top of page
Asset 3.png

Climate Resiliency in St. Thomas

St. Thomas South Shoreline Resilience Plan, Virgin Islands

Fall '23 Studio

Brooke Acosta

Shreya Bansal

Devon Chodzin

Jose Fernandez

John Holmes

Suzie Kazar

Hongyi Li

Yinan Li

Tiffany Luo

Brenna Schmidt

Qianyun Wei

Chris Xu

Introducing the Studio

   St. Thomas is an island with a rich history and beautiful natural scenery. The island is the site of centuries of cultural mixing with Indigenous, African, European, and American influences, making the culture of the US Virgin Islands unique, even within the Caribbean. Additionally, the lush green mountains rising dramatically out of white sand beaches make St. Thomas a postcard view of paradise.


   It’s no wonder then, that in addition to being a beautiful place to live, St. Thomas is a major destination for visitors. Whether they are stopping by on a cruise or making a longer stay on the island, tourists are the main driver of St. Thomas’ economy. In many ways, the tourism industry makes life on the island possible for the 40,000 residents who call it home.


   However, climate change is worsening environmental threats that make life on the island increasingly precarious. As the planet warms, hurricanes will get stronger, routine rainfall will become more severe, drought will become more common, and seal level rise will threaten the shores of St. Thomas. The island has already begun to feel the impacts of these threats in recent year. In order to protect the island’s cultural resources, natural beauty, and communities, it is imperative to plan for a more resilient St. Thomas in the face of these worsening environmental threats. This plan focuses on the island’s south shore, which is home to some of its most critical cultural, economic, and ecological resources. With thoughtful planning, the government of the US Virgin Islands can secure a future where these resources are protected and residents do not fear worsening environmental threats.



  1. Mitigate flood impact to communities surrounding Nadir Gut

  2. Protect Magrove Lagoon from pollution

  3. Create green community assets

  4. Facilitate meaningful connection points within and between communities



     A vibrant and well-connected community equipped with the tools and resources necessary to prepare for and recover from future flood events.

Geographic Context

   Turpentine Run and Mangrove Lagoon are located on the southeastern shores of St. Thomas, encompassed fully by the Jersey Bay Watershed, which is the largest on St. Thomas. Rainfall flows through Turpentine Run and the Nadir Gut out into Mangrove Lagoon. This area is located close to major roads, commercial centers, and transportation hubs.

   Upstream, Turpentine Run and the Nadir Gut flow past various industrial and commercial properties, including the Heavy Materials rock quarry, automotive service shops, waste disposal bin sites, and the Bovoni Landfill. These land uses pollute the water, which ultimately ends up in the ecologically-sensitive Mangrove Lagoon.

   As it flows downstream, Turpentine Run and the Nadir Gut travel through multiple residential neighborhoods. These include Mariendal, Estate Bovoni, and Estate Nadir. Rainfall events can cause destructive, repetitive flooding to the people who live in these communities, forcing homeowners into costly repairs and retrofits. These neighborhoods are also some of St. Thomas’s most socially vulnerable, so such home improvements have an outsized financial burden.


Climate Stress in USVI

   We acknowledge that USVI is under immense climate stress. Following the hurricanes in 2017 and the pandemic in 2020, as well as the continued climate change crisis, it is clear that the islands must become more resilient.

One way to achieve this goal is to use data to help plan and manage resources.


    Through this project, we want to answer several questions. How can data analytics help St. Thomas with climate and environmental planning? What does a systemic and localized data framework look like for St. Thomas? How can local agencies leverage data to better understand and respond to climate change and help vulnerable communities?


    To manage this, St. Thomas needs a robust plan and a network of real-time updates to be prepared and resilient.


    Currently the island has over 600 datasets that contain information around demographics and climatic stressors, but these are stored across the internet in various sources. DPNR, the planning agency of the island aims to digitize some of its processes to save time and make them more efficient.


Port and Frenchtown

   The study area for this project consists of the Crown Bay cruise terminal and cargo port and the historic neighborhood of Frenchtown. It is located on the south shore of the island, between Lindbergh Bay to the west and Charlotte Amalie to the east. This area is critical to the economic and cultural vibrancy of St. Thomas.

   Both the cruise terminal and the cargo port are major drivers of the island’s economy. The Crown Bay cruise terminal is one of two cruise terminals on St. Thomas. Owned by the Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA), the terminal handles all of Royal Caribbean’s cruise ships docking on the island. Since tourism makes up more than 50% of the island’s GDP and employment, the economic importance of the Crown Bay cruise terminal cannot be overstated.

    Similarly, the cargo port is essential to the island’s economy. All goods coming to or leaving the island come through this port, and since St. Thomas is heavily reliant on imports, life on the island depends on the port’s functions. Additionally, the port serves as a transshipment link for goods going to other Caribbean destinations, bringing added economic benefits to St. Thomas.

   In the eastern half of the study area, Frenchtown is an important cultural resource for the island. One of the oldest neighborhoods on St. Thomas, it is a living piece of the island’s history. The area has a distinct character and is home to historic homes, several local businesses, a neighborhood history museum, and Saint Anne’s Chapel.

    In 2020, the US Department of Transportation granted VIPA $21.9 million for modernizing and expanding the cargo terminal at Crown Bay. The project will rehabilitate several pieces of existing port infrastructure, including the bulkhead, concrete apron, and several cargo storage facilities. VIPA will also expand the port facilities eastward into a currently unused lot. This land will be used for additional cargo storage facilities, including more cold storage capacity.

   This project will bring many benefits to St. Thomas. First, the existing port infrastructure is in serious need of maintenance. At four decades old, the cargo terminal is due for restoration at baseline. Additionally, much of the port’s infrastructure was damaged in the 2017 hurricanes and has yet to be fully repaired. Second, expanding the port’s cargo capacity will strengthen the island’s economy. In addition to being able to more effectively serve the cargo needs of residents, the added capacity will enable the port to handle more transshipment of goods being shipped throughout the Caribbean.


Storm Surge and Flood Zone 

    Climate challenges are the most urgent and devastating problems for the port area at current stage. In the short term, flood and storm surge are the major climate challenges. And in the long term, the port is also facing the threaten of Sea Level Rise.

    If storms hit St Thomas, the port is extremely vulnerable under storm surge. Storm surge would inundate most of the port facilities and may destroy most of the infrastructure and storages, which are crucial to disaster recovery. Climate change has also brought more frequent and severe flood to the island. And the entire port is located in high risk flood zone. When heavy rainfall or high tide strikes, the port is under the risk of both coastal and stream flood.

    Beyond flood and storm surge, sea level rise is like the sword of Damocles hanging over the port.

    In 30-year scenario, the port seems to be safe with only two section of the shoreline will be under high risk: the dock of the cruise terminal and the east shoreline of Frenchtown. But as global warming continues, the port is exposed to higher risk of SLR, which brings a devastating impact after 50 years. Majority of the cargo port and the east end of Frenchtown will all be submerged under sea water.

    In review, we propose five different projects to improve the resiliency of Lindbergh Bay. While some projects require further preliminary engineering and feasibility studies, projects like Adapt and Reimagine can feasibly be completed in the next five years. As Lindbergh Bay continues to move into the future, these projects are meant to pay homage to the history of this gateway to St. Thomas while also preparing it for evolving climate change conditions.


Lindbergh Bay, Airport Road, VIPA Park, Former Beachcomber Hotel, Lindbergh Bay Beach (Source: Studio)

Funding Resilience 

    Due in part to the disasters experienced by St. Thomas, the Virgin Islands now has access to unprecedented federal funding that can be used to rebuild a better and more resilient island. The majority of recent federal funding arrived as hurricane relief, with a total of $8.52 billion obligated to date. The Virgin Islands also received more than $750 million in pandemic relief funding and more than $205 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
While there is significant federal funding available, St. Thomas has limited capacity for planning and data collection for decision-making. Though it’s a small territory, the U.S. Virgin Islands are expected to act as a state government with a much smaller population. There is now a need to rebuild in a thoughtful way, but the structure of federal funds can make it easiest to rebuild in the same way that things were before. However, that will not set up St. Thomas for long-term success and resilience in the face of worsening climate events such as storms or droughts.


Charlotte Amalie sail boat (Source: Studio team)

bottom of page