The Virgin Islands Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (VI-EPSCoR) was awarded $20,000,000 by the National Science Foundation to implement the project Mare Nostrum Caribbean: Stewardship through Strategic Research and Workforce Development. The project period is August, 2014 – July, 2019.
This grant presents a unique opportunity to address the implications of climate change for insular social-ecological systems. Small island communities suffer from a suite of similar problems: limited natural resources, narrow economic base, emigration of young professionals seeking better economic opportunities, heavy reliance on outside entities for goods and services, and the ever-increasing threat of global climate change.
In the U.S. Virgin Islands, similar to many Caribbean island nations, nearshore marine ecosystems, especially coral reefs, are key to its economic viability, but they are also especially vulnerable to both land and water-based human activities and oceanographic climatic disturbances. The USVI is in a prime position to conduct coral reef research that will synthesize knowledge about the various factors that control degradation, tolerance, and resilience of caribbean coral reef ecosystems so that the best management strategies and be identified.
The success of these management strategies, however, will ultimately be determined by the ability and capacity of the local communities, stakeholders and citizens to actively participate and self-organize in stewardship of these marine and environmental ecosystems. Improving the quantitative, scientific and educational skill levels of the Virgin Islands' workforce will be key to sustainability for insular communities reliant on natural resources. To achieve this goal, Mare Nostrum Caribbean has invested in building capacity for cutting edge research, implemented workforce development strategies, fosters emerging areas of research and engages the public in outreach.
Our research serves as a central focal point to strengthen both formal and informal science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education; increase the level of environmental stewardship; and lead to better informed decision making in management of our marine and other natural resources.
A more aware and highly educated citizenry will lead to more diversified and sustainable economic development options for the territory. Lessons learned and models that will be developed through our research can be utilized by other insulate communities.