Sea Turtle and Marine Mammal Surveys, St. Croix, USVI

Geographic Consulting is pleased to be part of a team of environmental professionals conducing marine surveys off shore of Christiansted.  The observations and other data are intended to lead to the development of practices that minimize impacts to wildlife. The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (VIWAPA) has contracted VITOL to construct and operate two LPG Storage Facilities at each of its power generation locations in Krum Bay, St. Thomas and Richmond, St. Croix to supply propane gas for the power generation turbines.

Marine Mammal Field Surveys

This LPG conversion project will result in frequent transit of feeder vessels between St. Thomas and St. Croix and a Very Large Gas Carrier (VLGC) moored of the south shore of St. Thomas. LPG will be transferred from the VLGC to the smaller vessels, which will require the dropping of the mooring and both vessels being underway. Both marine mammals and sea turtles are known to occur in the ship transit areas and it is possible, due to the number of vessel movements that vessel strikes could occur. The Army Corp of Engineers (ACOE) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have mandated that VITOL/VIWAPA conduct a year-long study in order to assess the potential impact of this marine traffic on the sea turtles and marine mammals within the affected areas.

Map of field observations

Threatened and endangered sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricate, Dermochelys coriacea, and Chelonia mydas) are known to occur and have been seen within the port area in the vicinity of the docks and are known to travel through the LPG vessel transit routes. Dolphins (Tursiops truncates, Stenella frontalis, Stenella longirostris longirostris) are found in the U.S. Virgin Islands waters throughout the year and other cetaceans (Physeter macrocephalus, Ziphius cavirostris Globicephala macrorhynchus and others) are known to migrate and reside in VI waters during winter months. Because of the presence of these protected species Vitol and VIWAPA will implement a sea turtle and marine mammal observer program about 2 times a month during the summer months (non-migratory season) and 3 times a month during the winter season (migratory season) for the first 12 months of transhipment operations of the LPG vessels coming into dock at the VIWAPA pier in Christiansted Harbor.

During our first three surveys in April, we observed four Green and one Hawksbill sea turtles near the entrance of the Christiansted harbor. Green sea turtles are listed as “Endangered” or “threatened” by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, depending on the population. Hawksbills (E. imbricata) are endangered throughout their range and critically endangered.

We will continue to monitor throughout the year and share interesting findings here.

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