There was cause for celebration for about 30 environmentalists and concerned citizens gathered at the St. Thomas Yacht Club Sunday. “We finally have a management plan,” declared UVI biology professor Sandra Romano.
Romano is part of the core group who came up with a comprehensive plan for maintaining several protected marine areas on St. Thomas’ East End. The new plan combines several existing protected areas—including Cas Cay/Mangrove Lagoon, Compass Point Pond, and St. James Marine Reserve—into a new management unit called the St. Thomas East End Reserves (STEER).
“They’re separate, but we manage them as one unit,” said Romano.
Located at the southeastern end of St. Thomas, STEER encompasses 3,666 acres of watershed—the largest in the territory—and the largest mangrove ecosystem. Its shallow mangrove and seagrass beds are considered the most valuable fish nurseries on the island, serving as feeding and growing areas for many species of fish and shellfish.
The management plan identifies seven conservation targets, or resources, that are unique to the STEER area: nursery and fisheries resources, sea and shore birds, mangroves, seagrass beds, coral reef communities, the Compass Point salt pond, and compatible use and enjoyment by the V.I. community.
The STEER plan was created through a three-year collaborative process that began in May 2008 between UVI, the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and the University of Maryland’s Nature Conservancy. Recognizing the natural and cultural benefits of the protected marine areas, the group, along with members of the community, identified the threats to the STEER area and put together a set of objectives and strategies for the next five years.
One of the biggest threats to the newly created marine reserve is land- and marine-based sources of pollution, such as storm-water runoff. Not close behind are and damage from boats, loss of habitat for fish, illegal fish harvest, climate change, and trash and debris.
Some of the strategies developed by STEER include improved management of the watershed and storm water, developing a zone and mooring plan for recreational and commercial activities, reinforcing coastal rules and regulations, and community outreach.
“One of the biggest things the community can do is to be careful about the disposal of garbage,” said Frank Galdo, a marine and environmental science graduate student at UVI. “Make sure that things that are not supposed to go in the dumpsters don’t go in the dumpsters.”
Galdo has been working as a tour guide in the STEER area for four years. He recently got involved in the creation of the new management unit through his research on the level of environmental contaminants on the queen conch.
Galdo added, “We have to be aware that small actions affect our environment.”
Romano also emphasized the role of the community in realizing the strategies set forth by STEER.
“One of our biggest concerns is whether we have enough stakeholder participation in the area,” she said. “This may not be part of our jobs, but we should care about what’s happening here.”
To engage the community, a group called “Friends of STEER” was created for persons who would like to get involved in protecting the East End reserves.
For a full copy of the STEER management plan, visit DPNR’s website.