A long-planned Marine Research and Education Center at Salt River Bay moves closer to starting construction this month with National Park Service contractors completing a high-resolution topographic survey and technical soil borings to gather information to help design the center, according to the NPS.
Envisioned for a portion of a 73-acre site at Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve, the center’s focus will be on the rapidly declining health of coral reef ecosystems throughout the Caribbean and other tropical regions of the world.
The research center campus will occupy about eight acres of Hemer’s Peninsula by Salt River Bay which was heavily disturbed during the 1960s and 1970s when a hotel and marina were partially developed and then abandoned.
Fourteen borings will be performed on Hemer’s Peninsula hill, south facing slope, at a former quarry.
The area is currently covered with dense non-native grass species and other non-native landscape plants. Old roads and trails will be mowed and dense exotic vegetation will be removed above the grade along several site lines to allow access for survey team.
Two more borings will be performed by the lagoon, on the mudflat, where the center’s dock facilities will be located. And seven test borings will be done to get information to help design the footing for a retaining wall for 700 feet of the park access road.
The boring in the lagoon will be done from a launched pontoon platform. This boring is to investigate the lagoon’s bottom and sediment for the boat dock facilities.
JACA Sierra Geotechnical Company will be doing the soil borings. The National Park Service’s resource management division and the V.I State Historic Preservation Office will oversee the work.
Once the samples are taken, all holes will be filled in after excavation and boring.
Mowing begins the week of April 2. Boring on roadway will begin the week of April 23. NPS anticipates this portion of preparatory work will be completed by the end of April.
Plans for the center began in the Clinton administration. The campus will house 48 undergraduate students and 12 researchers and graduate students. Plans also call for 12 lab modules to support marine science research projects.
In addition to supporting science-based management for two marine parks in St. Croix (East End Marine Park and Buck Island National Park), the center will educate V.I. students and promote public awareness of the economic and cultural heritage of the tropical oceans.
The project is a partnership between the V.I. government, National Park Service, the federal Office of Insular Affairs and a consortium of universities—including the University of the Virgin Islands and three stateside schools, known collectively as the Joint Institute for Caribbean Marine Studies.
The federal government has committed nearly $5 million to help design and develop the center to date. Past estimates from Government House project the center to ultimately cost about $60 million.