06 June 2014 (Reference: 02-14)
Marine conservation in the British Virgin Isles will be the focus of a two year-long Cefas led project which kicked off this week.
The project will undertake high resolution hydrograhic surveys to map the sea bed to support the management of marine protected areas. The data will provide a more accurate and detailed knowledge of the marine landscape. Very little is known about the species and habitats in the waters beyond 20 metres, where it is believed black coral exists, an internationally important endangered species, and it is hoped that this project can shed more light on this.
Key marine conservation partners and local stakeholders met this week to decide where the surveys should take place. The RMS Rhone Marine Park and Sir Francis Drake Channel will be the focus of the work. The RMS Rhone Marine Park was the first designated National Marine Park in the British Virgin Islands and includes fringing reef and seagrass beds, as well as the wreck of the Royal Mail Steamer RMS Rhone which sunk in 1867. The area was chosen for the survey because in addition to important conservation commitments, it combines navigation safety, fisheries, tourism and education interests.
Data will be gathered using 3D sea bed mapping technology to produce very high resolution visualisation of the underwater world. Underwater cameras will also be towed to capture vitally information about marine habitats and species. Cefas experts will train local partners to use the same technology to continue to map and monitor the marine environment, ensuring locally based expertise, once the project has completed.
The surveys will also be used to update nautical charts to help reduce the risk of shipping incidents which could result in marine pollution, causing serious environmental damage.
Cefas is working in partnership with UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) and National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands. The project is a Darwin Plus funded initiative, with support from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Department for International Development (DFID) and Department for the Environment Fisheries and Agriculture (Defra).
Cefas Project Leader Koen Vanstaen said: "This project is an excellent opportunity for Cefas to bring our leading-edge expertise in seabed mapping and monitoring to provide the best and most accurate data our partners need to understand how to manage and safeguard the marine environment of the British Virgin Islands."
Joseph Smith-Abbott, Deputy Secretary Ministry of Natural Resources & Labour, BVI Government said: "The National Parks Trust and Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour are really pleased to work with Cefas and the UKHO on this Darwin project. The data collected by this project will be vital to ensure the long term protection of the local environment and economy. New data will be collected in areas of high importance and will help us to further develop our network of marine protected areas, as marine charts for the Territory are updated concurrently. The transfer of knowledge and skills will ensure the work can be maintained by local organisations beyond this project."
- The Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (Cefas) is the UK government's foremost source of evidence, applied science and impartial expert advice for marine and closely related environments. It tackles and makes a real difference on issues of great importance to society such as food safety, secure energy supply and biodiversity - with projects that support and enable economic growth and the protection of the natural environment. For more information visit www.cefas.defra.gov.uk or contact email@example.com Tel: 00 44 (0) 1502 521318. Images are available.
- The National Park Trust of the Virgin Islands is a statutory body, responsible for parks and protected areas. It is overseen by the Government of the British Virgin Islands. For more information visit www.bvinationalparkstrust.org
The UK Hydrographic Office has been charting the world's oceans fore more than 200 years with the aim of providing navigational products and services for the Royal Navy and marchant mariners to save and protect lives at sea. For more information visit www.ukho.gov.uk