Shelf Edge Survey and Assessment Project (SESAP)

Project Summary:

The implementation of the newly developed Shelf Edge Survey Assessment Project (SESAP) on the South Shelf of St. Thomas, USVI represents the first of numerous upcoming research expeditions investigating the mid-depth mesophotic coral reefs of the American Caribbean.  Funded entirely by the Black Coral Penalty Fund, this work seeks to better understand the distribution, extent and quality of coral reefs at depths of 25-70 meters south of St. Thomas.  Focused on the primary bank edge of the shelf system, SESAP will be used to measure variability in coral cover, health and fish communities both fore and aft of the primary bank ridgeline immediately adjacent to the Anegada Passage drop-off.  Two hundred randomly placed points have been distributed on each side of the ridgeline extending from Vieques, Puerto Rico to the BVI border south of St. John, USVI.  Starting in the summer of 2013, half of the points will be sampled using in-water diver methodologies and the other half with remotely operated drop camera technology.  The results of this work will provide a foundation for the predictive modeling of reef habitats across the entirety of the south shelf ridgeline.  Additionally, we hope to glean a better understanding of the processes that shape the distribution of coral reefs in the USVI as well as the likelihood of their persistence in an increasingly uncertain future.