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Territory’s Coral Reefs Threatened by Third Year of Bleaching

 
Alana33
(@alana33)
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Alana33
(@alana33)
Expert

A friend's comments:

We have an urgent situation that we humans have the ability to change for the better, and prevent some disastrous circumstances. The sea / oceans are a matrix of life that's all interdependent, and in turn interdependent with all of our terrestrial (land-based) creatures, including humans. Without the survival of corals as a healthy part of that matrix, we are in big trouble, not to mention other creatures.

The Source article is quite measured in tone, but it is communicating concerns and alarms being raised by scientists around the globe. That message is this: It is pollutants running off of our lands that is triggering the death of corals that are already in a vulnerable conditions due to global / ocean warming. Studies I've sent to many of you previously (e.g. Scripps Institute, Florida universities, etc.) are all saying this.

Several things we can do now include:

1) Modify existing onsite wastewater systems, as possible, so as to prevent the surface release of wastewater effluent -- regardless of what treatment device(s) is(are) used ahead of that release -- unless it's approved by DPNR (with issuance of a TPDES permit) to produce water of a quality deemed suitable for surface release. This pertains to both residential and larger scale systems (e.g. resorts / hotels), and includes surface irrigation systems that operate both during rainy and dry periods.

Unlike properly sized / designed stateside systems in protective shoreline settings, there is no storage capacity on these properties for holding those waters until they're actually needed agronomically by vegetation on the grounds. We need to have properly sized (for flows and site conditions) systems that employ subsurface soil dispersal of the treated water, so as to allow natural soil conditions and vegetation to uptake nutrients and break down pollutants, and prevent those pollutants from entering our waters. This is done all around the world --- regardless of slopes and rockiness that well exceed what we have on St. Thomas and St. John. Other settings have for eons used retaining walls to accomplish this for steep sites. And the added benefit of those retaining walls is that when it rains, water is slowed as it runs down the hill so that the nitrogen and pollutants in the rain itself can be treated (a phenomenon we refer to as overland flow treatment in the water quality control industry), which depends on time, distance and vegetation for treatment to happen as the water travels toward the shore.

[Many property owners are likely not aware it's currently illegal in the VI to surface-apply / surface-discharge wastewater effluent without a TPDES permit. But it's occurring all over the place....]

2) We need to stop building right next to the shores, where it's impossible to prevent runoff from impervious cover (rooftops, pavement, etc.) from entering the waters.

3) For surface runoff pollutant control, we need to terrace our properties and building retaining walls, behind which we need vegetated infiltration capabilities ("rain garden" type ribbons along our hillsides). This is only way we can hope to prevent nutrients and pollutants from killing our shoreline ecosystems. Other settings worldwide do these things.

4) We need to adopt a responsible building code that limits impervious cove, and floor-to-area (FAR) building ratios on sites. That is done elsewhere, and the examples abound. On our islands, we should never be allowing more than about 30-40% impervious cover, with the FAR limited also to around 35-40%. Studies have shown that adverse water quality impacts are observed for even 5% impervious cover, let alone the 80-90% (or more) we commonly see in the VI.

5) We need to adopt at least temporary nitrogen limits for TPDES permits, now. Yes, EPA and DPNR are currently studying this. But we should move ahead with adopting limits now that can serve to dramatically reduce the adverse impacts we're seeing, before we've killed all our coral. Those studies and rules-making steps will take years, per EPA (2018 at the earliest). We have worsening warming events expected this year. EPA Region 3 has worked with states in their region to adopt nitrogen limits for Chesapeake Bay area properties, and we can simply adopt those temporarily until the bureaucratic process winds its way forward.

Measures like the above are the responsibility of property owners worldwide in settings where there's a sense of protectiveness for local resources and quality of life, because local leaders and public officials rise to that need and see that property owners are required to do these things. We desperately need to re-establish that sense of pride and protection for quality of life and resources in the VI, and stop allowing the residents of the world to use these Virgin Islands as its "dumping ground".

It was wonderful to hear the discussions over the past week surrounding recycling, because it gave me and others renewed hope around that sense of valuing our resources and moving toward a healthier environment and economy.

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Topic starter Posted : June 21, 2016 6:46 pm
Spartygrad95
(@Spartygrad95)
Trusted Member

Bleaching is caused by warmer than average water temps and the response drifts right past that into another agenda. While the suggestions are not without merit those things will not mitigate bleaching

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Posted : June 21, 2016 6:57 pm
CruzanIron
(@cruzaniron)
Expert

In 2005, the U.S. lost half of its coral reefs in the Caribbean in one year due to a massive bleaching event. The warm waters centered around the northern Antilles near the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico expanded southward. Comparison of satellite data from the previous 20 years confirmed that thermal stress from the 2005 event was greater than the previous 20 years combined.

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coral_bleach.html

So what happened? We lost it all, and it came back? A cycle of nature?

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Posted : June 21, 2016 7:06 pm
Spartygrad95
(@Spartygrad95)
Trusted Member

It hasn't all come back. Not by a long shot, but corals were here long before man, and will be here long after man.

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Posted : June 21, 2016 7:09 pm
CruzanIron
(@cruzaniron)
Expert

I remember how ravaged the corals were after Hugo. I used to dive at least 2 to 3 times a week back then. I was truly so disheartened I never went scuba diving again.

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Posted : June 21, 2016 7:18 pm
Alana33
(@alana33)
Expert

Runoff and effluent discharge is a big problem for corals.

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Topic starter Posted : June 21, 2016 7:30 pm
Spartygrad95
(@Spartygrad95)
Trusted Member

Warmer water cause coral to expel the algae.. If the water temps do not go back to normal or if there is serious pollution while algae is expelled, permanent bleaching and death can occur. The issue is warmer waters, which may be cyclical. I'm not arguing pollution is good for the ocean, but bleaching is about more than pollution.

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Posted : June 21, 2016 7:39 pm
Alana33
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OldTart
(@the-oldtart)
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At least for now that's not something of concern to us since we're not in the subtropics.

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Posted : June 21, 2016 10:16 pm
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