The site is located on the south central coast of St. Thomas and includes the sandy beach of Brewer’s Beach, Range Cay, Range Cay lagoon, marsh along the north side of the airport tarmac, and the arid semi-deciduous forest watershed inland from the bay, an area of approximately 150 hectares. The shoreline runs from Black Rock Point to the western end of the Cyril King airport runway extension. The uplands extend inland and up the slopes above the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) campus northward and transitions into a steep slope of rocky terrain forming the watershed of the bay.
A ghut (gully) about 2 meters wide runs down the steep slope and opens to the bay between Brewer’s Beach and the historical ruins next to the defunct restaurant Xanadu. The entire beach area is maintained as an open public beach and picnic area. There is also a mixed open field & tree area from the highway up to the UVI Reichold Center. Along the highway are un-restored ruins of an original estate residence and other unidentified structures. There is a narrow footpath from behind (north side) the UVI library that winds up through the forest to the “Rock Caves”. The property is publicly owned by the University and includes dense second growth forest on the south facing slopes, overgrown water catchments, the landscaped campus with woody hedgerows, golf course, athletic fields, and a narrow marsh along the airport that drains into a shallow mangrove tidal lagoon open to the Bay.
Beach, lagoon, & open water Brown Pelican, Brown Booby, Magnificent Frigatebird, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Tri-colored Heron, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret, Green Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-heron, White-cheeked Pintail, Red-tailed Hawk, Common Moorhen, American Oystercatcher, Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, Laughing Gull, Sandwich Tern, Royal Tern, Brown-throated Parakeet, Antillean Crested Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Gray Kingbird, Yellow Warbler, Black-faced Grassquit.
Upland dry forest Scaley-naped Pigeon, Zenaida Dove, Brown-throated Parakeet, Mangrove Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani, Green-throated Carib, Antillean Crested Hummingbird, Gray Kingbird, Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Yellow Warbler, Bananaquit, Black-faced Grassquit.
Campus & golf course Cattle Egret, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, American Golden Plover, Spotted Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Scaley-naped Pigeon, Zenaida Dove, Common Ground Dove, Antillean Crested Hummingbird, Green-throated Carib, Gray Kingbird, Northern Mockingbird, Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Bananaquit, Blue Grosbeak.
Non-bird biodiversity: Green Sea Turtles are common in the bay. The bay contains modest coral reef areas that warrant protection from boat anchoring and terrestrial runoff. Extensive seagrass beds in the bay provide habitat for fish, vital for the seabirds. Major introduced terrestrial pest species include mongoose, feral cats, and rats.
Habitat and land use
Beach The beach is a sandy beach that leads out into some sea grass beds and deeper corals on the west and shallow coral reefs on the eastern side (near the UVI Marine Center and airport runway extension). The shallow corals are predominately covered with heavy sediment and in very poor condition. Green Turtles are regularly seen in the sea grass areas. Vegetation along the beach includes West Indian almond trees, sea grapes, coconuts, and some dense thorny scrub (acacia, pipe organ cactus, etc.) in the eastern area. Pelicans and Snowy Egrets roost atop this vegetation along with large numbers of Gray Kingbirds near the UVI Marine Center. Human activity (disturbance) is regular by locals and there are organized social events frequently at the beach, including early morning bathing and weekend activities.
Range Cay & Lagoon Adjacent to the airport runway is a very small island at the entrance to a shallow tidal lagoon (estuary). The island is sparsely vegetated and rocky providing safe resting and preening habitat for pelicans, terns, gulls, egrets, and occasional shorebirds. The lagoon waters around the island and eastward into the tidal mudflats are visited by schools small fishes (mullets, etc.) that provide a good feeding area for terns and pelicans. Tarpon and snook occasionally are seen inside the lagoon. During low tides the lagoon shoreline provides feeding habitat for shorebirds, egrets, and herons. The upper lagoon area has mangroves (some restoration has been attempted by UVI), acacia, mature deciduous shrubs. Along the airport tarmac is a narrow reed marsh that provides limited marsh bird habitat and drains into the lagoon.
Semi-deciduous dry forest slopes The forest extends from Black Point Rock eastward along the slopes above the UVI campus. Most of the vegetation appears to be secondary re-growth of mixed species that provide critical stabilization of the steep slopes. The eastern area of forest above the UVI golf course was once a large rainwater catchment that has been in disuse for many years and has re-grown. This area provides extensive nesting habitat for Scaley-naped Pigeon, Mangrove Cuckoo, and Smooth-billed Ani. During the winter months there are diverse warblers throughout the forest.
UVI campus The campus is predominately open grassland habitat with mature trees (Acacias, Leucaena, mango, flamboyant), landscaping (exotic & native) shrubs, and numerous tree clusters and hedgerows around the buildings. Grey Kingbirds, Northern Mockingbirds, American Kestrels, hummingbirds, Zenaida and Common Ground Doves, are common throughout the campus. Included in the eastern area of campus is a modest golf course area with seasonal ponds that provides productive foraging habitat for Laughing Gulls and Grey Kingbirds. During September and October rains create wet areas in the lower golf course and athletic fields that provide foraging habitat for migrating American Golden Plover, Pectoral Sandpiper, and Spotted Sandpiper. Other campus vertebrates include mongoose and iguanas.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The site is publicly owned by the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) and subject to development and protection by the university. Current use is very mixed (public beach, college campus, dry forests, etc.) the attractive beach with very easy access provides an appealing site for beachgoers and group activities. There has been a chronic problem with litter and trash along the beach but UVI has installed receptacles and dumpsters in 2006 to make clean-up more convenient. Landscaping on the campus includes extensive short grass on steep slopes resulting in noticeable soil erosion into the bay’s waters following heavy rains. The only housing is on campus for administrators and students and includes no development in the upper watershed. Future clearing of forest or construction on the steep slopes would increase current erosive runoff from campus lawns into the bay and lagoons threatening the corals, sea grass beds and water quality further. For example, construct of a small parking area and removable of all woody vegetation along the slope above the lagoon mangroves near the Marine Science Center in 2006 has demonstrated the serious damage that can rapidly occur. This specific area formerly was frequented by dozens of Blue Grosbeaks and Black-faced Grassquits until destroyed.
A municipal sewage outfall extends southward from the vicinity of the airport and waste may flow back into the bay. Runoff of fuels and chemicals from the airport tarmac area has been a concern for water quality of the bay for some time. Although at least 4 dead Brown Pelicans were found in the lagoon area during 2005-2006 no confirmation of cause of death was determined.
Brewer’s Bay opens southwesterly to the sea so there is a natural threat from tropical storms that could damage the beach and lagoon. Maintenance and improvement of the mangrove forest and beach area trees is vital to stabilizing and protecting these areas for both human enjoyment and wildlife use.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
Monitoring of the birds of UVI using 23 waypoints for point counts were conducted for 2 years by Jim Corven of the University of the Virgin Islands with funding from National Academy of Sciences (NAS) EPSCoR program.
Brewer’s Bay waters are managed by the USVI Dept. of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) with restricted boat moorings and anchorages. The beach is managed by the University of the Virgin Islands as a public beach. The narrow marsh above the lagoon has restricted access for airport security.