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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has awarded the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources a $472,750 formula grant to continue work on coral reef management.

Starting Oct. 1, the 18th-month grant will provide funding to support both the St. Croix East End Marine Park and a growing territorial coral reef initiative, according to the grant proposal.

Projects under the initiative include developing and implementing interagency response plans to emerging coral reef threats. Those threats include the invasive Pacific lionfish — which biologists fear could wreak havoc on the delicate balance of coral reef ecosystems — vessel groundings on coral reefs, and sediment runoff. Also included in the grant are educational programs aimed at achieving improved coral reef health in the territory through better understanding and stewardship.

DPNR also hopes to expand the number of St. Croix East End Marine Park staff positions, increase the visibility of St. Croix East End Marine Park programs, expand outreach and education efforts, and develop sustainable tourism markets to support a growing system of territorial marine parks.