Keynote Address By Deputy Premier And Minister For Natural Resources And Labour Dr. The Honourable Kedrick D. Pickering
n The Occasion Of The Release Of The Tortola Environmental Profile By The Islands Resources Foundation
J.R. O’Neal Botanic Gardens
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
“Enhancing the Awareness and Knowledge of the Virgin Islands environment”
The Island Resources Foundation has a long and rich tradition of research and advocacy on behalf of Small Island States not only in the Caribbean but throughout the world. Their reach has extended to become a global voice on behalf of our particular needs. It is my distinct pleasure to address you this evening and to share with you just a part of that rich and vast experience and the impact that they have made in not only the Wider Caribbean but many other regions. I am distinctly honoured, especially as we celebrate what is undoubtedly, a legacy of tremendous scholarship and research, which has derived greater knowledge and understanding of the ecological, environmental and social dimensions which have shaped our societies. In doing so, they have proposed and formulated frameworks for the constructive means to address various challenges that will lead our islands towards a development path which is sustainable in nature.
Today, we do not only celebrate the completion of the Environmental Profiles for Tortola, but we also acknowledge the vast body of work that the IRF, in conjunction with the fellow and associates, have produced. We do so against the backdrop of the blessed memory of Edward Towle who along with his wife Judith, had the vision to create an institution which spanned more than four decades and which produced over 200 individual and unique studies all related to Caribbean or Small Island States. As we contemplate the history and work of the Foundation, we are mindful that, although the Foundation is ceasing its operations, it leaves a proud legacy behind. Permit me therefore, to recount the Foundation’s humble and earliest beginnings and journey through some significant achievements over the 40-year period.
Edward and Judith Towle founded Island Resources Foundation in the U.S. Virgin Islands (1972) as an independent, science-based, nongovernment organization focusing exclusively on small islands and their fragile environments. Despite their beginnings in the USVI, their focus was immediately turned to addressing wider issues. The publication of the environmental guidelines for island development in 1974 for the first time called for attention to be devoted to the special development needs of small islands.
The earliest Environmental Profiles were performed starting in 1991 in eight Caribbean countries, including the BVI. Those environmental profiles were and continue to be a sector-by-sector review of the state of the environment and remain some of the most comprehensive environmental overviews prepared to date for each of the target islands.
After winding down their operations in US Virgin Islands, IRF’s relationship with the British Virgin Islands was further solidified with the relocation of an office and environmental information centre through their partnership and collaboration with the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College. For many years, their office was located on Main Street, immediately above what was then the Road Town Bakery, which served as a vital resource for students and researchers alike.
Environmental Library at HLSCC
HLSCC memorialised the eventual donation which took place of the entire environmental library amassed over many decades in 1997 through the dedication of the Dr. Edward L. Towle Island Systems Environmental Collection. At the ceremony which included the three HLSCC presidents (current president, Dr. Karl Dawson; immediate past president, Dr. Michael O’Neal; and former president and current chairman of the Board, Dr. Charles Wheatley), Dr. Towle was remembered as an educator, historian, environmentalist, who cared passionately for the unique Caribbean library he created and built over a 30-year period. The collection is housed at the College’s Paraquita Bay Campus. Mrs. Judith Towle, who spoke at the dedication, recalled the launching of the library in the early 1970s at the dedication:
The library would include non-traditional, so-called “gray” literature, and other unpublished material and, equally important, that this information would be available within an open-access framework. The subject matter—the environment, small island systems, sustainable development in the Caribbean—were all relatively new subjects for the region. And because these were pre-Internet, pre-Google, even pre-personal computer times, the service function provided by Ed’s library—and his extensive distribution network—fulfilled a growing need and was unique for its time.
The Towle Collection continues to be open to the public at HLSCC’s Learning Resource Centre in Tortola. Another significant and strong relationship forged with a local institution is that which emerged with the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands through what became the Sandy Cay Programme.
Mr. Laurance Rockefeller, the former owner of Sandy Cay held ownership of the island, as a last holding in the region. He anticipated the donation of the island to a BVI institution which would have been charged with the management of the island. Forward planning for the future of Sandy Cay and an institutional strengthening exercise for protected area management in the British Virgin Islands became the principal goals of the multi-year effort. The project was initially focused on the island itself—its habitats and ecosystems. Over time, it evolved as a longer term program of sustained and targeted assistance for BVI institutions, laws and policies that support conservation and protected area management. At its inception, the Foundation was engaged by Mr. Rockefeller to investigate Sandy Cay’s environment and its natural carrying capacity in the face of increasing touristic use. More than a dozen researchers participated in studies to document and evaluate the island’s natural resources while, at the same time, projecting what was required to conserve them in the future. Early on Mr. Rockefeller and others concluded that the National Parks Trust was the logical entity to ensure the island’s long-term protection. To move toward this objective, IRF and NPT cooperated in initiatives designed to strengthen the Trust’s capacity to manage and protect not only Sandy Cay but all parks under the Trust’s stewardship. Most significant was the update of the System Plan for BVI Protected Areas, covering the years 2007-2017. Mr. Rockefeller at the time provided the financial backing but more importantly, personally oversaw the process and monitored the progress made along the way. Increasing the confidence of Mr. Rockefeller and his associates in the institutional strengths of the National Parks Trust was critical to the success of the program. Sandy Cay did not exist in isolation, and therefore the Trust’s organizational growth and professional development emerged as critical components of IRF’s collaboration with, and assistance to, the National Parks Trust. The Sandy Cay Program significantly strengthened the policy and legal framework for the BVI’s protected areas. The most far-reaching product produced was the revision of the National Parks Act in 2006 and the Regulations in 2008, which were drafted by Dr. Barbara Lausche. The Act remains a modern piece of legislation reflecting international policy, standards and practice and provides an effective framework for protected area management. The transformation of Sandy Cay from a privately owned island to one of the BVI’s most recent national parks had been planned over an eight-year period. Island Resources Foundation served as the critical link between the donor’s expectations and the BVI’s aspirations. On May 1, 2008, in a ceremony at right here at the J.R. O’Neal Botanical Gardens in Road Town, Tortola, the island of Sandy Cay was formally transferred from the estate of philanthropist, conservationist, and entrepreneur, the late Laurance S. Rockefeller, to the people of the British Virgin Islands, to be cared for in perpetuity as a protected natural area and recreational site by the National Parks Trust.
Subsequent to the completion of the Sandy Cay programme, environmental profiling became the focus of attention. The development of an Environmental Profile for Jost Van Dyke and its neighboring islands in the British Virgin Islands was the genesis of this reinvigorated thrust. The Profile was undertaken in partnership with the Jost Van Dykes (BVI) Preservation Society in 2009 and over a 16-month effort enmeshed awareness and scientific assessment as to the value of the Jost Van Dyke’s environment. The JVD Environmental Profile became a synthesis of the “state of the environment” of Jost Van Dyke along with some of the uninhabited, immediately adjacent smaller islands of Little JVD, Green Cay, Sandy Cay and Sandy Spit. The assessment included what became the format of subsequent profiles, where biodiversity based on field work and research carried out by IRF environmental scientists, Kevel Lindsay and Jean-Pierre Bacle provided the first comprehensive inventory and assessment of JVD’s terrestrial environment. Marine and coastal resources, maritime traditions and the economic primacy of the sea in the lives of Jost Van Dykians were assessed by Clive Petrovic and island’s historical heritage and cultural traditions, with an inventory and assessment of historic sites undertaken by historian Michael D. Kent of H. Lavity Stoutt Community College. The non-tangible artifacts of JVD’s cultural heritage were explored by Susan Zaluski and Rosemary Delany-Smith of the Jost Van Dykes Preservation Society. The Profile included other matters such as waste management and pollution control with a final look at the future and at the central question that guided the Profile Project
By 2011, funding had been identified to support a new phase of the BVI Environmental Profile Program, this time for the islands of Virgin Gorda and Anegada. Project activities began in July 2011 with the support of the UK Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP), from the Office of the Premier; and from private sector contributions.
The completion of the Environmental Profile for Tortola now represents the culmination of a six-year effort to further enhance the awareness and knowledge of the environment of the Virgin Islands. Constant in each of the island’s Environmental Profiles is the retrospective look at environmental change, a description of the current-state and analysis of the natural resource base for each island profiled, an assessment of priority environmental issues and recommendations for sustainable growth. It is against this background that the Virgin Islands can further plan and roll out development acknowledging the tremendous assets it possesses.
For instance, early planning of the use of our natural resources to support economic development was one which acknowledged the uniqueness of our environment and its pristine nature. Our principal slogan: “Yes, we’re different” was subsequently replaced with “Nature’s Little Secrets”. Central to that outward projection to foster economic growth through the development of our tourism pillar was an ethos in which we celebrated the uniqueness of our flora, fauna, beaches and seas, and this has always been a part of our national identity and our natural patrimony. The environmental profiles highlight critical issues which we must address, such as, the increasing need to grow our economy while ensuring environmental protection. The profiles afford us an opportunity to assess those options that are available to us that will ensure ecological integrity and the sound management of ecosystem services while balancing economic needs.
The preparation of the profiles was made possible through the generosity and hard work of various foundations and individuals who have demonstrated their commitment to the Territory. In particular, I would like to thank the The J.A. Woollam Foundation, The Dave Hokin Foundation, The Faile Foundation, Curt and Nancy Richardson, The Falconwood Foundation, Nora Hazel Point Estate, Sir Richard Branson, UK Overseas Territories Programme Fund and TRS Services Ltd. (BVI) on behalf of the Government of the Virgin Islands for their invaluable support towards the completion of the Tortola Environmental Profile and others which precede.
Our forefathers’ livelihoods were inextricably linked to healthy ecosystems which supported local industries. Today, we are no different in our heavy reliance on a clean and healthy environment. Today, I would argue that we are even more dependent on the environment for our well-being and survival. Our tourism sector must thrive against the backdrop of the foreseeable impacts associated with Climate Change. The prospects of Sea level and other impacts will prove to be a challenge for small island states such as ours of an immense magnitude. We must ensure that we build greater resilience to the impacts of climate change and conserve our beaches, fauna and flora through sound environmental management. We must always strive to raise the profile of the environment so that it may feature prominently in our discussions as to the manner in which we continue to ensure growth and prosperity. Our economic well-being and future aspirations for growth should not and must not conflict with the conservation of our natural resources and the preservation of our environment. The profiles provide sensible options which can be explored and further debated with an aim to striking a balance between economic development and environmental protection. They can serve as tools to sensitise and educate our citizenry with the valuable assets we must protect. Ultimately, we must ensure that the environment which we pass on to our future generations be in a better state than what we met it.
As we reflect on the tremendous contributions that the Island Resources Foundation has made during the span of over four decades of steadfast work, we celebrate their lasting legacy in the spheres of education, biodiversity conservation, protected area management and sustainable development in small island states. As we contemplate the sunset of operations of this institution and perhaps the passing on of the baton to new national or regional ones, let us recognise that they can stand proud for their achievements in the British Virgin Islands, throughout the Caribbean and globally. A testament to that work will remain the Environmental Library at the College, the donation of Sandy Cay, as part of the network of Protected Areas in the Virgin Islands and the environmental profiling of all of the Virgin Islands.
I extend congratulations to all of the associates of the Island Resources Foundation and Mrs. Judith Towle, in particular, for completing the Environmental Profile of Tortola. On behalf of the Government and the People of the Virgin Islands I recognise and also extend our sincerest appreciation for the work performed by the Foundation over the many decades.