Rapid Health Assessment of Mangroves in Coral Bay, St John

Geographic Consulting recently partnered with the Coral Bay Community Council of St john to complete a Rapid Health Assessment of the Mangrove Forests of Coral Bay. This was a significant project made more important in the post Hurricane Irma setting. Irma brought almost unprecedented forces of wind and waves and the mangrove forests absorbed the energy and protected the coast. The forests were severely damaged by Irma in the process. Maria passed through Coral Bay as a powerful storm on an already damaged mangrove system. Our task was to learn about and quantify the extent of the damage the mangrove forests received during the storm. The entire Final report CAN BE VIEWED HERE

Storm debris behind a school and the fire department

The goal of this project is to quickly capture the conditions of the coastal forests across Coral Bay. This study utilizes traditional scientific measurements from ecology, combined with observations and descriptions by the experienced ecologists at Geographic Consulting. The result is a descriptive snapshot of the area at a single point in time. The full results can be downloaded here. The study can be repeated in the future because the sampling points are spatially explicit.

Coral Bay Mangrove forests and our sample locations

 

We began our Rapid Health Assessment of Coral Bay’s mangrove forests in January, 2018, roughly four months after the storms. This seemed sufficient time that living, defoliated and damaged mangrove trees would have grown new leaves. We collected data from 20 sample points; 10 which had been previously described (by members of the Coral Bay Community Council in 2017) and 10 points we generated randomly using GIS software. Their locations appear in the figure below.

Wildlife Biologist, Jennifer Valiulis collects field data in a mangrove forest in Coral Bay full of new growth since the storms

Finally, we make recommendations based on our findings and experience. The purpose of the recommendations is to preserve, protect and improve the health of the mangrove forests. The first product we created from the results was a one page summary with recommendations for specific actions. The Coral Bay Community Council quickly created a one-page flyer based on our document, targeting clean-up volunteers and the general public. This publication is a simple and excellent guide to post storm mangrove management, and CAN BE VIEWED HERE. It is a genuine pleasure to see the findings and recommendations of a scientific study incorporated into evidence-based decision making so quickly. We hope that the resiliency of these forests combined with thoughtful land management will result in the recovery of Coral Bays’ mangrove forests.

Brian Daley taking stem measurements in the mangrove forest damaged in Hurricane Irma and Maria

 

A large columnar cactus (Pilocerus royenii) was toppled in Hurricane Irma and now sends out dozens of new shoots.

On a personal note, some of this partnership stems from the strong bonds formed between the people of St. Croix and the people of Coral Bay after Hurricane Irma. The  Ridgeway family and many others formed a storm relief group, which has also become known by some as the Cruzan Navy. My wife, Jennifer, and I took turns loading relief boats destined for St. Thomas, St John and the BVI with supplies while the filled bags with supplies at home with our kids. We sent cloths, batteries, snacks, pet food and our children donated their toys. I put a dollar bill in the pocket of every pair of pants we sent, so that the people that put them on would feel lucky, for just a half a moment, when they put them on. We felt so lucky, so unfairly lucky to have escaped the wrath of the storm that others had to bear, and we wanted to do more.

Dead mangrove trees, destroyed sailboats and storm debris litter the coast of Coral Bay after the storms

 

Three days after Irma, I went to Coral Bay with two other volunteers on a fast boat from St. Croix, full of relief supplies. The damage to the boats, buildings, utilities and forest was shocking. Federal and territorial government agencies had not yet arrived on the scene. We got straight to w