State Water Resources Research Institute Program

Project ID: 2007VI92B
Title: Revitalization of Guts as Urban Recreational Spaces in the U.S. Virgin Islands
Project Type: Research
Start Date: 3/01/2007
End Date: 2/28/2008
Congressional District:
Focus Categories: Surface Water, Management and Planning, Water Use
Keywords: Recreational Water
Principal Investigators: Gardner, Lloyd S. (Virgin Islands Water Resources Research Institute); Henry, Stevie; Thomas, Toni (University of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension Service)
Federal Funds: $ 18,500
Non-Federal Matching Funds: $ 0
Abstract: The Virgin Islands Code protects watercourses through a prohibition on cutting of vegetation within 30ft. of the center of a natural watercourse, or 25ft. from the edge, whichever is greater. Despite the legal protection, guts continue to be degraded through clearing and paving, resulting in erosion and the rapid transportation of significant sediment loading in surface runoff directly to the marine environment. The Unified Watershed Assessment Report for the U.S. Virgin Islands (Department of Planning & Natural Resources and Department of Agriculture, 1998) notes that sedimentation is "the primary nonpoint source pollution threatening the islands' water resources".

In addition to impairment of coastal water quality, the sediment loading reduces water availability for other uses. A project currently being undertaken by technical staff in the Cooperative Extension Service, University of the Virgin Islands, involves the rehabilitation of ponds in the Bordeaux area of St. Thomas. Those ponds had become filled with silt transported in the guts, resulting in a significant reduction in the water available to farmers in the area.

Streams and watercourses/guts have traditionally been used for recreational purposes in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), and though that use has been reduced due mainly to increasing urbanization, community uses of the areas still continue. Current work by the Investigators named in this study confirms that community use, and is attempting to determine the potential future demand for those recreational spaces. Groups, such as the St. Croix Hiking Association, conduct hikes to selected guts, and the Estate Adventure Trail with interpretive signage has recently been established by volunteers along the edge of a gut. On St. John, the Virgin Islands National Park conducts tours of the Reef Bay trail (among others), though that trail is promoted partially because of the cultural heritage value (petroglyphs attributed to Arawak Indians). There are no known comparable institutions or activities on St. Thomas, though the Environmental Association of St. Thomas and other groups have expressed interest in identifying guts on St. Thomas appropriate for hiking tours.

Periodic studies have noted that the guts represent one of the few remaining areas where canopy forest can be found in the USVI, and encompass potentially higher levels of biological diversity. As part of its Natural Resources/Environmental Management and Water Quality Programs, the University of the Virgin Islands, Cooperative Extension Service (UVI-CES) promotes awareness of guts as important riparian habitats protected by USVI law. In exhibits and publications, UVI-CES has emphasized the critical function that guts naturally serve in the protection of wetlands and coastal water quality, as well as the recreational potential and scenic beauty of guts. However, a comprehensive program to promote awareness and protection of guts has not been formally adopted by community groups or the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), the primary natural resource management agency in the Territory. The lack of attention offered to guts and streams and the weak enforcement of the USVI law prohibiting the removal of gut vegetation has resulted in the deterioration of the habitats through clearing and paving. Pollution in surface runoff and illegal disposal of solid waste also act to degrade the ecosystems and decrease the amenity value.

However, there is no program that translates the protection afforded by the law into actual protection strategies or that offers protection of guts through the development control process. For example, the wildlife strategy for the USVI, prepared by the Department of Planning Natural Resources, Division of Fish and Wildlife, does not include guts in the classification of wetlands, and does not offer any direction for protection of this ecosystem (Division of Fish & Wildlife, 2005).

It has therefore been suggested that greater attention would be given to streams/guts if they were promoted as recreational spaces for residents and visitors. This project will focus on the design of a framework within which a gut protection program can be established by the relevant natural resource management agencies and research institutions in the USVI.

Progress/Completion Report, PDF

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