Leaves of Seagrass: Conservation and Conversation on St. John, USVI

The aim of this blog is to depict conservation where is stands at the crossroads of scientific research and the education of the next generation. Through my posts, I will chronicle my experiences in St. John, USVI, where I will be working as a field researcher exploring the effects of the invasive seagrass Halophila stipulacea as well as volunteering at the summer camps hosted by the Virgin Islands Environmental Research Station (VIERS).

Halophila stipulacea is a seagrass native to the Indian Ocean; it was first spotted in Grenada in 2002 and spread to a slew of Caribbean Islands by 2014—including St. John. During my stay on the island, I hope to shed some light on the still-unclear role and impacts of the invasive grass on surrounding local ecosystems. More specifically, I will be exploring whether H. stipulacea might (or might not) be able to provide foundational services to local benthic macro-invertebrates (such as habitat, food, or binding structure for the sediment); I will also be exploring the relative capacity of the invasive to displace other native seagrasses, focusing on the local Thalassia testudinum, or turtle grass.

During my stay I will also be working as a counselor for the science, ranger-in-training, and eco-camps held by VIERS each summer. Catering to campers ranging from 7-17, the summer camps focus on creating a hands-on experience of exploring and discovering the rich natural ecosystem at St. John. All three camps seek to engage the campers and teach the value of the natural environment as well as the importance of conservation, and how they, as individuals, are able to participate.

This is a unique opportunity—to be able to examine marine ecology and conservation through these two lenses. Through my time in the field and in the summer camps, I hope to tell a story of the different parts to conservation. I wish to not only speak to the ever-evolving research in this vibrant ecosystem, but also to how this research is translated to meaning for conservation and management, and how this meaning might be conveyed to and accessed by the next generations with ownership, appreciation, and understanding.