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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, May 26, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesSEAHORSE RELEASE PLAN IS ECO-TOURISM AT WORK

SEAHORSE RELEASE PLAN IS ECO-TOURISM AT WORK

Ecological tourism, the experts say, is one of the hottest market niches in the leisure travel business today. It's also, of course, environmentally — and politically — correct. And those are strong incentives for hospitality enterprises to look into partnering to promote activities that appeal to the intrepid eco-tourist.
One such partnership is falling into place on St. Thomas right now. It's between the Coral World marine park and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, and its objective is to promote awareness of marine environmental issues among both residents and visitors.
The waters of Great Bay, off the Ritz-Carlton beach, lie within the St. James Marine Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary, which extends from Cas Cay to Cabrita Point and includes the Cow and Calf Rocks and the Little St. James and Great St. James islands. And adjacent to this sanctuary are other marine reserves and wildlife sanctuaries — the Compass Point Pond and Cas Cay and the Mangrove Lagoon.
Someone keenly aware of what this all means in the greater scheme of things is Arnoldo Falcoff, who is in charge of the underwater snorkeling school for the hotel. Falcoff, a Coast Guard-licensed captain, has been involved with watersports at the hotel since 1992, when it was the Grand Palazzo, and before that he worked with the old Coral World. "I helped with capturing some of the sharks for the predator tank," he says matter-of-factly.
Several months ago, Falcoff approached Coral World curator Donna Nemeth with an idea whose time had come: releasing some of the seahorses bred at the marine park into the seagrass beds located in Great Bay just a short swim from the hotel beach. Two weeks ago in a test run, 10 of the creatures were released, and Nemeth was pleased. "The shallow, calm waters of Great Bay contain seagrasses and algae that should provide habitat and food," she said.
And so, on Tuesday, April 18, at 3 p.m., guests of the hotel and others from the community who would like to come along will take part in a guided snorkel tour to witness the release of the seahorses and learn more about the value of ecological reserves.
Between 10 and 50 of the "older" seahorses in the breeding program at Coral World will be released Tuesday, Nemeth said. They are about a year old and about 2 inches in length and are now at a stage of development to be placed into a natural habitat. "They do not have many predators," Falcoff noted. "They have very good camouflage — they wrap their tails in some algae or a sponge and they stay very quiet. They feed on crustaceans and other tiny animals passing by."
It will be the first in what's expected to become an ongoing program of periodic seahorse releases in Great Bay. How often they occur will depend "on the level of interest of the guests at the hotel" and how often things get to the point that "we have too many mouths to feed" in the breeding tanks at Coral World, Nemeth said.
"This is a great opportunity to support the environmental efforts of the Ritz-Carlton and use our marine biology expertise to help educate their visitors," she said.
The marine reserves protect valuable nursery habitats for juvenile reef fishes, lobsters and birds, and it is against the law to remove any creatures from them. "We want to bring awareness about the status of the marine reserves," Falcoff says. "The public is not very well informed, and we have seen over-exploitation of the reefs over the years. Reefs have a very important function as a place that allows marine animals to thrive and procreate without any interference."

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Ecological tourism, the experts say, is one of the hottest market niches in the leisure travel business today. It's also, of course, environmentally -- and politically -- correct. And those are strong incentives for hospitality enterprises to look into partnering to promote activities that appeal to the intrepid eco-tourist.
One such partnership is falling into place on St. Thomas right now. It's between the Coral World marine park and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, and its objective is to promote awareness of marine environmental issues among both residents and visitors.
The waters of Great Bay, off the Ritz-Carlton beach, lie within the St. James Marine Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary, which extends from Cas Cay to Cabrita Point and includes the Cow and Calf Rocks and the Little St. James and Great St. James islands. And adjacent to this sanctuary are other marine reserves and wildlife sanctuaries -- the Compass Point Pond and Cas Cay and the Mangrove Lagoon.
Someone keenly aware of what this all means in the greater scheme of things is Arnoldo Falcoff, who is in charge of the underwater snorkeling school for the hotel. Falcoff, a Coast Guard-licensed captain, has been involved with watersports at the hotel since 1992, when it was the Grand Palazzo, and before that he worked with the old Coral World. "I helped with capturing some of the sharks for the predator tank," he says matter-of-factly.
Several months ago, Falcoff approached Coral World curator Donna Nemeth with an idea whose time had come: releasing some of the seahorses bred at the marine park into the seagrass beds located in Great Bay just a short swim from the hotel beach. Two weeks ago in a test run, 10 of the creatures were released, and Nemeth was pleased. "The shallow, calm waters of Great Bay contain seagrasses and algae that should provide habitat and food," she said.
And so, on Tuesday, April 18, at 3 p.m., guests of the hotel and others from the community who would like to come along will take part in a guided snorkel tour to witness the release of the seahorses and learn more about the value of ecological reserves.
Between 10 and 50 of the "older" seahorses in the breeding program at Coral World will be released Tuesday, Nemeth said. They are about a year old and about 2 inches in length and are now at a stage of development to be placed into a natural habitat. "They do not have many predators," Falcoff noted. "They have very good camouflage -- they wrap their tails in some algae or a sponge and they stay very quiet. They feed on crustaceans and other tiny animals passing by."
It will be the first in what's expected to become an ongoing program of periodic seahorse releases in Great Bay. How often they occur will depend "on the level of interest of the guests at the hotel" and how often things get to the point that "we have too many mouths to feed" in the breeding tanks at Coral World, Nemeth said.
"This is a great opportunity to support the environmental efforts of the Ritz-Carlton and use our marine biology expertise to help educate their visitors," she said.
The marine reserves protect valuable nursery habitats for juvenile reef fishes, lobsters and birds, and it is against the law to remove any creatures from them. "We want to bring awareness about the status of the marine reserves," Falcoff says. "The public is not very well informed, and we have seen over-exploitation of the reefs over the years. Reefs have a very important function as a place that allows marine animals to thrive and procreate without any interference."