WHO WE ARE
Reef Response is a coral restoration program located in the US Virgin Islands. The program was created to increase coral cover and diversity of coral reefs around the Virgin Islands while empowering the local community to help mitigate the effects of changing environmental conditions.
Reef Response's mission is to stimulate coral reef ecosystem health through coral restoration, promote community involvement through citizen science, and ensure best practices through scientific research.
WHAT IS RESTORATION
Coral restoration aims to increase the abundance, genetic diversity, and resilience of reef-building corals. This is achieved through the use of multiple methods of growing coral in either land-based or in-water nurseries. Reef Response focuses on "Fragments of Opportunity," which involves collecting pieces of coral that have broken off from the reef and would otherwise die, and growing and multiplying them in a nursery, and planting them back onto the reef. Check out our methods to learn more about our land and water based methods for restoration.
WHAT IS INVOLVED
Successful coral restoration programs have several key elements:
Nursery maintenance: Structures that hold the growing corals must be cleaned regularly to avoid overgrowth of algae, sponges, tunicates, barnacles, and other organisms. Sick corals must be removed or treated to prevent the spread of diseases in the nursery.
Nursery monitoring: Coral fragments in both in-water and land-based nurseries are monitored for growth, mortality, and health indicators, including disease, predation, and bleaching. This information is important to understand which coral species and genotypes are the best growers and survivors.
Outplanting: Once nursery corals reach an appropriate size, they are "out-planted" onto coral reefs in need of coral restoration. This consists of divers on SCUBA attaching the fragments to the reef using cement or underwater epoxy.
Outplanted coral monitoring: Outplanted corals are also monitored regularly to track growth, mortality, and health indicators. We use this information to inform our decisions for future outplanting.
Community outreach: Community awareness and involvement is an important part of coral restoration. The US Virgin Islands community is dependent on healthy coral reefs for the benefits they provide including habitat for fisheries, shoreline protection, and tourism. Reef Response involves community members in coral restoration activities through our citizen science program. We also seek to increase awareness of coral restoration in the community through presentations and public events. Follow us on social media to hear about any of our latest events!
REEF RESPONSE AND THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
The US Virgin Islands’ economy, well-being, and culture are all connected to coral reef ecosystems. Tourism and fisheries, the two main drivers of the local economy, are both highly reliant on coral reefs. Coral reefs provide habitat for commercially important fish and other marine organisms; and diverse coral and fish communities attract tourists. Coral reefs also protect the islands’ shorelines from strong waves generated by hurricanes and tropical storms. Finally, the marine environment is an important part of the local culture.
Coral reefs represent some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Although they account for less than 1% of the seafloor, coral reefs harbor more than ¼ of all marine life. Local fisheries depend on the structure of coral reefs to provide homes for commercially important species. Roughly half of all fisheries species depend on coral reefs for at least one segment of their life cycle.
Coral reefs play a vital role in protecting coastlines from wave action, especially during storms. Hard corals dissipate and absorb up to 97% of wave energy. Coral reefs shield our shorelines from coastal erosion and protect coastal ecosystems by serving as the first line of defense against large waves resulting from tropical storms. The presence of reefs cause waves to break offshore, therefore limiting wave energy and their harmful impact on the coastline.
The beauty and great biodiversity of coral reefs make them a highly desired component of the tourism industry. Coral reefs offer direct use tourism opportunities like diving and snorkeling. However, they also provide “reef-adjacent” tourism opportunities. These depend on coral reefs but do not directly use them, including beach activities, a source for fresh seafood, and calm waters for boating and swimming. Overall, coral reefs serve as an invaluable economic asset to coastal communities through opportunities for tourism. In fact, coral reefs are estimated to have an annual value of $36 billion from the tourism industry alone!