VI-EPSCoR’s original research focus on Biocomplexity of Caribbean Coral Reefs (BCCR) was designed to gain a more complete understanding of the complex coastal ecosystems that make up the Virgin Islands and to contribute to the knowledge base in biodiversity, ecosystem connectivity, and related coastal oceanography. This is an area in which characteristics of the USVI reef systems and their environments provide a unique platform for globally significant study. 

BCCR was chosen as a research focus area due to the social and economic importance of coral reefs to the USVI and because of the scientific expertise at UVI. The BCCR was funded by a Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) grant awarded in 2003 from the National Science Foundation (NSF). These funds were augmented by grants from the Virgin Islands government, local business and industry, and private non-profit foundations. 

The establishment of this interdisciplinary research program provided an opportunity to synthesize local research and to formulate an integrated ecosystems management approach based on scientific expertise to insure the wise stewardship of the Territory’s marine resources.

As the BCCR program developed and matured over the four year-grant period, two critical gaps in knowledge were identified:

  • What are the influences of biotic, physical and human interactions in coastal ecosystems?
  • To what extent are oceanographic and climatic forces affecting coral reef ecosystems?

It is unclear how patterns of biodiversity and co-occurring natural and anthropogenic (those originating with human activity) stressors are interacting to influence reef degradation, or how disease, the greatest driver of reef degradation in the Caribbean, is linked to stress. For decades, scientists have explored the highly complex relationships of organisms that live within coral reef and coastal ecosystems, but only recently has research begun to reveal the significant influence that terrestrial and oceanic environments and human activities have on coral reef function.