U.S. Virgin Islands Ecosystem Services Approach to Support Hazard Mitigation and Resiliency Planning

An updated and approved US Virgin Islands Territorial Hazard Mitigation Plan will result in a set of recommendations that seeks to identify and integrate principles and elements of resiliency, sustainability, and climate adaptation planning for the Territory. As the hazard mitigation activities and efforts build momentum, projects will be identified for funding and decisions will be made to advance the goals of the Plan. These activities include continued development and rebuilding of the U.S. Virgin Islands, which will alter the natural and built environments, and the islands’ social systems.

Over time, climate change combined with changing land use practices in the Territory have altered the biophysical functioning of the “ridge to reef” ecosystem, thereby altering the well-being benefits that humans receive from the ecosystem. Before further development occurs, the current interdependence between the “ridge to reef” environment and islander well-being needs to be clarified for informed decision making. To realize the goals of a resilient and sustainable future, islanders need to identify and prioritize habitats that can realistically provide hazard mitigation services to them now and in the future.

Ecosystem service assessments are a mechanism for delineating the value islanders place on their environment. In the short-term, ecosystem service assessments can guide community leaders and decision makers as mitigation activities are identified for funding, and over the long-term, will allow communities to adapt and align projects as progress is made. The ecosystem service assessment process, and its results, not only helps people understand the connections between environmental well-being and human well-being, but helps them make informed decisions about how, where, and when they might make changes to the natural and built environments over time.

Led by Community Resilience team members Christine Hale, Kara Coffey, and Dijani Laplace, HRI will conduct a virtual workshop and deliver an ecosystem services assessment report to partners at the University of the Virgin Islands and the Virgin Islands Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research that provides recommendations for ways in which the Territory can strengthen the underlying positive factors and enhance the resilience of the USVI’s ecosystem services for the Territory’s benefit. The report will also identify ways that communities can be engaged in developing mitigation strategies and decisions.