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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, August 18, 2022
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Reef Fest to Highlight Marine Ecosystem Health

Reef Fest 2018 is scheduled for Saturday, April 14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m, at Yacht Haven Grande. The theme for this year’s event is Marine Ecosystem Health.

Reef Fest aims to “raise environmental education and awareness within the Virgin Islands community,” according to the University of the Virgin Islands’ website.

Yacht Haven Grande is hosting the event for the first time.

“Last year there were over 1,100 participants, and the event just keeps growing each year,” said Howard Forbes, Jr., the Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service Coordinator.

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Reef Fest will include live music and prize giveaways. There will be informative displays and presentations on critical issues effecting the marine ecosystem around the Virgin Islands, including sustainable seafood, coral reef health and coastal zone restoration after the hurricanes of 2017.

“Reef Fest is a major outreach program hosted by multiple organizations for everyone in the community, from small children to adults,” said Tyler Smith, UVI Associate Research Professor focused on coral reef ecology.

Smith will lead a presentation on mesophotic reefs, which grow 100 feet below sea level and were still damaged by the storms. Scientists from UVI are conducting research on the reefs found to the south and southwest of St. Thomas.

Reef Fest gives residents of the territory an “ability to get involved with current conservation projects,” said Marilyn Brandt, UVI Associate Research Professor of Marine and Environmental Science.

UVI will promote the newly launched Citizen Science Program at Reef Fest, an initiative to increase public involvement. Citizens will be invited to volunteer for programs that grow coral, restore mangroves and protect coastal ecosystems.

After the hurricanes, Brandt said, “the systemic connection between land and water is closer.”  The clear water of the Caribbean is now turbid because nutrients from the land feed plankton blooms.

“Vegetation needs to grow back on the islands to filter runoff,”  she said.

The sustainable seefood program at Reef Fest will feature multiple restaurants and highlight their practice of supporting local fisheries, as well as reducing the use of single use plastic items.

The Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service (VIMAS) and Blue Flag USVI are behind the eighth annual Reef Fest. Other organizations involved include the International Coral Reef Initiative, UN Environment, The Ocean Agency, The Tiffany & Co. Foundation, and Google.

VIMAS is located within the Center for Marine and Environmental Studies at UVI, and is part of the University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant. Funded by the NOAA National College Sea Grant Program, and established in 1980, VIMAS “works with the Virgin Islands community to raise awareness about our natural resources and foster environmental stewardship.”

The Blue Flag USVI program is coordinated by the Virgin Islands Conservation Society, with the support of the V.I. Hotel and Tourism Board. The Blue Flag is an international eco-label awarded by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), a nongovernmental organization promoting sustainable development through environmental education.

The Blue Flag is awarded for one season and is valid only as long as certain criteria are fulfilled. The program is concerned with four main areas: environmental education and information, environmental management, safety and service facilities, and water quality. The national FEE organization conducts controlled visits to sites each season.

Reef Fest promises to be a fun opportunity for the public to “learn about our natural resources, win awesome prizes, and taste some really delicious lionfish!”

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