The Salt Bay National Historic Park and Ecological Preserve, a park co-managed by the V.I. Government and the National Park Service, will see a coastal studies outpost built, thanks to $1.6 million in federal funding from the Interior Department’s Office of Insular Affairs.
The outpost will focus on marine education and the collection of research data related to threats to natural resources, fisheries, stability of shorelines and coral reefs, according to a statement from the OIA.
“This project is critical to revitalizing the island of St. Croix, creating jobs and generating economic development and growth, said Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas Tony Babauta, of the Department of the Interior, in a statement. Babauta said he was pleased to be supporting Gov. John deJongh Jr. and Delegate Donna Christensen in this initiative, saying Christensen "has been a stalwart champion of marine research and education programs for the Virgin Islands.”
The funds will also assist in solving technical challenges related to converting an abandoned haul road into an ecologically sustainable thoroughfare—a “greenway”—for future public park access.
There are also ongoing, long-term plans for a Salt River Bay Marine Research and Education Center within the same park, which this project would seem to complement.
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 70s when a hotel and marina were partially developed and then abandoned.
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 on 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 more than $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.