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Immediate effects of hurricanes on a diverse coral/mangrove ecosystem in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the potential for recovery

August 12, 2019

Hurricanes Irma and Maria, two powerful storms that hit the U.S. Virgin Islands less than 2 weeks apart in September 2017, caused extensive damage to the natural resources on St. John. Damage was particularly severe in a unique mangrove/coral ecosystem in three bays within Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument, a National Park Service marine protected area. Many Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) trees were uprooted and tossed into the sea, and the prop roots of others were stripped of corals, sponges and other marine life. No other mangrove area in the Caribbean is known to have so many scleractinian corals (about 30 species before the storms). Although many corals were overturned or buried in rubble, colonies of most of the species, including four that are listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, survived. Recovery of this ecosystem will depend on Red Mangrove propagules becoming established and producing prop roots to support rich marine life along with a canopy to provide the shade that was critical to the biodiversity that was present before the storms. Unlike in many situations where major disturbances reduce coral cover, the substrate that must be restored for full recovery to occur is a living substrate—the prop roots of the mangroves. Larvae of corals and sponges will need to recruit on to the roots. Future storms could hinder this process.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2019
Title Immediate effects of hurricanes on a diverse coral/mangrove ecosystem in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the potential for recovery
DOI 10.3390/d11080130
Authors Caroline Rogers
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Diversity
Series Number
Index ID 70204911
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wetland and Aquatic Research Center