Territory Awarded Grant to Establish its First Artificial Reef, DPNR Announces

The territory is on track to establish its first artificial reef through an initiative funded by the Division of Fish and Wildlife in its continued efforts to help protect coastal infrastructure and enhance resilience against future storms, the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources announced.

A sub-award to the University of the Virgin Islands of $763,784 in disaster funding stemming from hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 will support the design, construction, and installation of an 18-foot by 12-foot reef in the waters near the shoreline surrounding St. Thomas, according to a press release announcing the project.

“This initiative will create a prototype that positions the Virgin Islands as a regional leader in developing critical habitats to help safeguard our local fish, coral, and reef life from upcoming natural disasters,” DPNR Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol said. “We are excited to partner with the university on preventing widespread damage to our valuable undersea resources and increasing their chances of survival for time to come.”

Already, UVI is readying the strongest specimens out of roughly 15 types of coral in nurseries for eventual propagation onto the reef, which will take the shape of an iconic petroglyph, the release stated. The university is collaborating with researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on cutting-edge technology to create an environmentally sensitive design made from sourced materials ranging from carbon-friendly cement to natural chemicals to help stimulate coral growth, it said.

The permitting process for the project — with the Division of Coastal Zone Management, and the Army Corps of Engineers — is moving toward final approvals of location, according to the release.

Once installed, the settlement and growth of reef life on the artificial reef will be tested and scientists will monitor its effectiveness through benthic and fish surveys. Based on the project’s results, UVI will provide a policy prescription to the Division of Fish and Wildlife, the release stated.

“This is the first-of-its-kind project in the territory,” said Dr. Marilyn Brandt, the project manager, and a research professor at UVI. “The goal is to provide enhanced habitat for corals struggling from climate change and provide added shoreline protection as we work to restore natural coral reefs. We’re hoping to learn a lot and inform any future work.”

The project is scheduled to be completed in July. For more information, call the Division of Fish and Wildlife at 340-773-1082.