U.S. Virgin Islands, December 7, 2021 — The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI) is pleased to announce joint recipients of the 2021 Judith A. Towle Environmental Studies Fund Award. Partners at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) in St. Thomas and the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College (HLSCC) in Tortola will share the prize.
Principal investigators from the U.S. Virgin Islands are affiliated with UVI’s Center for Marine and Environmental Studies: Dr. Kristin Wilson Grimes, Research Assistant Professor, and Allie Durdall, Watershed and Marine Specialist at the Center. In the British Virgin Islands, the project will be coordinated by Susan Zaluski, who heads the Centre for Applied Marine Studies at HLSCC.
Established at CFVI in 2003, the Judith A. Towle Environmental Studies Fund supports studies and activities that address environmental concerns that transcend the boundaries of any single island or island state in the insular Caribbean.
The joint proposal submitted by UVI and HLSCC has been selected to receive $7,000 to support the establishment of a mangrove restoration learning exchange of students and professionals from the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands. Proposals were also received from Turks and Caicos, Jamaica, and Trinidad.
"The selected proposal addresses the importance of transboundary collaboration, specifically, collaboration on mangrove restoration as an issue of importance to both territories," said Judith Towle. "The establishment of the 'exchange' is innovative and carries potential for engaging similar learning, information transfer, and training opportunities elsewhere in the insular Caribbean. It is a transboundary concept very much in keeping with the overall Towle Fund mission statement," she said.
The project team's hope is that the funds to support the initial learning exchange will serve as a model to seed a larger, mangrove restoration Community of Practice (CoP) within the broader Caribbean and across its nation states.
"Mangroves are an important coastal ecosystem that provide many benefits to Caribbean communities," said Dr. Grimes. "Unfortunately, they are negatively impacted by global and local stressors, including hurricanes which most recently devastated mangrove forests across the region in 2017. Restoration is a key conservation tool that can assist mangrove recovery, but more opportunities for practitioner learning, information exchange, and training are needed. Much mangrove restoration knowledge has not been documented, especially restoration failures, which can be as important as successes in terms of conserving limited time and resources," she said.
Application reviewers noted that the participation of undergraduate and graduate students from both institutions of higher learning strengthens the educational aspects of the project, while the proposed blog and social media posts should extend project outputs beyond the Virgin Islands.
"This project provides an important opportunity to share learning across the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, create a CoP with broader impacts across the region, and improve environmental and social outcomes for a critical coastal habitat important to these island communities," said Dr. Grimes.