                                         DANGER                                              the U.S. Virgin Islands within a ten-day
Virgin Islands National Park / Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument

                                                                                                                         In the summer of 2006, two coral species found      period. Reefs on the south side of St. John
                                                                                                                         in Virgin Islands National Park and Virgin          suffered severe damage. Although damage was
                                                                                                                         Islands Coral Reef National Monument were           visible at Great Lameshur Bay, the percentage
                                                                                                                         federally listed as threatened under the            of live coral cover along permanent study
                                                                                                                         Endangered Species Act (ESA). Staghorn coral        areas did not decrease, due perhaps to the
                                                                                                                         (Acropora cervicornis) and elkhorn coral (A.        uneven nature of hurricane damage or
                                                                                                                         palmata) are the first coral species to be listed   because so little coral remained to be
                                                                                                                         under the ESA, an accomplishment of great           damaged. In some bays on the north shore of
                                                                                                                         significance for coral reef conservation. Elkhorn   St. John, coral colonies suffered extensive
                                                                                                                         coral is one of the primary reef-building corals    physical damage from boats that had broken
                                                                                               Coral bleaching           and usually creates shallow reefs responsible for   loose and been dragged across the reef. Large
                                                                                               occurs when benefi-       breaking ocean waves and diminishing coastal        coral colonies, some perhaps more than 100
                                                                                               cial algae that live
                                                                                                                         erosion. Significant decline in this important      years old, were split into pieces by boat keels,
                                                                                               inside coral tissue are
                                                                                               lost due to rising        species can be blamed on damage from hurri-         an example of the powerful, combined effect
                                                                                               water temperatures        canes and boat groundings. A federal listing is     of natural and human disturbance.
                                                                                               and/or ultraviolet        an important step towards protecting the               Hurricanes in 1989, 1995, and 1999 also
                                                                                               radiation from the        species from further loss.                          caused major “blow-outs,” or scoured depres-
                                                                                               sun. Corals may
                                                                                                                             The delicate coral reef systems in park and     sions, in the seagrass beds within the park and
                                                                                               recover from bleach-
                                                                                               ing episodes, or they     monument waters are of special concern. They        monument. Long-term monitoring of Great
                                                                                               may die.                  have been altered and have suffered from a          Lameshur Bay seagrass communities has
                                                                                                                                                                             demonstrated that hurricanes produce fluctua-
                                                                             CAROLINE ROGERS

                                                                                                                                                                             tions in both seagrass density and community
                                                                                                                                                                             structure. Following Hurricane Hugo, park
                                                                                                                                                                             managers saw no significant seagrass recovery
                                                                                                                                                                             for five years. Hurricanes in 1995 and 1996
                                                                                                                                                                             again reduced seagrass densities.
                                                                                                                                                                                Another serious cause of reef loss and
                                                                                                                                                                             degradation is disease, which has caused exten-
                                                                                                                                                                             sive coral death on reefs in and around the
                                                                                                                                                                             park and monument. Black band disease,
                                                                                                                                                                             which primarily infects major reef-building
                                                                                                                                                                             corals such as boulder star coral (Montastraea

                                                                                                                                                  Virgin Islands National Park / Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument
annularis) and symmetrical brain coral              anyone associated it yet with pollution or any     With funding from
(Diploria strigosa), has been documented in         other human activity.                              the Disney Wildlife
                                                                                                       Conservation Fund,
park waters, but it is not as prevalent or             In July 1997, conspicuous white patches of
                                                                                                       researchers from the
damaging as white band disease or plague type       dead tissue began to appear on corals in several   U.S. Geological
II. From the mid-1970s to mid-1980s, white          bays around St. John. Analysis confirmed the       Survey are working to
band disease killed large stands of elkhorn         presence of Sphingamonas, the pathogen associ-     quantify coral disease
coral in the Caribbean, including the waters        ated with plague type II, the most severe coral    along long-term
                                                                                                       study transects
off St. John. In 1984, the disease was found at     disease that has been observed around St John.
                                                                                                       established by the
seven sites off the north shore of the island,      In some affected areas the disease killed entire   Park Service.
although it was not prevalent. Elkhorn and          colonies, and no recovery of diseased portions
staghorn corals, both federally listed as threat-   has been noted on individual colonies moni-
ened, are the most vulnerable to white band         tored around the island. Monthly surveys have
disease, which generally kills the colonies it      documented new incidence of disease on
infects, although occasional patches do             Tektite Reef (Lameshur Bay area) every month
survive. To date, the cause of the disease          since December 1997. Depending on the site,
remains a mystery: No one has been able to          disease covers 3 to 58 percent of the coral.
clearly link a pathogen to the disease, nor has     While the actual loss of coral to disease each
month is small, the cumulative effects have led      unpaved roads across the island, the resulting
                                                                             to a significant decline in the percentage of        erosion and sedimentation from runoff can
                                                                             total live coral cover.                              smother coral colonies and reduce the amount
                                                                                 Coral bleaching is also a grave concern.         of light available for photosynthesis. Data on
                                                                             Bleaching occurs when beneficial algae (zooxan-      coral growth rates in Hawksnest Bay have
                                                                             thellae) that live inside coral tissue are lost,     shown short-term declines associated with
                                                                             leaving the tissue transparent and revealing the     increased runoff from upland development.
                                                                             white coral skeleton beneath. It is a response to    Extensive bulldozing and clearing of vegetation
                                                                             rising water temperature and/or ultraviolet radi-    in the upper Hawksnest Bay watershed threaten
                                                                             ation from the sun and has been linked to            the recovery of elkhorn coral on nearshore
                                                                             global climate change. Bleached coral colonies       fringing reefs. In general, the effects of hurri-
18                                                                           may recover in some instances, or parts of the       canes, disease, and damage from boats appear
                                                                             colonies may die. Coral colonies in park waters      to have caused more reef degradation around St.
Virgin Islands National Park / Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument

                                                                             bleached in 1987, 1990, 1998, and 2005. In           John than sedimentation; however, scientists
                                                                             2005, corals within Virgin Islands National Park     believe that chronic sedimentation significantly
                                                                             and Buck Island Reef National Monument in St.        damages reef communities.
                                                                             Croix endured the most severe bleaching event
                                                                             recorded to date in the U.S. Virgin Islands.         FISHERIES—THREATENED BY
                                                                             Ninety percent of coral cover bleached at six        OVERFISHING AND HABITAT
                                                                             long-term monitoring sites within these two          DEGRADATION
                                                                             parks. Many corals began to recover from the         Commercial fishing occurs around the Virgin
                                                                             bleaching episode only to be afflicted by            Islands and in the surrounding region, but it is
                                                                             disease. Of more than 460 elkhorn colonies that      not allowed in Virgin Islands National Park. In
                                                                             are being monitored at four reefs in Virgin          contrast, recreational fishing of most species is
                                                                             Islands National Park, about 45 percent              allowed within national park waters with few
                                                                             bleached, 13 percent died partially, and 8           limits or exceptions.
                                                                             percent died completely. Recent analyses of              Analyses of fisheries have shown a change in
                                                                             coral cover show high rates of cover loss from       the relative abundance of reef fish species, a
                                                                             the 2005 episode. Preliminary calculations of        change in the species composition, a decrease in
                                                                             coral loss between September 2005 and July           the numbers of many fish species, and a
                                                                             2006 show an average cover loss at all moni-         decrease in the size of fish in the waters around
                                                                             tored sites of almost 49 percent. Of the four        St. John. Since 1992, the U.S. Geological
                                                                             reefs sampled, Tektite Reef experienced the          Survey–Biological Resource Division has coor-
                                                                             greatest cover loss at 54.3 percent. Further data    dinated an assessment of the effects of fishing
                                                                             and information on the causes and extent of          on reef fish, monitoring their populations at
                                                                             this recent disease episode are not yet available,   selected sites. The goal is to determine trends in
                                                                             but the findings are currently being prepared for    species composition, abundance, and size of
                                                                             publication.                                         fish, as well as effectiveness of park fishing
                                                                                 Development on lands adjacent to the park        restrictions.
                                                                             also harms coral communities. Runoff from                Results of the assessment indicate that fish
                                                                             land development activities on St John is one of     traps significantly reduce the numbers of fish,
                                                                             the biggest threats to water quality and habitat     change the relative abundances of species, and
                                                                             in shallow nearshore areas. The island terrain is    decrease the mean sizes of individuals on St.
                                                                             steep and receives brief bouts of intense precip-    John reefs. Larger species such as groupers and
                                                                             itation. Coupled with the high number of             snappers have all but disappeared, and those
that are caught are below size at sexual matu-     PARK PLANTS—STILL RECOVERING
                  rity, indicating that overfishing is occurring.    FROM PREVIOUS LAND USE
                  When this happens, the number and size of          St. John is home to 747 species of vascular
                  the spawning-age adults are reduced to a point     plants, of which 642 are native to the island.
                  that the population does not have the repro-       Nearly every species on St. John is also found on
                  ductive capacity to replenish itself.              other Virgin Islands, with the exception of three
                  Populations of reef fish inside and outside        endemic flowering plants: Earhart’s stopper
                  Virgin Islands National Park are not signifi-      (Eugenia earhartii); marron bacora (Solanum
                  cantly different, suggesting that park regula-     conocarpum); and Woodbury’s stingingbush
                  tions, which only ban commercial fishing, are      (Machaonia woodburyana).
                  not protecting the resource. However, these           Historic destruction of the natural vegetation
                  findings pre-date the establishment of Virgin      on St. John has been extensive, encompassing                                  19
                  Islands Coral Reef National Monument, where        nearly 90 percent of the island. The first 130

                                                                                                                                                   Virgin Islands National Park / Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument
                  no fishing of any kind is allowed. Park staff      years of colonization were particularly harsh on
                  hope that future studies will provide evidence     the vegetative communities of St. John due to
                  that full protection contributes to improve-       extensive clearing for agriculture. As a result,
                  ments in fish populations.                         some native and endemic plant species have
                      Natural island events can also directly kill   become extinct or nearly extinct, their popula-
                  fish and degrade marine habitats. When             tions reduced to a few individuals. Examples
                  Hurricane Hugo swept through the Virgin            include marron bacora, pepino (S. mucrona-
                  Islands in September 1989, the total abundance     tum), cowhage cherry (Malpighia infestissima),
                  of fishes and number of species on two St. John    Woodbury’s stingingbush, and woolly nipple
                  reefs decreased significantly for two to three     cactus (Mammillaria nivosa). Additionally, the
                  months after the storm.                            introduction of invasive plants such as Brazilian

                                                                                                                         Large carnivorous fish
                                                                                                                         such as the Nassau
                                                                                                                         grouper (Epinephelus
                                                                                                                         striatus) are impor-
                                                                                                                         tant residents of coral
                                                                                                                         reef communities.
                                                                                                                         Studies by the U.S.
                                                                                                                         Geological Survey
                                                                                                                         indicate that species
                                                                                                                         such as this are being
                                                                                                                         overfished in the
                                                                                                                         waters around St.
                                                                                                                         John. Park staff hope
                                                                                                                         that fishing bans
                                                                                                                         within the national
                                                                                                                         monument will help
                                                                                                                         species recover.

                                                                                                                                                                          National Park. A draft environmental impact
                                                                                                                                                                          statement, released in September 2006, evalu-
                                                                                                                                                                          ates the potential environmental consequences
                                                                                                                                                                          of the proposed options.
                                                                                                                                                                             Two federally listed endangered species of
                                                                                                                                                                          plants occur in the park: St. Thomas prickly-ash
                                                                                                                                                                          (Zanthoxylum thomasianum) and Thomas’
                                                                                                                                                                          lidflower (Calyptranthes thomasiana). Recent
                                                                                                                                                                          surveys of both species show them to be stable
                                                                                                                                                                          within the park.

20                                                                                                                                                                        PARK WILDLIFE—BATS, BIRDS, FROGS,
                                                                                                                                                                          AND SLUGS CONTRIBUTE TO DIVERSE
Virgin Islands National Park / Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument

                                                                                                                                                                          TERRESTRIAL COMMUNITIES
                                                                                                                                                                          St. John’s only native mammals are six species
                                                                                                                                                                          of bats: red fig-eating bat (Stenoderma rufum),
                                                                                                                                                                          greater bulldog bat (Noctilio leporinus), Jamaican
                                                                                                                                                                          fruit-eating bat (Artibeus jamaicensis), Antillean
                                                                                                                                                                          fruit-eating bat (Brachyphylla cavernarum),
                                                                                                                                                                          velvety free-tailed bat (Molossus molossus), and
                                                                                                                                                                          Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis).
                                                                                                                                                                          The red fig-eating bat, greater bulldog bat, and
                                                                                                                                                                          Antillean fruit-eating bat are protected under
                                                                                                                                                                          the Virgin Islands Endangered and Indigenous
                                                                                                                                                                          Species Act of 1990. Because they are important
                                                                                                                                                                          pollinators for many native plants, as well as
                                                                                                                                                                          important seed dispersers for fruit-bearing trees
                                                                                                                                                                          and shrubs, they are regarded as keystone
                                                                                                                                                                          species—crucial members of the ecosystems
                                                                                           Marron bacora is one    pepper, tan tan, and limeberry may have                they inhabit.
                                                                                           of three species of     contributed to the demise of some of St. John’s            Birds abound in Virgin Islands National
                                                                                           vascular plants found
                                                                                                                   native plants.                                         Park. In the U.S. Virgin Islands as a whole, docu-
                                                                                           only on St. John—
                                                                                           nowhere else in the        The present vegetation of St. John shows            mented birds include 39 seabird, 23 waterfowl,
                                                                                           world. Historic         differing degrees of regeneration, ranging from        23 marshbird, and 37 shorebird species. At least
                                                                                           destruction of the      recently disturbed to late secondary succes-           59 species of migratory Nearctic landbirds
                                                                                           island’s vegetation     sional forests. Existing vegetative cover contains     (birds from North America, Greenland, or the
                                                                                           and the introduction
                                                                                                                   numerous introduced plants that have become            Mexican highlands) have also been recorded in
                                                                                           of non-native plants
                                                                                           and animals have        established in dense stands or, more commonly,         the U.S. Virgin Islands; many of them use the
                                                                                           caused some native      are intermixed with native species. Introduced         mature intact forests of St. John as overwinter-
                                                                                           species such as         invasive species can be found in most commu-           ing grounds. Federally listed bird species found
                                                                                           marron bacora to                                                               in the U.S. Virgin Islands include the endan-
                                                                                                                   nities across the island, particularly near historic
                                                                                           become nearly
                                                                                           extinct.                structures and in recently disturbed, open areas       gered brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) and
                                                                                                                   such as roadsides and construction sites. The          piping plover (Charadrius melodus), as well as
                                                                                                                   Park Service is currently considering invasive         the threatened roseate tern (Sterna dougallii).
                                                                                                                   species management options for Virgin Islands              Although wildlife poaching is an illegal activ-
ity, the poaching of brown pelican and roseate       frog (E. cochranae), it was found in every habitat
            tern eggs may be a problem in some remote            type across the island. Researchers have
            areas of the park. In addition, disturbance by       concluded that amphibian populations in the
            human visitation to offshore cays where the          park are doing well, though they are concerned
            birds nest results in low egg production, death      about the presence of the non-native Cuban tree
            of chicks to sun exposure, or even abandon-          frog (Osteopilus septentrionalis), a species that
            ment of the entire nesting colony. Decreases in      preys on other frogs and competes with other
            baitfish populations due to overfishing may          species for limited food supplies. Researchers
            limit nesting populations and affect the breed-      from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have
            ing and fledging success of these birds.             predicted that the Cuban tree frog population
                Human poaching and disturbance are only          will continue to grow and spread across the
            two threats faced by bird species on St. John.       island. Three species of Anolis lizards (Anolis                                 21
            Habitat loss continues to leave migratory bird       stratulus, A. cristatellus and A. pulchellus) can be

                                                                                                                                                 Virgin Islands National Park / Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument
            species vulnerable. Mangrove and salt pond           found throughout the park and are the most
            wetlands serve as vital habitat for winter-resi-     common reptiles seen. The green iguana
            dent birds, and their loss and degradation           (Iguana iguana), house gecko (Hemidactylus
            caused by local development threaten migratory       frenatus), and red-footed tortoise (Geochelone
            birds. Fragmentation and clearing of intact          carbonaria) are all introduced species, but
            forests also harms birds.                            according to the USGS survey report, they do
                Virgin Islands National Park is home to          not appear to be having negative effects on
            many terrestrial reptile and amphibian species.      native flora or fauna.
            The Antillean frog (Eleutherodactylus antillensis)       Not surprisingly, the dominant terrestrial life
            was the most common amphibian detected               forms in Virgin Islands National Park are inver-
            during surveys, and along with the whistling         tebrate fauna, including a wide range of tropical

                                                                                                                        Many seabird species
                                                                                                                        nest at Virgin Islands
                                                                                                                        National Park. Human
                                                                                                                        visitation to nesting
                                                                                                                        areas disturbs some
                                                                                                                        species and can even
                                                                                                                        result in the death of
Non-native feral hogs

                                                                                                                                                                                                            CARRIE STENGEL
                                                                             eat native plants,
                                                                             compete with native
                                                                             species for food, and
                                                                             create trails and
                                                                             compact soils. The
                                                                             park has been
                                                                             working to reduce
                                                                             populations of hogs
                                                                             and other non-native
                                                                             animals since 2002.

Virgin Islands National Park / Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument

                                                                                                     snails, slugs, crabs, spiders, scorpions,          topsoil that erodes during grazing travels
                                                                                                     centipedes, millipedes, and insects. In 1987,      downslope and degrades coral reefs found in
                                                                                                     232 species of invertebrates representing 124      the waters below the cliffs.
                                                                                                     families were identified on the island.                Herbivory and direct disturbance to vegeta-
                                                                                                                                                        tion (trampling, crushing, and uprooting) by
                                                                                                     NON-NATIVE MAMMALS—GOATS,                          goats, sheep, wild hogs, and donkeys negatively
                                                                                                     SHEEP, DONKEYS, HOGS, AND OTHER                    affect protected plant species within Virgin
                                                                                                     ANIMALS DEGRADE ISLAND                             Islands National Park. Because numerous
                                                                                                     COMMUNITIES                                        threatened and endangered plant species have
                                                                                                     Wild, non-native goats, sheep, donkeys, and        small populations to begin with, even relatively
                                                                                                     hogs cause major damage to park resources.         small impacts can have a large detrimental effect
                                                                                                     Goat and sheep herds are capable of denuding       on the total floral composition of the island.
                                                                                                     large areas of all vegetation, including trees     Non-native grazers consume the two federally
                                                                                                     (through bark stripping) and cacti. The most       listed plant species found on St. John: the St.
                                                                                                     fragile forest community—the dry forest in         Thomas prickly-ash and Thomas’ lidflower.
                                                                                                     the southeastern portion of the island—may         They also eat marron bacora, a rare plant found
                                                                                                     not be able to recover from such damage            only on St. John. Marron bacora was proposed
                                                                                                     because it has few plant species and few indi-     for listing under the Endangered Species Act in
                                                                                                     viduals of those species left. Unfortunately for   1998, but in 2006 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
                                                                                                     the dry forest community, goats prefer the         Service (USFWS) announced that the plant did
                                                                                                     steep, semi-barren cliffs that dominate this       not warrant protection under the law. The non-
                                                                                                     area. In addition to plant damage, precious        native animals also forage on seedlings of three
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