COMMITMENT TO ACTION

U.S. Virgin Islands Coral Innovation Hub

Commitment by The Nature Conservancy

In 2019, The Nature Conservancy committed to establish the USVI Coral Innovation Hub, a nursery and replicable platform for coral restoration located in St. Croix. The Hub will launch annual propagation and planting expeditions to result in 45,000 total new coral colonies planted across more than 15,000 hectares of local marine ecosystem over the next five years. Reefs help protect vulnerable Caribbean communities against the devastating impacts of climate change, including erosion, flooding, and extreme weather events such as 2017’s Hurricanes Irma and Maria. They also contribute an estimated $490 million per year to the USVI tourism economy. With reefs around the USVI and across the globe in decline, this project will utilize compact and easily deployable facilities to allow streamlining of coral propagation and restoration and facilitate the replication of these projects across multiple geographies.



Overview
Summary

Commitment

U.S. Virgin Islands Coral Innovation Hub

Launched

2019

Est. Duration

4 Years

Estimated Total Value

$5,000,000

Region

Latin America & Caribbean

Countries

VIRGIN ISLANDS, U.S.

Commitment by

The Nature Conservancy

Partner(s) of the Commitment Maker(s)

University of the Virgin Islands; Junior Scientists in the Sea; U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Planning & Natural Resources; Ocean Systems Lab & Bioimpact, Inc.; St. Croix East End Marine Park
Details

In order to conserve, restore and monitor coral reefs throughout the Caribbean and to mobilize regional and global action by proactively sharing their science and expertise, The Nature Conservancy is establishing Coral Innovation Hubs in The Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). Through this commitment, the Conservancy and its partners will complete the USVI Coral Innovation Hub, a land-based coral nursery and replicable platform for coral restoration located in St. Croix.

The USVI Coral Innovation Hub will launch annual propagation and planting expeditions to result in 45,000 total new coral colonies planted across more than 15,000 hectares of local marine ecosystem over the next five years. The nursery will contain a coral grow room, dry lab, outdoor raceways, and is designed to be modular, customizable and easily replicated at other Hubs or global locations. Each year, the Hub will lead coral rearing at the nursery, facilitated reproduction expedition dives in the St. Croix East End Marine Park, and a Mass Coral Outplanting.

The USVI Coral Innovation Hub will be based at the Conservancy’s Estate Little Princess property on St. Croix and will employ at least six people. Because local capacity building is a priority for the Conservancy, at least six interns will be hosted from the University of the Virgin Islands and Junior Scientists of the Sea each year. Learning from successful public engagement at the Dominican Republic Coral Innovation Hub, The Conservancy will also open the USVI Hub to local students for educational activities, to make learning about marine-ecosystems more accessible.

By developing standardized, portable, and inexpensive platforms for both in situ and ex situ coral propagation, this project will remove key barriers to scale up coral restoration to protect fish and ocean ecosystems across the region. These compact and easily deployable facilities in the USVI, as well as The Nature Conservancy’s additional Hubs in The Bahamas, and the Domincan Republic, will allow scientists, coral managers, and restoration practitioners to easily adopt innovative restoration approaches and promote replicability across multiple geographies.

Throughout the course of this project, the Coral Innovation Hub will be available for educational activities, to share knowledge of coral protection, monitoring, and planting expeditions to students and the general public across the USVI. In each year, the Conservancy expects that at least six interns will be hired.

July 2019 – Groundbreaking on Modular Coral Nursery
September 2019 – Facilitated Sexual Reproduction Expedition (~5,000 corals planted)
December 2019 – Modular Coral Nursery Installation Complete
January 2020 – Coral Rearing Begins at Modular Coral Nursery
September 2020 – Facilitated Sexual Reproduction Expedition (~5,000 corals planted)
October 2020 – Mass Coral Outplanting (~5,000 corals planted)
January 2021 – Restock Coral Nurseries
September 2021 – Facilitated Sexual Reproduction Expedition (~5,000 corals planted)
October 2021 – Mass Coral Outplanting (~5,000 corals planted)
January 2022 – Restock Coral Nurseries
September 2022 – Facilitated Sexual Reproduction Expedition (~5,000 corals planted)
October 2022 – Mass Coral Outplanting (~5,000 corals planted)
January 2023 – Restock Coral Nurseries
September 2023 – Facilitated Sexual Reproduction Expedition (~5,000 corals planted)
October 2023 – Mass Coral Outplanting (~5,000 corals planted)

Background

Coral reefs are the heart of the ocean, radiating vitality and life into the waters that make up over 70 percent of our planet. Hidden beneath the surface, they are complex ecosystems that support thousands of plant and animal species and are essential for maintaining a healthy ocean. They also supply millions of people worldwide with food, livelihoods and protection against environmental threats.

As a region made up of more than 2.5 million square kilometers of ocean and hundreds of islands, the Caribbean is especially dependent on coral reefs. The fishing and tourism industries are the major driving forces behind economies across the region, and these industries cannot survive without healthy and thriving coral reefs. A recent study led by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) revealed that reef-associated tourism generates over $7.9 billion for Caribbean economies annually. In addition, reefs help protect vulnerable Caribbean communities against the devastating impacts of climate change, including erosion, flooding and extreme weather events – like 2017’s Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which took hundreds of lives and caused mass destruction across multiple islands.

Resiliency of coastal ecosystems in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) and the communities that depend upon them are intimately intertwined. Coral reefs protect vulnerable coastal communities and infrastructure by attenuating wave energy and reducing storm surge, thereby reducing coastal flooding and beach erosion. These marine habitats underpin local livelihoods – contributing an estimated $490 million per year to the USVI economy through tourism alone – and provide vital habitat to coral, fish and other organisms listed on the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Today, however, reefs around the USVI, indeed around the world, are witnessing dramatic loss. Coral reefs will continue to decline at a dangerous pace unless urgent action is taken.

Partnership Opportunities

The USVI Coral Innovation Hub has a current budget of $5 million over the next four years. This includes approximately $1 million in infrastructure and capital costs and $4M in operating and implementation costs. The Nature Conservancy has successfully raised nearly $2M for this effort and would benefit from assistance in connecting project leadership to additional donor prospects. Media support is critical to the success of this project and community outreach and education essential. USVI government agency support would be welcomed to expedite the processing of approvals and permits. Building relationships with USVI leadership (ie: Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Legislators) will give additionally credibility to this effort. Lastly, any support in accessing top tourism industry leaders to help build awareness around the importance of this effort would help scale this work. Through collaboration among the Coral Innovation Hubs, the latest coral protection, restoration and monitoring techniques can be trialed and deployed synchronously across geographies. For example, much of the work and testing that has gone into innovative restoration techniques has been at a small scale in solitary locations, which limits the ability to learn what consistently works, where it works and why. By gathering comprehensive results through the interconnected Coral Innovation Hubs, TNC and partners can advance these techniques forward and into the locations, in the Caribbean and around the world, where they are needed most urgently. Results can also help inform strategic siting of coral restoration activities to help local authorities in the USVI invest in nature to strengthen coastal resilience.

Progress Reports