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HomeNewsArchivesNew Employee Helps Beef Up Science, Research at Buck Island Reef

New Employee Helps Beef Up Science, Research at Buck Island Reef

Feb. 27, 2009 — At the National Park Service, management of resources is based on science, according to Zandy Hillis-Starr, chief of resource management and research of the service on St. Croix, and Friday she introduced a new member of the staff who will conduct some of that research.
Beginning Monday, Erinn Muller, a doctoral candidate from the Florida Institute of Technology, will be the new bio science tech for the Buck Island Reef National Monument. Her area of interest is coral reefs and diseases that can effect them. She will join Ian Lundgren, the staff biologist, who returned Wednesday from two weeks in Australia, where he attended an international symposium on sea turtles.
Muller is no stranger to the Virgin Islands. Before enrolling at FIT, she was a contractor with the U.S. Geological Survey on St. John, and often dove on the Buck Island reefs, sharing her research findings with the park service staff.
In Australia, Lundgren presented his master's thesis work on sea-turtle hatching. He was experimenting on whether the brightness and color of the underlaying sand had any impact on sea-turtle hatching on Buck Island. The sand is just one of many factors believed to be involved in the success of sea-turtle hatching. While the experiment is not concluded, Lundgren said the results so far indicate sand brightness is not a major factor.
Both Lundgren and Muller are part of the Park Service's Student Career Education Program (SCEP), in which graduate students in appropriate fields can be hired to do their research in the field while working for the service.
For Muller, this means the opportunity to do her research in the water, diving on more than 5,500 acres of coral reefs in the Buck Island monument area. The monument is home to an underwater forest of Elkhorn coral, which were seriously affected by the 2005 bleaching of local corals.
Muller will study diseases affecting the coral, trying to learn how in time and space the various factors come together to damage the fragile ecosystems.
A new issue to the waters of the territory is the appearance of the Pacific lionfish, an invasive, predatory species that can decimate reef populations of baby fish. Four lionfish have been found in the waters on the west end of St. Croix in the last four months, and Thursday the Department of Planning and Natural Resources announced that a lionfish was found off Point Udall on the east end of the island.
Lundgren will take part in a phone meeting next week in which agencies will determine how to attack the problem and coordinate their efforts. The local Park Service will receive emergency funding from the NPS to combat the problem.
Originally a native of the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans, the lionfish has spread into the Caribbean, probably as a stowaway in the bilge water of large ships passing through the region. According to Lundgren, fish get sucked up when ships take on bilge water, transported around the world on the ships, and then spewed back out into new territory when the ships pump out their bilges.
One way to stem the spread of the invasive species is to have divers in the water every time a big ship comes into port, Lundgren said.
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