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BVI mangrove population nearly wiped out

Photo provided

An assessment has shown that the British Virgin Islands’ mangrove population was nearly wiped out by last September’s hurricanes.

A week-long assessment was done by Dr Gregg Moore, who is a coastal restoration ecologist. His assessment was to find out the current status of local mangroves and present a report to government and the public.

The findings will also assist in identifying restoration and conservation priorities.

This recently-concluded assessment done on the mangroves in Jost Van Dyke, Tortola, Frenchman’s Cay, Beef Island, Great Camanoe, Virgin Gorda and the Prickly Pear Islands, was sponsored by regional wildlife organisation, BirdsCaribbean.

“The assessment confirms what BVI residents and visitors to the territory could probably already guess: At least 90 percent of all the mature red mangrove trees that form the coastal fringing system have been defoliated and are dead, with very few exceptions,” said a release from the Jost Van Dykes Preservation Society.

A serious blow to the ecological system

According to the findings, the loss is a serious one to the territory’s ecological system.

“The significance of this finding is that not only does it represent a serious ecological blow to the system, but the storm also took with it the flowers and fruits that we’d expect would be the next generation.”

Based on the results, Dr Moore recommended that mangroves, albeit being dead, should not be cut because they are still a valuable habitat for wildlife such as birds and invertebrates.

“As dead mangrove trees decompose, they release energy and return essential nutrients and carbon to the system. Mangrove’s physical structure is mainly intact and still buffers wave and storm energy, and helps hold peat and sand in place along fragile coastlines.”

The release added that mangroves also protect animals and helps trap and protect mangrove seedlings that will regenerate the forest naturally.

It said foot traffic and humans dragging timber in those areas threaten, trample, and damage fragile seedlings.

“And since it may be years before new plants mature and bear seeds to populate these areas, those established seedlings are more valuable than ever now.”

Optimistic findings 

However, the assessment also revealed some positive findings.

“Some interior sites in the BVI maintained mature trees, many of which are now flowering and will produce seed.”

That is seen in some sections of North Sound, Virgin Gorda.

“These will be important sites for sustainable recruitment of plant stock for restoration and conservation efforts; and despite severe damage to the mature canopy, virtually every site visited had a significant understory of live, rooted seedling plants. Albeit quite young and short today, these young plants are the future of BVI’s mangroves and should be carefully protected.”

Future assessment 

Dr Moore who is based at Jackson Estuarine Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire hopes to return to the BVI in the fall of 2018 to continue his assessment as part of broader UK Darwin Plus-funded project.

The project will be focusing on the resilience of coastal and marine habitats being launched by Jost Van Dykes Preservation Society in partnership with the University of Roehampton (UK) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

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12 Comments

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  1. Reality says:

    not surprised to hear this, but its not just Irma – sadly the BVI Government has presided for years over suspect land reclamation schemes that have destroyed acres of mangroves which provide an essential protection system to coastal erosion and sea life…just like the reefs they will be fully dead probably in the next few decades. I can’t believe the destruction of excellent snorkeling sites at Brewers and Smugglers – breaks your heart how they have deteriorated in the past twenty years…roads are just ripped through the hills with zero consideration for protecting reefs from the silt run off!…it must stop otherwise “Natures little secrets” just won’t be worth visiting…but the major cruise ships have already decided that – time to wake up and DO something about it otherwise the tourist industry will continue to decline…

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    • Huh??? says:

      Did the inspector look at the mangroves on Frenchman’s Cay. Andrews Fahie lead a clean up campaign there in which the dead mangroves were cut down low, and the rubbish removed. They are already growing back. Mangroves need to be pruned regularly and then they will thrive. Letting them grow wild is not the answer.

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      • GroundSea says:

        Not sure if he looked at Frenchmans, and kudos to Andrew Fahie for his efforts!
        However, I spoke briefly with this gentleman he said that in his experience – 30+yrs in the Caribbean – leaving mangroves alone after a hurricane is usually the best policy. Clearing debris – yes; but best leave the dead wood to rot and the new shoots to grow through.
        It is, after all, part of nature’s own cycle, so makes sense to me.
        What I think we NEED to do is use this chance to replant more mangroves along our south coast. Every bay on Tortola’s S side used to have them and all have gone or been heavily impacted. They protected the land, plus if we want fisheries to regrow, best we start by regrowing the fish nurseries.

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      • Brian daley says:

        We are doing mangrove work in the USVI and our re recommendations are to leave all woody material in place. Dead branches are still good habitat for birds, lizards and insects. Dead roots still provide soil stabilization. The nutrient. Cycle in mangroves is a part of their high productivity, and the wood is part of it. Mangroves are just as wild as lions and bears and do not need to be pruned, as that only makes them look nice for people.

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    • Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! says:

      Financial services industry destroyed because the expats who run it don’t want to come back due to the crazy labour and immigration issues.
      Tourism decimated by the storm. Repair work being done by local amateurs out of their depth, and immigration and Labour making it impossible to bring in experts who know what they are doing.
      Thank goodness for the third pillar of our economy my – fishing and agriculture. The payroll tax generated from the earnings at the new farmers market will hopefully be enough to allow the Government to carry on business as usual.

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  2. Good LUCK! says:

    I honestly don’t have much hope for the remainder to catch themselves! They will be filled in if they are not legally protected.

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  3. See says:

    Agree 100 per cent with the above . Only now does it seem important

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  4. One eye rooste says:

    Perfect examples village cay harbour ,seacows bay lagoon,paripuata bay lagoon, come on people does any one care years to grow seconds to destroy.

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  5. What! says:

    Our own people been destroying mangrove for years with illegal land fills.

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  6. Diplomat says:

    Confucius: To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge. Mangroves provides many benefits, ie, filtering runoff, protection from storm surges, protecting shoreline erosion, breeding grown for fish…….etc. Though Hurricane Irma and Maria cause damages to magroves, the decimation of mangrove started decades ago.

    The ecological and environmental value of mangroves were slaughtered on the altar of a few dollars. When a nation does not know what it does not know but should know, it is in a bad place. Protection and preservation of magroves in the past was lacking. Mangroves take a long to grow back. As such, an aggressive effort is needed to protect the few remaining plants, along with an aggressive effort to replant the destroyed plants.

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  7. @huh says:

    Yes, Frenchman’s was covered. Re read the article.

    Yes, they are growing back at frenchman’s and also at other sites. The point is that the dead wood is a part of the mangrove ecosystem and plays a role. It’s not to say that things won’t grow back if cut– it’s to caution that cutting is not the best method. Mangrove forests are not a single hibiscus bush in your front yard that needs trimming.

    Puzzled by the statement “letting them grow wild is not the answer”. ummm.

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  8. Marine Scientist says:

    Unfortunately, someone has even ripped out Mangroves inside the old marina at Nanny Cay, but on the main road side, SINCE the hurricane. Guess this well known man thought he might get away with it un noticed.

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