An 18 month sea-bed mapping project and hydrographic survey on a specified 13.5 square miles (or 35 square kilometres) area off the coast of Tortola, was completed last month.
The project entailed the partnership of the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands (NPT), the UK Hydrographic Office and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Sciences (CEFAS).
The project encompassed the underwater mapping of critical areas related to biodiversity conservation. These include the Wreck of the Rhone marine park, the hurricane shelter at Paraquita Bay which is part of the disaster management framework, a Hans Creek fisheries protected area and Road Harbour, the principal passage of cruise ships and cargo vessels into the Territory. The approach entailed the acquisition of both the measurement of the depth of the sea (or bathymetry) and marine habitats along the Sir Francis Drake Channel.
The project undertook the first seabed survey of its kind in the British Virgin Islands.
Deputy Premier and Minister for Natural Resources and Labour, Dr. the Honourable Kedrick Pickering said that this Darwin Initiative Plus Project has done more than enable CEFAS to work in collaboration with the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands and the UK Hydrographic Office.
He said, “The Virgin Islands has advanced not only the acquisition of data for bathymetry, but also for marine habitat mapping. In addition to meeting the Territory and the UK's commitments under the (Convention on Safety of Life at Sea) SOLAS, the process has resulted in meeting obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity at the same time.”
CEFAS representative, Mr. Koen Vanstaen said the results provided detailed three-dimensional visualisations of the seabed across Sir Francis Drake Channel, including RMS Rhone, to over 5,000 photographs illustrating the marine ecosystems.
He said that by engaging a stakeholder groups with a varied background at the beginning of the project, the outputs generated are now having an impact across BVI Government departments ranging from improving safe vessel access of Road Harbour, to the protection of coral reefs and seagrass beds for future generations.
Mr. Vanstaen added, “CEFAS supports and advises Governments across the world on issues such as sustainable management and food security. We have built a strong relationship with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour and are committed to continue working together to address the challenges of managing the marine environment.”
The project also resulted in the transfer of skills in mapping marine habitats using modern acoustic survey tools from UK organisations with proven expertise to the stakeholders in BVI, as members of the NPT and the Survey Department were involved at all stages of the acquisition and analysis of data.
Director of the National Parks Trust, Ms. Lynda Varlack said that the Trust is very pleased with the outcomes of the project, particularly the capacity building aspect.
She stated, “The project allowed the Trust’s newly-promoted Marine Programme Coordinator, Finfun Peters to spend a month with CEFAS experts and scientists on a prized research vessel, exploring the Irish Sea where rock formations closely resemble Caribbean coral reefs. He was steeped in the complex operations and application of all the equipment and we look forward to being able to continue his development in this manner. Ultimately we will be better able to apply the knowledge gained to making better-informed and relevant marine management decisions.”
The assistance of the Survey Department was also critical in the delivery of the outputs which ensured the success of the project.
The results have been made available to all relevant Government departments, but interested persons may explore the interactive data visualisation tool on the internet at: http://tinyurl.com/DPLUS026