ROAD TOWN, BVI -- The ministry of natural resources and labour has authorised a team of marine and social scientists from Newcastle University to conduct research on coral reefs and coastal communities in the British Virgin Islands and determine how climate change affects the reefs.
The researchers will be in the territory for three months and will conduct interviews, organise workshops and communicate with everyone who interacts with coral reefs. The key objectives are to determine; how people use the sea and the reefs; what changes people have noticed over time; how well people think the coral reefs are being managed; and how important the reefs are to the people of the BVI.
The information collected will be presented to the community through workshops; shared with Government’s decision makers and used at the international level to help scientists understand how reefs might change in the future.
Permanent secretary, Ronald Smith-Berkeley said, “We know that each year coral reefs contribute billions of dollars to Caribbean economies from tourism, fisheries and the provision of coastal defence from storms. Coral reefs generate the golden sandy beaches tourists love; they protect the shoreline against erosion and act as a home to lobster, conch and our favourite fish. For many, reefs represent an important source of income and/or a vital food supply.”
He added, “For this reason we have allowed for this team of scientists to come and do what they love, ultimately, for the benefit of the BVI.”
Research associate and “marine social psychologist”, Sarah Young of the Newcastle University said that coral reefs throughout the Caribbean have been in severe decline over the last 30 years and hurricanes, disease, construction, unsustainable fishing and sewage have all taken their toll “leaving us with a decidedly degraded environment.”
Over the last four years, the “Future of Reefs in a Changing Environment (FORCE)” project has made substantial efforts to understand the relationship between people and reefs. Extensive interviews, diving, surveys and community meetings have already been conducted in; Barbados, Honduras, St Kitts and Nevis and Belize. In this new project, Future of Reefs researchers, with the support of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), are collecting information from three additional Caribbean countries, namely Anguilla, Turks and Caicos Islands and the British Virgin Islands.
The team, which arrived in early January 2014, will begin conducting interviews with fishermen, tourism operators and residents. All are encouraged to look out for announcements for community meetings if interested in coral reefs, or more widely in how decisions are made about the sea.