Fishermen, boat captains, water sports enthusiasts and others contributed information about their water activities in the St. Thomas East End Reserve, a protected marine area, during two coastal mapping workshops Tuesday and Wednesday at Bolongo Bay.
Those involved in the project said they were impressed to have the maximum 25 participants at each workshop.
"Everyone knew each other and they all were very excited to see their colleagues in the same room working toward a common goal, knowing that that will be integrated in a bigger picture," said University of the Virgin Islands graduate student Elena Kobrinski. "We reached a turning point when they realized they were an integral part of the process instead of just coming to a meeting."
Throughout the workshops, speakers covered an extensive list of categories, such as where kayak tours and conch fishing take place, and those who are knowledgeable about each activity provided the location.
The completion of the mapping project will provide residents with information about human activity in the area. It will show areas where people typically go boating and where they moor their boats as well as where water activities such as kiteboarding are taking place.
During the workshops, participants used a map of the reserve to draw areas of specific activity, seasons for these activities, conflicts and more.
Maria Dillard of the Hollings Marine Laboratory said the maps, as well as data collected, will be invaluable to future planning.
East End Reserve coordinator Anne Marie Hoffman said, "It was really fascinating to get that level of detail and personal interest. The accuracy too is amazing.”
Along with educating the community, results will help determine where funding will go. For example, if there’s heavy boat activity in one area, Hoffman said they might need to add buoys.
Dillard explained that "the target isn’t where I should go for these different activities, but for people looking at areas and trying to make decisions about how to protect marine resources."
The information processes and drafted maps allow people “to make changes and suggestions to incorporate in maps," she said. "There’s a lot more dialogue, a lot of stories, history, issues, complaints, concerns."
Hoffman said that the reserve has been an area of concern since the 1970s, with marine and wildlife sanctuaries established in 1994, but that there was largely no management until about four years ago. Over the course of three years, the STEER board wrote a management plan, came up with activities to aid the area and designed educational tools to inform the public about projects, she said.
The sediment "contaminant" project and watershed project will continue through 2012 and will ultimately contribute to the coastal use map. The sediment project will assess things like water quality while the watershed project will study the land and what goes into the water.
Current projects are supported by many groups, including the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources, the STEER Advisory Committee, the University of the Virgin Islands and several National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration departments, including the Coral Reef Conservation Program, Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, and National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.