July December 2006
National Science Foundation
James Gosz, Program Manager
December 8, 2006
The U.S. Virgin Islands received a Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) grant
from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Experimental Program to Stimulate
Competitive Research (EPSCoR) in 2003. As a result of investments made by the
Virgin Islands EPSCoR program (VI-EPSCoR) in its first three years, the Virgin
Islands are now seeing significant improvements in the territory's ability to support
and manage competitive research in the area of coral reefs and related ecosystems.
This semi-annual report for July through December 2006 highlights some of the
exciting activities and achievements that have been possible because of VI-EPSCoR
VI-EPSCoR's research thrust is on the Biocomplexity of Caribbean Coral Reefs
(BCCR). The marine environment of the Virgin Islands is among the most valuable in
the territory's inventory of natural resources, and maintaining its integrity is an
important factor in the territory's continued social and economic viability.
VI-EPSCoR investments in research facilities have enabled significant expansion of
marine research and coral monitoring programs at the University of the Virgin
Islands (UVI) and facilitated new collaborations with external researchers as well as
stronger partnerships with federal and territorial resource management agencies.
VI-EPSCoR has supported renovations of UVI marine research facilities, significantly
increasing the territory's ability to support competitive marine-related research. The
physical renovations at the MacLean Marine Science Center (MMSC) on St. Thomas
include renovations of four research labs, a new sea table containment system, a teaching
lab, office space for additional researchers, a video conference room and new dive
facilities. The renovations at the Virgin Islands Environmental Resource Station (VIERS)
on St. John include a new analytical lab, semi-wet lab, wet lab, office and library, and a
new structure to house the compressor tank filling station, workshop, generator and
chemical storage. VI-ESPCoR also funded the acquisition of a new Island Hopper
research vessel (a 30 foot motor boat equipped with the latest radar, sonar,
communication and navigation equipment) which is being used extensively for marine
research and coral monitoring by UVI and visiting researchers. VI-EPSCoR investments
have created new opportunities for collaboration with partner organizations including:
United States Geological Survey (USGS), National Oceanographic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA), the Virgin Islands National Park, the Virgin Islands Department
of Planning and Natural Resources, and a number of other universities.
VI-EPSCoR funds leveraged with an NSF Field Station and Marine Lab grant have
supported extensive renovations and modernization of the Virgin Islands
Environmental Resource Station (VIERS), an important historical field station
located in the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John. VIERS has served as an
important field station for marine scientists for 40 years. For example, during the 1960s,
it was the home base of Project Tektite, an underwater habitat for marine research. In
2001, a hurricane critically damaged the VIERS research facilities. With the new
renovations, VIERS is once again operational as a research station. In the past year
VIERS has hosted researchers from UVI, Virgin Islands National Park, USGS, NOAA,
California State University at Northridge, Auburn University, University of Central
Florida, Eckerd College, Murray State University, and others. In November, VIERS
hosted the "Science in the Park" international conference marking the 50th Anniversary of
the Virgin Islands National Park and 40th Anniversary of VIERS. The conference brought
a number of renowned researchers back to St. John to discuss the importance of VIERS
and the National Park as a premier field laboratory for coral reef research. Research
recommendations from the conference have been communicated to the NSF and will be
published this spring in Science.
VI-EPSCoR investments in equipment have spurred new research directions and
collaborations. For example, in 2004 VI-EPSCoR purchased several Acoustic Doppler
Current Profilers (ADCPs) for oceanographic monitoring. In a collaboration between
oceanographers and marine biologists, the ADCPs have been deployed at grouper and
snapper spawning aggregation sites to collect baseline data on water temperature, current
speed and direction at different depths in order to predict patterns of current-driven
transport of eggs and larvae from spawning aggregation sites. The use of the ADCPs has
led to exciting new incubator research directions related to coastal processes, such as a
collaboration with the Virgin Islands Coral Reef Monitoring Program and the Virgin
Islands National Park in which the ADCPs are used to study coral spawning. BCCR
researchers have particular comparative advantage in studying coastal processes because
of the easy accessibility to coastal regions around the Virgin Islands. Because of the
importance of the coastal processes studies, VI-EPSCoR is funding the acquisition of
new tools specifically designed to monitor near-shore conditions. The purchase of a high-
resolution Conductivity-Temperature-Depth instrument and an Acoustic Wave and
Current Profiler suitable for deployment close to shore enable researchers to verify high
resolution coastal modeling efforts and will greatly enhance and increase likelihood of
success of several incubator research projects focused on coastal processes.
A new VI-EPSCoR funded incubator project, a collaboration between Dr. Linda
Walters of the University of Central Florida and Dr. Teresa Turner of UVI, was
made possible by recent VI-EPSCoR infrastructure investments. Walters was among
the first external researchers to benefit from new renovations at MMSC and VIERS. The
collection of data on foraging Diadema sea urchins and how they impact algal biomass
on coral reefs was greatly aided by the new dive facilities at MMSC and VIERS, as well
as by the new research vessel; the work also benefited from the new sea table
containment systems at MMSC. Visiting researchers like Walters offer as much as they
receive. While in residence, Walters gave VI-EPSCoR seminars geared specifically
towards undergraduate students at UVI. She and Turner also worked with two UVI
undergraduates throughout their research, both of whom have presented posters as a
result of this work; one student is third author on a poster accepted for presentation at The
Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology's 2007 meeting.
VI-EPSCoR incubator grants are developing new research directions, strengthening
research skills of faculty and student researchers, and advancing research to the
point at which it can attract competitive external funding. For example, in 2005 VI-
EPSCoR awarded a $10,000 incubator grant to Dr. Paul Sikkel of Murray State
University, Dr. Donna Nemeth of UVI, and Ms. Amber McCammon, a UVI
undergraduate, to examine the effects of habitat on parasite loads in reef-associated
fishes. Outputs from the project to date include papers for Coral Reefs (in press),
Caribbean Journal of Science (submitted), and Journal ofParasitology (in preparation),
and presentations to several local, regional and international conferences, meetings and
symposia including the 50th Anniversary Conference on Research in the Virgin Islands
National Park and the 59th Annual Meeting of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute.
The grant has also provided important research opportunities for the student assistant,
enabling McCammon to conduct research throughout the U.S. and British Virgin Islands
and to learn a variety of field and laboratory techniques. McCammon has developed an
impressive set of research skills, has built collaborations with numerous scientists, and
has taken the initiative to create and pursue research questions within the scope of the
project. The opportunity granted for this particular student has made a significant impact
on her career development and preparation for graduate school. The incubator research
has also led in several exciting directions; the researchers have successfully obtained
grants for further work from the Virgin Islands Water Resources Research Institute and
Earthwatch Institute and pre-proposal funding from Oregon Sea Grant, and have
proposals in preparation to Oregon and Puerto Rico Sea Grant programs.
VI-EPSCoR has been working closely with UVI Information and Technology
Services (UVI ITS) in infrastructure investments to strengthen the university
environment for research, primarily in the areas of internet connectivity, network
design and security, and storage and backup solutions for researchers. The
importance of these investments are illustrated by the recent implementation of Dr.
Nasseer Idrisi's HYCOM computer system for high performance ocean modeling in
collaboration with researchers from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric
Science at the University of Miami. When the model was first being installed, necessary
large datasets, such as climatology data files for forcing the model, could not be
transferred from Miami over UVI's existing Internet connection because it lacked the
capacity to handle such large amounts of data. VI-EPSCoR's support for some of the
transitional costs of increasing connectivity now permits VI-EPSCoR researchers to
periodically access almost all of UVI's Internet capacity to download or upload large
datasets. On-going improvements in network design and security and implementation of
storage and backup solutions should create a much more robust modeling environment
that will make the technical environment invisible to the researchers. VI-EPSCoR will
continue to work closely with UVI ITS to develop longer term support solutions for
HYCOM and other IT-intensive research needs.
VI-EPSCoR support provides researchers with access to library materials not
available at UVI or through UVI's existing electronic resources. For example, as a
part of their VI-EPSCoR incubator proposal, Drs. Teresa Turner and Tom Archibald of
UVI requested funding to travel to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) to use
their library facilities. Instead, VI-EPSCoR and UVI ITS negotiated with the WHOI
library and, for what it would have cost to send the two researchers to Cape Cod, were
able to purchase a year's access to WHOI library cards for twenty VI-EPSCoR
researchers, allowing them to have full electronic access to the library's resources.
VI-EPSCoR initiated implementation of project management software and training
to support research management. VI-EPSCoR and UVI ITS have implemented the use
of MS Project in support of VI-EPSCoR planning, monitoring, and evaluation activities.
VI-EPSCoR staff are now learning how to use the software and inputting various
components of the VI-EPSCoR operational plan. The VI-EPSCoR implementation is a
pilot project for broader use of MS Project at UVI. VI-EPSCoR is supporting the
software costs for the pilot implementation; UVI plans to transition to enterprise-level
implementation of the software for university-wide application.
VI-EPSCoR funded the successful development of a new Master of Arts in
Mathematics for Secondary Teachers approved by the University of the Virgin
Islands Board of Trustees in March 2006. The program is designed to advance and
deepen the knowledge of mathematics teachers. Classes began on UVI's St. Croix
campus in June 2006. The Virgin Islands Department of Education is a major supporter
of this degree program, providing full scholarships for all 18 Virgin Islands public school
teachers participating in the first cohort. The program is being tailored to the needs of
practicing teachers. Most coursework takes place during the summers when K-12 schools
are not in session. At the request of the Department of Education, additional courses have
been developed to ensure that all entering teachers are fully prepared for graduate work.
Graduates of the program will be highly qualified as mathematics teachers at the
VI-EPSCoR funded the successful development of a new Master of Marine and
Environmental Science approved by the University of the Virgin Islands Board of
Trustees on November 11, 2006. This exciting new multi-disciplinary graduate program
will be offered through the Division of Science and Mathematics and the Center for
Marine and Environmental Studies beginning in Fall 2007. The program will offer
advanced training in science and natural resource management. It is designed to meet the
acute demand for science and resource management expertise within the territory and the
wider Caribbean. Potential employers such as local government and non-government
agencies have expressed strong interest in hiring graduates of the program. Interest is
great among potential students in the territory, most of whom have indicated that they
wish to remain in the territory to work after graduation.
VI-EPSCoR has facilitated the development of a new educational advisory board to
link the territory's K-12 and postsecondary educational institutions and the Virgin
Islands community in a partnership to strengthen K-12 STEM education. In Fall
2006, VI-EPSCoR, the President and Provost of UVI, and the Virgin Islands
Commissioner of Education constituted a new educational advisory board. Members
include representatives of UVI and the Department of Education, potential employers in
the private and government sectors, parents of secondary school students, and VI-
EPSCoR. The Board is charged with identifying priority areas where K-12 STEM
education can be strengthened; developing a plan of action; promoting collaboration and
the formation of strategic alliances to make optimal use of existing and potential
resources; and promoting private sector and community involvement.
VI-EPSCoR is participating in and supporting a variety of professional and
educational events in the Virgin Islands to promote partnerships and build
collaborations with key local government agencies and private organizations. For
example, in October 2006 VI-EPSCoR, UVI and The Virgin Islands Department of
Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) collaborated to host a workshop on the "Status
of USVI Coral Reef Ecosystems" held in conjunction with the 16th annual U.S. Coral
Reef Task Force (CRTF) Meeting. By combining the efforts of a local government
agency with UVI and VI-EPSCoR, the workshop became a venue for building
relationships and generating ideas for future collaboration. The workshop was open to the
public and was specifically aimed at local stakeholder groups. Recommendations from
the workshop were presented to the Coral Reef Task Force, which passed a resolution
offering support to the Government of the Virgin Islands for the further review, analysis,
development and implementation of those recommendations. The workshop and the
CRTF meeting were attended by representatives of all federal agencies funding U.S. coral
reef research including NOAA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S.
Department of the Interior, and representatives from other U.S. coral reef jurisdictions
and associated states such as American Samoa, Hawaii, Palau and the Marshall Islands.
The Virgin Islands community has recognized the value of the VI-EPSCoR program
by increasing financial support for VI-EPSCoR In 2006, VI-EPSCoR received a
$400,000 appropriation from the Legislature of the Virgin Islands to support the program;
local private donations in support of the program also increased.
In summary, the infrastructure investments of the current Research Infrastructure
Improvement grant are building a sound foundation for growth in the research thrust
on Biocomplexity of Caribbean Coral Reefs. Research facilities and equipment and IT
capabilities at the University of the Virgin Islands have been significantly upgraded in
support of the research thrust. In addition to new full-time research faculty and staff,
UVI teaching faculty from biology, marine biology, physics, chemistry, and computer
science are now participating in the research thrust. Research resources at UVI are
being augmented by new partnerships with other research and resource management
organizations and by collaborations with other universities. A new graduate program
in marine and environmental science will strengthen the research and teaching
environment at UVI, and will produce graduates with skills in research and natural
resource management tailored to local needs. A new graduate program in teaching
mathematics for secondary teachers and a new educational advisory board link UVI
with the school system in efforts to strengthen K-12 STEM education. The investments
made by the Virgin Islands EPSCoR program in its first three years are creating
significant improvements in the territory's ability to support and manage competitive
research in the area of coral reefs and related ecosystems.
Further details on the program may be found in the second VI-EPSCoR Annual Report
submitted to the National Science Foundation in May 2006.
Changes in personnel
Dr. Meri Whitaker (Ph.D., Agricultural Economics, Stanford University) was named VI-
EPSCoR Project Director in June 2006.
Ms. Elizabeth Ban (M.E.M., Conservation Biology, Yale University) joined VI-EPSCoR
in October 2006 as Program Coordinator.
Dr. Sylvia Vitazkova (Ph.D., Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology, Columbia
University) joined VI-EPSCoR in May 2006 as Graduate Coordinator for the new
graduate program in marine and environmental sciences.
Dr. Paul Butler-Nalin (Ph.D., Higher Education Administration and Policy Analysis,
Stanford University) joined VI-EPSCoR in 2006 as Consultant for Planning, Monitoring
Ms. Maria Dillard (M.A., Sociology, East Carolina State University) joined VI-EPSCoR
in July 2006 as Communications Outreach Manager.
Mr. Eoghan Joyce, Research Project Manager, has left VI-EPSCoR.
Ms. Marilyn Henderson, Administrative Assistant, has left VI-EPSCoR.
Mr. Matt Lucas joined VI-EPSCoR as a visiting Research Assistant from Southeast
Missouri State University where he is pursuing his M.S. degree in Biology. He is
working with Dr. Sandra Romano on research using DNA sequences for analyses of
higher level relationships among the hard corals.
Ms. Jacqulyn Calnan (M.S., Conservation Biology, Columbia University) joined VI-
EPSCoR in November 2006 as a Research Analyst working with Dr. Tyler Smith on
coral reef monitoring.