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.”
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.”
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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