Scientists commencing field experiment at Buck Island Reef National Monument in St. Croix, USVI

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Ilsa Kuffner, Anesti Stathakopoulos, BJ Reynolds, and Nate Smiley will travel to St. Croix, USVI, to install a coral-growth experiment at Buck Island Reef National Monument.

Coral reef ecosystems provide many essential ecological and economic services to coastal communities—most famously by providing habitat for fish and a myriad other reef-dwelling species— but arguably more importantly, they protect shorelines and coastal communities from storms by acting as natural breakwaters. A healthy reef crest in the Caribbean is well represented in this photograph showing large stands of Elkhorn Coral. However, Elkhorn Coral is especially sensitive to a warming ocean and coral diseases, and research is underway to explore restoration as an option to help this species recover. During the planned fieldwork, USGS will install a coral growth experiment. The overarching goal of this NPS-funded project is to provide resource managers with the data and information needed to understand how coral populations are doing in the park. During later visits, the USGS researchers will be measuring the rate of coral growth, examining evidence of reef loss and habitat reduction in relation to shoreline change, and modeling the responses of the reef-to-coastline system to predicted ocean warming, acidification, sea-level rise, and intensified storms. This work will be used by NPS to prioritize areas for increased protection and restoration efforts.