The Ocean Conservancy and Partners introduce The State of the Coral Reefs of the U.S. Virgin Islands

The State of the Coral Reefs of the U.S. Virgin Islands is the shared effort of scientists, researchers, divers, fishermen, government and other stakeholders in the Virgin Islands. The Virgin Islands has experienced a decline in the health of its coral ecosystems in recent decades, due primarily to overfishing, pollution and coastal development. This book is intended to foster a dialogue among all stakeholders and involve them in implementing solutions to these problems.

"We inherited reefs that were alive with vibrant corals, abundant fish, sea turtles, and other ocean life, and we have a shared responsibility to pass healthy reef ecosystems on to our children and grandchildren," said Roger Rufe, president of The Ocean Conservancy, at the book launch on St. Thomas. "To fulfill that responsibility, we must plan for the future and remember that the islands' economic well-being and quality of life depend upon healthy reefs. Whether you fish, run a dive operation, a resort or are a scientist or researcher," said Rufe, "You depend on healthy reefs. If they disappear, so do livelihoods."

On March 11, Marine biologist and Ocean Conservancy board member Sylvia Earle participated in the book launch events by leading a dive with authors off the coast of St. John, the same place she made history 35 years ago as part of the Tektite II mission, a five-woman team that spent two weeks under water researching the marine ecosystem. In contributing to State of the Coral Reefs, Earle reminds readers "the ocean is resilient, it can heal. If we're going to save ocean life, we've got to start protecting undersea habitats, too."

"We are here to launch a book and a dialogue. We hope this will be an ongoing dialogue about how we can all be better stewards of U.S. Virgin Islands coral reefs, because they won't survive without us," said Nicholas Drayton, Caribbean ecosystem project manager for The Ocean Conservancy. "The reefs are living systems, and people are a part of that system. What we do on land — or in the water — affects the coral reefs."

The two-day book launch included a presentation to the U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Charles W. Turnbull (D) at a reception hosted at his mansion, a dive led by Sylvia Earle and a guided tour of the marine environment by Earle and Roger Rufe for school children of the USVI on a windowed submarine provided by Atlantis.

The book was officially launched at Coral World, where an exhibit highlighting the changing state of the reefs titled, Coral Reefs: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, was unveiled. The Exhibit includes a short film documenting native Virgin Islanders personal accounts of the declining health of the coral reefs, as well as a historical perspective of how marine life around the islands has changed.

The Ocean Conservancy strives to be the world's foremost advocate for the oceans. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., with more than half a million members and Volunteers, The Ocean Conservancy has regional offices in Alaska, California, Florida, and New England and field offices in Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz, Calif., the U.S. Virgin Islands and the office of Pollution Prevention and Monitoring in Virginia Beach, Va. Visit www.oceanconservancy.org.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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