Assessing land use, sedimentation, and water quality stressors as predictors of coral reef condition in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
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Coral reef condition on the south shore of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, was assessed at various distances from Charlotte Amalie, the most densely populated city on the island. Human influence in the area includes industrial activity, wastewater discharge, cruise ship docks, and impervious surfaces throughout the watershed. Anthropogenic activity was characterized using a landscape development intensity (LDI) index, sedimentation threat (ST) estimates, and water quality (WQ) impairments in the near-coastal zone. Total three-dimensional coral cover, reef rugosity, and coral diversity had significant negative coefficients for LDI index, as did densities of dominant species Orbicella annularis, Orbicella franksi, Montastraea cavernosa, Orbicella faveolata, and Porites porites. However, overall stony coral colony density was not significantly correlated with stressors. Positive relationships between reef rugosity and ST, between coral diversity and ST, and between coral diversity and WQ were unexpected because these stressors are generally thought to negatively influence coral growth and health. Sponge density was greater with higher disturbance indicators (ST and WQ), consistent with reports of greater resistance by sponges to degraded water quality compared to stony corals. The highest FoRAM (Foraminifera in Reef Assessment and Monitoring) indices indicating good water quality were found offshore from the main island and outside the harbor. Negative associations between stony coral metrics and LDI index have been reported elsewhere in the Caribbean and highlight LDI index potential as a spatial tool to characterize land-based anthropogenic stressor gradients relevant to coral reefs. Fewer relationships were found with an integrated stressor index but with similar trends in response direction.
KeywordsCoral reefs Landscape development intensity Sedimentation Impaired water quality
Outstanding field assistance in conducting coral reef surveys was provided by Jed Campbell, Peggy Harris, Becky Hemmer, Robert Quarles, and Sherry Vickery (U.S. EPA Gulf Ecology Division); Charles LoBue and Danny Rodriguez (U.S. EPA Region 2); Mel Parsons (U.S. EPA Region 4); Aaron Hutchins (The Nature Conservancy, St. Croix); Rich Henry (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Response Team); Alan Humphrey (U.S. EPA, Environmental Response Team); and Jon McBurney and Scott Grossman (Lockheed Martin, Scientific, Engineering, Response and Analytical Services (SERAS) Program). The crew of the OSV Bold, Captain Jere Chamberlain, provided excellent support in all aspects of field data collection and logistics. Kent Bernier (U.S. Virgin Islands, Department of Planning and Natural Resources) provided small boat support for the survey teams. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
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