March 14, 2006 – Nick Drayton, the Ocean Conservancy's St. Croix-based Caribbean ecosystems project manager, hopes that the state of the territory's coral reefs will become an issue in the upcoming election.
"There seems to be no response at the local level in terms of trying to reduce some of the stresses on coral reefs," he said Tuesday.
He said the coral reefs suffered extensive bleaching and die-off last summer thanks to extremely warm water.
"But the coral reefs were already stressed from other factors," he said, ticking off land-based pollution and sedimentation as prime problems.
Drayton said indications point toward another warm summer. He said that the Southern Hemisphere is currently in the midst of an unusually warm summer, a situation that usually repeats itself in the Northern Hemisphere.
"And the global weather continues to be out of character," he said.
He said that while the territory can't do anything about those situations, it can do something about other factors affecting the reefs.
Drayton said that since the Ocean Conservancy last year published "State of the Coral Reefs of the U.S. Virgin Islands," a book detailing the organization's findings, he has seen some positive signs.
He cited slight movement forward on the Planning and Natural Resources Department's development of rules and regulations for St. Croix's East End Marine Park.
"There's a need to expedite the process in view of the increased pressures and evidence of coral loss," he said.
DPNR spokesman Jamal Nielsen said Tuesday that the department held public hearings in February on the proposed rules and regulations.
Nielsen said a decision on the rules and regulations will be made by the Coastal Zone Management Commission on April 4.
Drayton said that releasing the conservancy's book — of which more than 1,000 copies were distributed — sparked dialogue among those interested in finding solutions to coral reef issues.
"Recently the Caribbean Fisheries Management Council has protected groupers and snappers from fishing pressure during their annual spawning rituals off the coast of St. Thomas," he said.
Download a copy of the book for free at the conservancy's Web site.
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