The United States Virgin Islands' (USVI) Grammanik Bank, located to the south of St. Thomas, is the site of multi-species spawning aggregation for economically important fish including yellowfin grouper, Nassau grouper, tiger grouper, and dog snapper. A series of banks south of the USVI (St. Thomas and St. John) and the British Virgin Islands (BVI) provide similar habitats and spawning aggregation sites.The biological and physical processes which drive production on these banks, the circulation connecting these banks, and the flows across these banks have yet to be quantified.
To address this data gap, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists from the Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) and Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) in Miami, Florida, working with scientists from the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) in St. Thomas conducted a three-year interdisciplinary research project using the R/V Nancy Foster to conduct biological and physical oceanographic surveys of the Virgin Islands' bank ecosystems and surrounding regional waters. The long-term sustainability of fisheries in the VI and surrounding regions will depend on a comprehensive understanding of regional spawning aggregations, larval transport, and overall larval recruitment in the study area.
The project will be directed at answering one over-arching question: How are unprotected VI banks, MPAs such as the Hind Bank Marine Conservation District, seasonally closed areas such as the Grammanik Bank, and inshore areas ecologically linked via regional reef fish larval dispersal, transport, and life-history patterns?
Elizabeth Johns (NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory), Ryan H Smith (NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory)