The Nature Conservancy’s Virgin Islands Program Receives Reef Restoration Grant

The Nature Conservancy’s VI program will receive a grant for Transformational Reef Restoration. (Submitted photo)

The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Virgin Islands Program has been recommended to receive (USD) $6.6 million for its Virgin Islands Transformational Reef Restoration Program.

The announcement was made Wednesday, April 26, by the United States Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). According to NOAA, Vice President Kamala Harris announced that the Department of Commerce has recommended $14.3 million for projects across the U.S. Virgin Islands to make communities and the economy more resilient to climate change, as part of the Investing in America agenda.

As part of the Virgin Islands allocation, The Nature Conservancy received $6.6 million under the Transformational Habitat Restoration and Coastal Resilience Grants. The awards are made under the Biden Administration’s Climate-Ready Coasts initiative funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) with additional funds leveraged from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

The Nature Conservancy’s Virgin Islands project will restore 90 acres of coral reef within the St. Croix East End Marine Park and will help recover marine species and contribute to a healthy reef ecosystem that supports tourism and fisheries, benefiting the community of St. Croix.

The project will focus on five species of corals listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, including elkhorn and staghorn corals. Coral outplants will be sourced from donor corals that have survived bleaching events and disease to increase genetic diversity and support the reef’s ability to withstand climate change.

“On-reef tourism in the USVI produces more than $275 million/year in tourist dollars,” said Celeste Jarvis, Ph.D., The Nature Conservancy’s Virgin Islands program director. “In addition, coral reefs protect our islands’ shorelines from storm surges by reducing wave energy by 97%, and provide habitat for fish that feed our families. The Nature Conservancy has planted 15,000 corals in the last six months. This grant will go a long way in supporting and expanding our existing coral out planting program.”

“The Biden-Harris Administration is proud to recommend funding for projects that will restore and protect the U.S. Virgin Islands’ diverse system of coral reefs,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “This historic investment is critical to supporting the ability for these reefs to withstand the effects of climate is essential to the Islands’ ecological health and economic growth.”

TNC opened a Coral Innovation Hub on St Croix in May 2022. The new laboratory is dedicated to advancing coral science in the Caribbean and across the planet.