Virgin Islands

Inside Insight in St. Croix

By Natalie Loney

One can never underestimate the power of a strong voice.  It can be clear like a bell with the right timbre and resonance, or booming and vibrant like a bass drum.  Either way, the power of my own voice was tested on a recent trip to St. Croix, USVI.

I was in St. Croix in support of EPA’s emergency response to an air release from the HOVENSA refinery.  Part of my responsibilities included going door to door in impacted areas to talk to residents about our sampling results.   So, with the support of local Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) reps, our team set out to reach out to residents.  I was comfortable with this task, I’ve done community outreach countless times before.   Walk up to the door, ring the bell, wait for someone to answer, then,  start your mini-presentation, simple, right? Wrong! First of all, you can’t just walk up to someone’s door.  Most of the residents’ homes were set back from the road behind a fenced or sometimes walled lot.  My DPNR colleague pointed out that opening someone’s gate and entering their property without permission would be seen as improper.  I definitely didn’t want to introduce myself to a resident by insulting them.  What to do?

The answer was really quite simple.  My DPNR partner simply stood outside the fence, gate or wall, and yelled out, “INSIDE!”   It worked like a charm.  Residents looked out and waved us in or sometimes came over to the gate and spoke to us over the fence.  By the fourth or fifth home, I was calling out “INSIDE!” like a pro, I even adopted the sing-song inflection of a Crucian accent.  The simple act of following  local protocol went a long way,  I started out on the right note and residents were receptive to our message.  My voice made it through the whole day without incident.  That’s because mine is of the bass drum variety not the resonant bell.

About the author: Natalie Loney is a community involvement coordinator in New York City. She has been in Public Affairs since 1995.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

On Board the OSV BOLD: Change in Weather

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.

About the author: About the author: Charles LoBue serves as the chief scientist and diver for the US Virgin Island leg of the OSV BOLD voyage. He is an environmental scientist in EPA Region 2 in New York City.

March 6, 2009 (Day 26)

For most of our trip so far, the weather has been very good to us, and we’ve been able to keep to our itinerary. But when the weather doesn’t cooperate, all of our plans are thrown off. Unfortunately, that’s the current situation that we’ve found ourselves in as a strong, low pressure front is upon us and the weather is quickly becoming a problem. Rain is now pelting down, and winds are howling out of the northwest with gusts up to 39 knots (about 45 mph).

iimage of scuba flag in windThis will prevent us from working at our remaining stations on the northwest of St. Thomas. It’s not the rain that concerns us, but the sustained high winds that are creating rough sea conditions and will make it virtually impossible to be able to put our small diving boats out into the water. It is what it is, and we all have to keep in mind that this is beyond our control. We go back to the drawing board to figure out what is in our control. We decide to cast off from our dockage in Charlotte Amalie, cruise east, and anchor in Coral Bay in St. John. We’re hoping that the stations in this embayment on southwest St. John, are protected enough to allow diving.

We are so grateful for the assistance of The Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resource in helping us transport some of our divers, using their fast monitoring boat, the Vigilant. She’s been docked in St. Thomas, so crossing Pillsbury Sound to rendezvous with us could be a difficult task if the seas are rough. But as the BOLD bounds into 4 to 6-foot seas before turning into Coral Bay, we anchor and it seems calmer, and we’re delighted to see the Vigilant anchored at our meeting point. It’s time to get to work.

We’re able to safely load the Vigilant and two BOLD rigid-hulled, inflatable boats on the leeside of the massive BOLD hull. Although stiff winds prevail, the sea surface tucked behind these mountains seems to be staying down enough to allow diving. We’ll find out as divers return and have a chance to report back to us.

image of inflatable boat with people

As the boats return, the sun is now shining and we learn of success; the waters are workable. Being a glass-half-full kind of guy, I’m confident that we’ll have success in our next two days here on the south side, and we’ll ultimately get the weather to allow us to return to complete our stations on the north sides of St. Thomas and St. John.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

On Board the OSV BOLD: Mobilization

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

February 24, 2008 – 3 p.m. (Day 16)

About the author: Charles LoBue serves as the chief scientist and diver for the US Virgin Island leg of the OSV BOLD voyage. He is an environmental scientist in EPA Region 2 in New York City.

We arrived at our dock in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas after a steaming all night from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Fair cruising conditions during the crossing allowed most of us to get a good night’s sleep. We tied up at 6:30 this morning in the Crown Bay Marina, a popular cruise ship port.

image of three people donning gumby-like suitsToday we begin our acclimation to living and working at sea for the next few weeks on the BOLD. A drill had us all assembled on the upper deck prepared to abandon ship. The ship’s crew briefed us in life boat and emergency procedures, including the emergency exposure suit. They’re called “Gumby suits,” and when you see somebody dressed in one, no explanation is needed for that moniker. Those uninitiated to the pleasures of donning a Gumby suit had the privilege of being our Gumby models.

The morning was fast paced, with a series of meetings to discuss daily operations and scientific strategies. It’s very important that we’re all on the same page when coordinating loading 12 scientists and their equipment our three small boats several times a day in a heaving sea. It’s also important that each dive team is performing all the field assessment procedures in a consistent manner.

In the afternoon, we finally got in the water for our first dives. We deployed two boats to a nearby site to stage a series of rehearsal dives to practice the various survey and observation procedures.

underwater image of two divers studying coral reef

All went well, and the day ended with a one-hour science meeting to discuss the trial runs, and to come to consensus on certain details of documenting the observations. Now we’re ready to observe and measure the condition of these coral reefs around St. Thomas and St. John.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

On Board the OSV BOLD: Transition

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.

About the author: Charles LoBue serves as the chief scientist and diver for the US Virgin Island leg of the OSV BOLD voyage. He is an environmental scientist in EPA Region 2 in New York City.

Feb. 23, 2009 – 3:00 pm (Day 15)

As the Puerto Rico leg of the OSV BOLD’s survey winds down, the U.S. Virgin Islands leg is beginning. We’re staffed, equipped and ready to begin a nearly three-week survey to assess the condition of coral reefs around St. Thomas and St. John. We’ve reassembled this experienced team of divers and scientists to resume the work that began in 2006. Back then, EPA worked with V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) in St. Croix to initiate an inventive new coral monitoring program developed by EPA’s Office of Research and Development. Our team will include divers from EPA, DPNR, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and The Nature Conservancy.image of side of ship with people on deck

The waters that we are working in this year are new to us, which adds an element of adventure. Our plan is to perform strategic observations and measurements of corals and other biota at 60 stations around the islands. Water and sediment sampling will add to the mix. Each morning, we will assign dive teams to three small boats, which will be dispatched to different observation stations.

image of diver examining coral underwaterHere’s the basic process once we’re in the water. When a dive team arrives at a station, a snorkel reconnaissance is performed to assess whether the site has suitable coral cover. The team then enters the water and lays a 25-meter transect line to mark the domain of the observations. The team then makes a general assessment of the cover types, measures topography, counts other invertebrate species, and collects sediment and water samples throughout the transect area. Coral experts will identify every hard coral colony encountered within a meter of the transect line, measure its dimensions, and judge how much of it is thriving.

image of scientists examining data in the on-board labWhen the team returns to the OSV BOLD, data are entered into a computer for analyses and water samples are processed. This will go on for the duration of the survey.

Sure it may seem to be a cookie-cutter process, but the best laid plans are always at the mercy of the weather and sea condition. Of course, underlying all this field work is the logistics and procedures needed to maintain to safe diving operations. Our challenge is to find and assess 60 suitable stations over some 50 some-odd miles of coast around the two islands and assorted cays. So here’s to blue skies, calm seas, and healthy coral.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.