Seagrass Beds Bouncing Back Thanks to VINP Moorings

With global warming worries and coral bleaching concerns, recovering seagrass beds in several bays monitored by the V.I. National Park are bright spots on the horizon.

Overnight and day use moorings, originally installed in 1999, seem to be doing the trick, according to Rafe Boulon, VINP’s chief of resource management.

“We have been monitoring in four of the bays where we put moorings in in 1999,” said Boulon. “We’ve found significant recovery of seagrass in some of the bays which has keen keeping the water clear and stabilizing the sea bed.”

Food Resources
Seagrass beds are also important food resources for green turtles, conch and many different kinds of juvenile fish.

The Friends of the V.I. National Park sponsored the installation of 176 over-night moorings — plus additional day use and commercial moorings — in 1999, and the VINP implemented a Mooring and Anchoring Fee Program in 2003.

Compliance with the fee program — which costs $15 for overnight anchoring or mooring between the hours of 5 p.m. and 7 a.m.— has steadily increased since its inception.

From January through December 2006, the Mooring and Anchoring Fee Program generated a total of $127,510.35 for the VINP, up from $110,159 in 2005, according to acting sea coordinator Andrea Joseph.

The total reflects a 12 percent increase in revenues from last year and a large increase over 2004’s total revenue of $65,353.84.

Pre-paying for Usage
Collaborating with several St. Thomas-based charter boat companies has helped increase compliance rates, as visitors are now able to pre-pay for their park stays.

“The charter boat companies collect money for the use of moorings in the park and then the companies remit payment to us,” said Joseph. “The program was first started in 2005 and is still working well.”

Bay hosts are another contributing factor to high compliance rates, Joseph added.

In the bay host program, live-aboard sailors are allowed to stay in a certain bay for free in exchange for providing information to visiting boats and keeping track of which boats overnight in a particular area. Bay hosts are given free dinghy gas and free sewage pump-outs at American Yacht Harbor.

Bay Hosts Help Rangers
While the bay hosts do not collect money, the lists they keep help VINP enforcement rangers know who is not complying with the fee program.

All bays in the VINP except Caneel, Hawksnest and Salt Pond are monitored by bay hosts.

After initially tweaking the location of pay stations in several bays, there were no changes in the drop boxes last year. Pay stations can be found at the Cruz Bay National Park dock, Caneel Bay watersports shop, Hawksnest Bay, Maho Bay Campground, Leinster Bay, Salt Pond Bay and Great Lameshur Bay.

Last year VINP officials were considering creating a monthly pass, which would essentially be a one-time fee since use of the moorings is limited to 30 days each calendar year. That program, however, has not been implemented yet.

“We are still looking into it at this time,” said Joseph. “For now we are using the pay stations and charter boat collaborations.”

Big Year Expected
While projecting compliance levels for the upcoming high season is difficult, 2007 could be a banner year for the VINP Mooring and Anchoring Fee Program, according to Joseph.

“It’s really hard to say,” the acting sea coordinator said. “The northern swells have been a big problem this year already. But if we keep on the same rates, this might be a a bigger year than the last three.”

Overnight mooring and anchoring in the VINP is $15, and $7.50 for Golden Age or Golden Access Passport holders.
For more information on the VINP’s Mooring and Anchoring Fee Program or to volunteer to become a bay host call 776-6201.