Not all corals at Virgin Islands National Park are recovering quickly from 2017 Hurricanes Irma and Maria/NPS file

USVI - Some, But Not All, Virgin Islands National Park Coral Reefs Are Recovering From Hurricanes

After Hurricanes Irma and Maria delivered a one-two punch to Virgin Islands National Park in September 2017, the impacts to the park's coral reefs were significant. While research indicates that soft corals at the park are recovering, there has been a great decline in stony corals such as elkhorn corals that are the primary reef builders.

Researchers led by a University of Buffalo marine ecologist studied soft corals at three sites in the U.S. Virgin Islands. They found those corals were able to recover from the destructive effects of nearly back-to-back Category 5 storms in 2017, but the story of these apparently hardy communities of colorful marine life is part of a larger, rapidly shifting narrative surrounding the future of coral reefs.

The recently realized resilience of the soft corals is an important development toward increasing understanding of these complex ecosystems, but the findings published in the journal Scientific Reports puts that seemingly good news in the context of an ecosystem that is dramatically changing.

"These soft corals are resilient," says Howard Lasker, a professor in the Department of Environment and Sustainability and the Department of Geology, and an expert on the ecology of coral reef organisms. "But right now in the Caribbean we're seeing a drastic decline of stony corals, and the soft corals are not a simple replacement for what's being lost."

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