Feb. 9, 2004 – Sediment in Coral Harbor has increased by 10 to 20 times from what it was 15 to 25 years ago, according to community resident Barry Devine, who happens to be a chief scientist at the Conservation Data Center of the Eastern Caribbean Center at the University of the Virgin Islands.
"And the rate is getting faster right now," he told the more than 50 people gathered Monday at the John's Folly Learning Institute for a meeting of the Coral Bay Community Council.
Devine said the concentration of sediment in the water hadn't changed for 5,000 years, but recent rapid development in the Coral Harbor watershed has caused it to increase drastically.
Water quality testing showed Coral Harbor with 13.43 milligrams of suspended solids per liter of water, by far the highest of the samples taken on St. John between 1994 and 2000. The next-highest was in the water at the V.I. National Park dock in Cruz Bay, which showed 10.41 mg per liter. Third-highest was Great Cruz Bay, a highly developed area, with 4.95 mg per liter.
The 3,003-acre watershed that drains mainly into Coral Harbor is only 5 percent developed, more development is on the way. According to the 2000 Census, the area is the fastest growing in the Virgin Islands in terms of population. The number of residents increased by 79 percent from 1990 to 2000, in actual numbers from 363 to 649. Rapid population growth is continuing, with homes sprouting on the hillsides like mushrooms after a heavy rain.
Coral Harbor is adjacent to the waters of the Coral Reef National Monument; so, what happens in Coral Harbor will impact on the national monument.
Devine said he expects the Coral Bay area will someday be so developed that cruise ships will tie up outside Coral Harbor.
Meanwhile, silt from unpaved roads and bare building lots, septic tank matter, animal waste and toxins from an unregulated junkyard and an unregulated marina continue to run down the hillsides into Coral Harbor. And two Public Works Department garbage bins sit directly behind the mangroves.
"There's a severe problem, and we need to address it soon," Devine said, commending formation of the Coral Bay Community Council in November as a first step.
Devine said UVI and the U.S. Geological Survey have provided a $40,000 grant to help the council address watershed issues. The first task is to come up with a storm drainage system to keep hillside runoff out of Coral Harbor. Salt ponds do the job, Devine said, but there are far more guts than salt ponds.
He called on Coral Bay residents to demand controlled growth, rather than to allow the area to end up like Jersey Bay on St. Thomas. That area, also called the Lagoon, long ago began to suffer from the effects of development.
"It's our choice," he said.
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