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VI Reef Response

Integrating science and community
to promote healthy coral reefs



VI Reef Response's mission is to stimulate coral reef ecosystem health through coral restoration, promote community involvement through citizen science, and ensure best practices through scientific research. 

VI Reef Response is a citizen science program in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) centered on coral restoration. The program was created to increase coral cover and diversity of coral reefs around the Virgin Islands while empowering the local community to help mitigate the effects of changing environmental conditions.

Volunteers clean algae of the coral trees at the Flat Cay, St. Thomas nursery.

Volunteers clean algae of the coral trees at the Flat Cay, St. Thomas nursery.

Why is VI Reef Response needed in the Virgin Islands?

The US Virgin Islands’ economy, well-being, and culture are all connected to coral reef ecosystems. Tourism and fisheries, the two main drivers of the local economy, are both highly reliant on healthy coral reefs. The reefs provide habitat for commercially important fish and other important marine organisms such as lobster and sea urchins while healthy fish populations help maintain reefs and keep harmful algae under control; and diverse coral and fish communities attract tourists. Coral reefs also protect the islands’ shorelines from strong waves generated by hurricanes and tropical storms. Finally, coral reefs rely upon the integrity of other coastal habitats, like mangroves and seagrass beds to reduce runoff, to remain healthy. The marine environment is an important part of the local culture. Conch, whelk, and other marine animals are traditional foods which rely on healthy reefs and associated habitats to thrive.

Sadly, reef corals in the USVI are declining at a rapid rate, due to a number of natural and human-caused threats including hurricanes and other severe storms, the warming of sea surface temperatures, coral diseases, overfishing, and pollution. In the 2000s, the coral cover on shallow reefs in the USVI declined from nearly 20% to less than 10% (Baker et al. 2008).

VI Reef Response was formed to mitigate the decline of coral reef populations. Their mission is to:

  1. Increase the cover and diversity of reef corals in the USVI.

  2. Increase community involvement in coral reef conservation and research.

  3. Collect scientific data that can be used to improve the efficacy of coral restoration practices.


how it works

Coral fragments are grown in underwater nurseries and planted on natural reefs to increase coral cover and diversity. VI Reef Response partners with local dive shops to offer the opportunity for citizen scientists to dive at the coral nurseries and at coral out-plant sites. Citizen scientists are essential to the program's success.


coral restoration

Coral restoration works to increase coral abundance, genetic diversity, and resilience by collecting pieces of existing corals from the reef, growing and multiplying them in a nursery, and planting them back onto the reef.


become a reef responder

Whether you live on St. Thomas or are just visiting, you can become a VI Reef Responder!



VI Reef Response would not be possible without the support of our dive shop partners! Our partners provide boats, SCUBA equipment, and staff that makes dive trips possible for VI Reef Responders.






The inaugural citizen science dive in August 2018

Photo credits: Adrianne Poe and Jason Quetel