UVI Student Studying Seagrass Invasion

Invasive seagrass (Contributed photo)
Invasive seagrass (Contributed photo)

Virgin Islanders concerned about the ocean around them have plenty to worry about – acidification, runoff from coastal development, sargassum stink, invasive lionfish, toxic chemicals in sunscreen, and coral bleaching from global climate change.

They can now add another concern – the tropical seagrass species, Halophila stipulacea.

It originated in the Indian Ocean, invaded the Mediterranean and has recently established itself in the Caribbean Sea. An article in the July publication “Frontiers in Plant Science” said “due to its invasive nature, there is growing interest in understanding this species’ capacity to adapt.”

A Virgin Islands researcher has turned that interest into research.

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Crucian Antonio Farchette was invited to give a paper on
“Halophila Stipulacea: Ecology And Management of the Globally Invasive Seagrass,” at a conference in Puerto Rico Thursday. The invitation was based on a webinar he produced on the seagrass.

The conference is Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography Limnology refers to freshwater habitat research.

The purpose of ASLO is to foster a diverse, international scientific community that creates and communicates knowledge across the spectrum of aquatic sciences, advancing public awareness and education about aquatic resources and research.

Farchette says since the invasive seagrass was first found in Grenada in 2002, it has spread to 20 other islands and doesn’t look to be stopping anytime soon.

Like the lionfish, no one is positive how the invasive seagrass arrived here; it could have been in the bilge of a ship or ocean currents might be responsible.

Farchette remembers growing up on St. Croix and his interest in the science of the ocean being piqued by weekend visits to the beach. He said his interest in this particular seagrass was spurred “when I took a class under Dr. Sandy Wyllie-Echeverria. It was his idea to host the webinar.”

In his presentation at the San Juan conference, he included contributions from University of Virgin Islands professor Paul Jobsis and another professor from Loyola Marymount University.

The 26-year-old Farchette’s work on the seagrass is the research component of his effort to earn a masters degree at UVI.

Farchette said the seagrass is hardy, and therein lies the problem.

“It quickly spreads and will cover any bare sand that is available and can quickly recover from disturbances thanks to its quick growth rate and its ability to regrow from fragments,” he said.

The quick growth will be a boon at least in his research. Farchette, who attended St. Joseph’s Catholic School on St. Croix, plans to grow some of the seaweed in an experimental setting and note how it adapts to different environments.

Like many of his fellow Virgin Islanders he sees a bigger problem than just invasive seagrass.

“I am concerned about the future of the ocean between all the threats such as climate change, overfishing, and pollution.”

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