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First Annual Reef Fest Set Sunday, May 17, at Smith Bay Park

St. Thomas's first annual Reef Fest will be held at Smith Bay Park (Lindquist Beach) from noon to sunset on Sunday, May 17. Reef Fest is designed - as part of the International Year of the Reef observance - to encourage the Virgin Islands community to spur efforts to protect the territory's reefs and to augment awareness of the importance of all marine resources.

Recognition of the dramatic impact reef health has for the Virgin Islands is particularly important at this time, according to Lihla Noori, the Marine Stewardship Coordinator at the University of the Virgin Islands Center for Marine And Environmental Studies (CMES), who is also the main organizer for Reef Fest. "The loss of over half of the live coral reef habitat around the territory over the past decade has been documented by scientists at UVI's Center for Marine and Environmental Studies, local government, and federal partners," she said.

Dr. Tyler Smith, a researcher and UVI faculty member who is responsible for conducting the USVI coral reef monitoring program explains, "this unprecedented decline could adversely affect the invaluable ecological services that coral reefs ecosystems provide, such as shoreline stability, water quality improvement, nutrient recycling, and habitat for fish and other organisms, in addition to preserving our cultural heritage."

"Our thriving tourism industry depends intimately on the health of the marine environment, the clarity of the ocean waters and gorgeous beaches," Noori added. "Educating the community about the value of marine resources and the relationship between our activities on land and the sea is one way we can help reverse the decline in our coral reefs, while preserving our marine based tourism economy."

Reef Fest will include interactive marine educational games and activities such as learning to snorkel, conducting reef checks, studying fish ecology, reef kayaking, building a reef out of sand, exploring underwater coral trails, solar car races and guided coastal walks.

Expert guest speakers will discuss the interdependence of coral reefs and fisheries. Some 20 environmental exhibits and activity booths will be presented by various University, government and community organizations. Local "green" vendors - food, drink and local crafts - will be on hand. As a model "green" event, Reef Fest will include demonstrations of waste reduction and source separation. Also, only reusable biodegradable souvenir beverage cups and paper plates (not Styrofoam) will be used.

Entertainment will include performances by local and student artists. A student, "Reef Rap" contest is also planned. Music will be provided by the JDPP Jammers, Jamesie P. and Top Notch Band.

St. Thomas Reef Fest follows in the footsteps of St. Croix's Reef Jam held in May 2008, which encouraged community participation and promoted the importance of the territory's marine resources, Noori said.

Donations and proceeds raised at the event will go to help support coral reef community and education programs on St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island. UVI's CMES Marine Outreach Program, which has promoted environmental education for more than 20 years, will lead the effort. The program includes a social marketing campaign that focuses on the sources of pollution - "The Reef is Closer Than You Think Community Campaign" - and a high school mini-grant outreach initiative. The program also just published an environmental briefing book for legislators titled "Waves of Change: A Resource for Environmental Issues in the Virgin Islands." The book will be launched in June, and thereafter available on the program website.

Hosting Reef Fest at Smith Bay Park will also help to demonstrate the concept of sustainable tourism, where tourism activities are designed to enhance the natural resources, not adversely affect the pristine nature of the bay. According to Noori, Smith Bay Park - with its calm, protected waters, white sandy beach, productive wetlands, healthy coastal vegetation, turtle nesting grounds, and Elkhorn and Staghorn corals - is a "model destination for Reef Fest."

Reef Fest is organized by UVI's Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service (VIMAS), the Magens Bay Authority, the Lana Vento Foundation, Lifewater Promotions and Ackley Media Group. Sponsors include VI Ecotours, Coors Light, the Environmental Association of St. Thomas, Allied Rental Center, Lew Henley's Sewage and Disposal, First Bank, Coral World, Friends of the National Park and Scotiabank For more information, contact Noori via email at lnoori@uvi.edu or call (340) 693-1392.