Decision support framework for the prioritization of coral reefs in the U.S. Virgin Islands
The coral reef ecosystems of the U.S. Virgin Islands are some of the most intensively surveyed and threatened tropical ecosystems on earth. These coral reefs vary widely in terms of biophysical structure, seascape context, socio-economic value and exposure to threats presenting a complex challenge for resilience-based management. How and where should managers prioritize actions to maximize conservation outcomes? To meet multiple conservation objectives, a novel map-based decision-support tool was designed which synthesized large amounts of data to help managers identify and rank coral reefs according to multiple ecological qualities, ecosystem services and threats. The spatial framework integrates local expert knowledge from SCUBA divers, scientific field data and spatial models to characterize and rank priority coral reefs. With user-defined flexibility, the tool provides information to guide management processes such as risk assessments of coastal development, management of protected areas, site selection in science and monitoring design, broader marine spatial planning and community education and outreach.