Savana Island, a newly designated Wildlife and Marine Sanctuary in the US Virgin Islands, is preparing for a holistic restoration project. This is a first for the island, which is located approximately three miles west of St. Thomas. Savana has recently been identified as one of forty globally significant island ecosystems that will begin a ridge to reef restoration process as part of the Island-Ocean Connection Challenge by 2030. 

The US Virgin Islands have long been known to protect unique and ecologically significant areas in their public domain. Savana Island stands out as a distinct and valuable natural resource of vital importance to the people of the Virgin Islands. 

Savana Island, US Virgin Islands coastline

Savana Island and its surrounding area are home to locally important biodiversity. Dense native forests of Fan Palm (Coccothrinax barbadensis), stands of Roble Blanco (Tabebuia heterophylla), dry shrublands of flowering Lantana (Lantana camara), and cliffs with Audubon’s Shearwater (Puffinus lherminieri) and other migratory shorebirds possess ecological and aesthetic qualities that give this area special territorial and international significance for restoration and rewilding. 

One of the project’s focal points will be introducing the long-extirpated Virgin Islands Tree Boa back to the island. This native species has populations in the Virgin Islands, but its range is now fragmented due to vegetation clearing and threats from introduced invasive mammals. 

Virgin Islands Tree Boa. Photo: Island Conservation

In a recent joint announcement, the inclusion of Savana Island was heralded as a step towards enriching and connecting the other sixteen ecosystems participating, highlighting the shared responsibility in this endeavor. The unique combination of holistic restoration and rewilding efforts that the IOCC brings is a hallmark for achieving accelerated ecological benefits both locally and globally. By removing a primary threat – invasive species – and bringing back native plants and animals, Savana Island’s natural ecosystem can recover and once again thrive. 

Field team camping on Savana Island US Virgin Islands

Generous, outsized benefits are anticipated on Savana Island, including restored biodiversity and improved surrounding ocean health. Parallel restoration activities across the network of 16 other globally important islands are a small but important nature-based tool to combat global climate change impacts. 

Restoration work will begin in earnest around April of 2025. In the meantime, US Virgin Islands Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Island Conservation, US Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS), U.S. Department of Agriculture – APHIS, and Greensboro Science Center will continue to plan for the effort. 

“Restoring Savana Island represents a significant commitment of all the project partners involved and will enhance the terrestrial and marine habitats for seabirds, native reptiles, plants, land crabs, and nearshore reefs.” – José Luis Herrera-Giraldo, Project Manager, Island Conservation 

Want more information on Island-Ocean Connection Challenge projects? Please visit our Projects Page.

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