Nov. 2, 2003 After four years of studying a submerged reef that recently became part of the Buck Island Underwater Monument, National Park Service officials say there are signs that marine life there is beginning to recover.
Five months after the boundaries of the expanded undersea monument took effect, Park Superintendent Joel Tutein called a press conference Friday to announce the results of a study started in 1999 among local scientists affiliated with the park and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. "It would appear that the fish population is starting to improve," Tutein said. "The habitats are starting to improve."
Park Service biologist Zandy Hillis-Starr has been watching the progress along 4,000 acres of hard bottom reef in the monument for four years. "We didn't know exactly what we were going to find there," she said Friday, "except we knew that it is a critical resource which is contiguous with the old park."
Using the information gathered so far as a scientific baseline, the team is now ready to conduct a targeted study of reef fish and shellfish that have been part of the traditional diet of Virgin Islanders and their Caribbean neighbors, Hillis-Starr said.
Twice a year since 1999, she reported, researchers have taken inventory of the sea life in the reef and the seagrass beds. The data is being organized to learn how the populations of various species rise and fall over time. With the cooperation of the local government, the study will soon expand to include the boundaries of the newly declared St. Croix East End Marine Park, Hillis-Starr said.
"It will be interesting to see in the expanded area as well as the original monument the status of the populations of reef fish and conch, looking at species that were previously commercially harvested, that the expansion of the monument is giving them some protection," she said.
The enlargement of the undersea monument the original boundaries of which were first declared in 1961 was declared by President Bill Clinton just before he left office in 2000. The monument now encompasses 18,135 acres.
Local fishermen have been vocal in their opposition to the park's expansion. At a town meeting in May, Delegate Donna Christensen said she was concerned that making the no-fishing zone bigger would leave fishermen "significantly and adversely affected."
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name, and the city and state/country or island where you reside.
Publisher's note : Like the St. Thomas Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.