On Board the OSV BOLD: A Tree Falling in the Ocean

For more than a month, EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold is studying the health of the waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EPA scientists and non-scientists will blog about their research and what it’s like to live and work at sea.

March 6, 2009 – 2:00 p.m. (Day 26)

About the author: John Senn is a press officer in Region 2, New York City. He covers water issues, including water permits, wetlands, coastal water and beaches, oceans and lakes, as well as RCRA, and Voluntary Programs. John’s been with EPA for 2.5 years.

Everyone’s heard the riddle about whether a tree falling in the woods when no one’s around actually makes a sound. A similar analogy can be made for the work being one right now on the OSV BOLD; if no one sees what we do, just how valuable is our work?

images of school children listening to a presentation be given by a diverYesterday, some 200 people—about half of them students from local middle and high schools—got a close up look at EPA’s coral reef survey and the BOLD’s inner workings through an open house at Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas. EPA scientists, the ship’s crew and members of the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources served as tour guides, and demonstrated the coral reef survey techniques and diving operations currently underway.

Apart from seeing all the cool gadgets and gizmos that make the ship run, as well as our dining hall and living quarters, visitors heard about the importance of studying, protecting and enhancing the health
of coral reefs around the Virgin Islands. Bill Fisher, an EPA scientist from Florida who’s been contributing to this blog, told the visitors about how the Virgin Islands, like many small islands around the globe, are specially vulnerable to the potential impacts of global climate change and human activity.

Rising sea levels affect how close people can live to the coast. Elevated ocean temperatures can alter marine habitat and change how some animals, plants and fish function, including coral reefs. The reefs, Bill explained, benefit islands like the Virgin Islands by acting as a natural (and free) barrier to destructive storm surges; man-made barriers cost millions of dollars to construct.

Coral are also particularly sensitive to even the slightest changes in the water around them, so they’re good indicators of looming water quality problems. Bill was clear to explain how almost everything we do on land affects what goes on in and under the sea. He emphasized to our visitors, especially to the students, that lowering one’s carbon footprint can have a demonstrable benefit in their backyard.

Many of the students who came aboard seemed excited to see and hear about what we were up to. Hopefully we inspired them to take action to protect this beautiful and ecologically-significant place. Maybe a few will even become environmental scientists and carry on our work someday.