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Science Conference to Highlight Facility's 30 Years of Research

Oct. 3, 2006 — From the smallest corals to the largest hurricanes, researchers at a St. John facility have drawn connections for decades between marine life and world-changing events, a history they will review at a conference next month.
"It took almost a year before this was really recognized, but high temperatures in the Caribbean Sea contributed to the ferocity of Hurricane Katrina," said Randy Brown, executive director of Clean Islands International and administrator of the Virgin Islands Environmental Resource Station (VIERS). "These things are really related, and that's the main purpose of the conference: Not only to give a historical perspective, but also to show how the research going on now relates to larger events."
The conference, called "Science in the Park," will take place Nov. 1-3 as part of a yearlong celebration for V.I. National Park (VINP). Subtitled "VINP's 50th Anniversary Conference on Marine and Terrestrial Scientific Research," Brown said the gathering would involve 16 to 18 researchers covering approximately 30 years of work at the Lameshur Bay facility.
"We got a positive response from quite a few researchers," Brown said Monday in a telephone interview. "We decided we would have a small conference."
VIERS has attracted some of the biggest names in science over the years, including "Sturgeon General" Sylvia Earle, one of the world's most celebrated women in marine research and author of such books as "Wild Ocean" and the "National Geographic Atlas of the Ocean: The Deep Frontier," and John E. "Jack" Randall, considered the world's leading authority on coral reef fish classification.
Earle participated in one of the projects that helped launch VIERS, Tektite II. Originally built as a model for NASA's Skylab project to study the long-term effects of life in a confined space, Brown said, Tektite I in 1969 set records for underwater habitation that still stand today. Tektite II in 1970 allowed "aquanauts" — Earle included — to spend a week or two at a time in the 50-foot-deep habitat in Great Lameshur Bay.
One of those original aquanauts will return for November's conference, Brown said. The event's keynote speaker, Gary Davis, served as backup for Tektite I and an aquanaut in Tektite II. At a free public ceremony Nov. 3 open to registered guests, Brown and his colleagues will dedicate a small museum commemorating the Tektite years.
"There's a lot of interest now in the sea and in outer space," Brown said. "That's why we're starting the museum. One of the original Project Tektite I aquanauts, Richard Waller, died in September 2005. He was also in charge of the science aspect of Tektite II. We received a collection of artifacts from his estate and from other participants."
To register or for more information about the conference, see the Clean Islands website or call Brown at 340-776-6721.
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