Magens Bay Arboretum Gets Some Help From UVI Masters Students

Magens Bay is located on the north side of St. Thomas within a 319 acre preserve gifted to the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands by Arthur S. Fairchild.

Magens Bay is located on the north side of St. Thomas within a 319 acre preserve gifted to the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands by Arthur S. Fairchild.

University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) Masters of Marine & Environmental Studies (MMES) students focused their attention on the Magens Bay Arboretum this week to gather data for their capstone project. The capstone is a semester-long research project in which the students apply the information they learn in their first-year courses by conducting extensive, independent research on a topic that has territorial relevance. At the end of the semester, they present their findings in traditional scientific formats (e.g., research paper, poster) as well as less formal communication formats (e.g., videos, infographics) to share results with the general public.

The Magens Bay watershed Preserve & Arboretum

The Magens Bay Watershed Preserve is a 319 acre preserve, protecting one of only a few large tracts of forest on St. Thomas. Magens Bay Arboretum is part of the Preserve and was gifted to the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands by philanthropist Arthur S. Fairchild in 1946. Fairchild planted the Arboretum’s five acres with native and non-native species from all around the world and because of this, the Arboretum contains many exotic and rare plants, including the federally-endangered Egger’s Cockspur, the territorially-endangered Bulletwood and nine species of palms. In September 2017, the Arboretum suffered extensive damage from Hurricanes Irma and Maria and the Magens Bay Authority, who manages the Arboretum, approached UVI for help to determine the best course of action for cleanup and restoration.

The Capstone Project

This year’s capstone project will investigate how the Arboretum changed in response to the hurricanes of 2017 and will assess their resilience. What factors allow some species in the area to recover or regrow following major storms, like Hurricanes Irma and Maria? To accomplish this, the students are surveying the Arboretum and noting which species are still standing, which fell and perished, and which species fell and sprouted anew. They are also investigating the differences in response between native, non-native, and invasive tree species. In addition to UVI faculty (Dr. Renata Platenberg, Dr. Lori Buckley, Dr. Tyler Smith, Dr. Marilyn Brandt, and Dr. Kristin Wilson Grimes), students have also been assisted by territorial plant experts including ecologist Dr. Gary Ray, UVI Cooperative Extension agent Toni Thomas, and arborist, Clay Jones.

All photos courtesy of Dr. Kristin Wilson Grimes

Sonora Meiling measures the size of a recent sprout in the arboretum. Data on new growth since the storm will be essential to understanding what species are able to recover from hurricanes and other wind damage.

Sonora Meiling measures the size of a recent sprout in the arboretum. Data on new growth since the storm will be essential to understanding what species are able to recover from hurricanes and other wind damage.

MMES students identify the trees that are still standing after the 2017 hurricanes.

MMES students identify the trees that are still standing after the 2017 hurricanes.

Kaliegh Schlender hammers a stake to mark out “study plots” in the area that the team will be using to study the new growth following the hurricanes.

Kaliegh Schlender hammers a stake to mark out “study plots” in the area that the team will be using to study the new growth following the hurricanes.

Dan Mele measures one of the seedlings in the arboretum, noting its size, leaf size and density, and any other new sprouts present. Understanding which plants have survived the storms of 2017 will shed light on how certain trees may be more resilient than others.

Dan Mele measures one of the seedlings in the arboretum, noting its size, leaf size and density, and any other new sprouts present. Understanding which plants have survived the storms of 2017 will shed light on how certain trees may be more resilient than others.

Jessica Levenson keeps careful notes of the trees and undergrowth of the area, seeing what survived the 2017 hurricanes as well as what is growing back over a year later.

Jessica Levenson keeps careful notes of the trees and undergrowth of the area, seeing what survived the 2017 hurricanes as well as what is growing back over a year later.

Naomi Huntley (left) and Courtney Gomez (right) carefully examine new growth occurring after major hurricanes Irma and Maria. It’s important to note what species are the first to grow back following major disturbances like hurricanes, and if the species now growing in are native to the island, transplanted non-natives, or destructive invasive species.

Naomi Huntley (left) and Courtney Gomez (right) carefully examine new growth occurring after major hurricanes Irma and Maria. It’s important to note what species are the first to grow back following major disturbances like hurricanes, and if the species now growing in are native to the island, transplanted non-natives, or destructive invasive species.