VIRGIN ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK VIRGIN ISLANDS CORAL REEF NATIONAL MONUMENT - A Resource Assessment
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® VIRGIN ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK March 2008 VIRGIN ISLANDS CORAL REEF NATIONAL MONUMENT 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 CONTENTS 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 www.npca.org/stateoftheparks 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: email@example.com. 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
REPORT SUMMARY ELIZABETH MEYERS 1 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
KYLE BRYNER 2 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
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 respectively. 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 sustenance.
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 monument. 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 difficult. 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 crumble.
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
THE VIRGIN ISLANDS ASSESSMENT CAROLINE ROGERS 12 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
K. BOULON Underwater habitats at the park and monument harbor countless marine organisms, including this octopus. 15 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
CAROLINE ROGERS 17 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 CAROLINE ROGERS 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.
RAFE BOULON 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 K. BOULON 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 chicks.
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. 22 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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