It gives me great pleasure to deliver the 2016 State of the Environment Address.In 1972, the United Nations General Assembly named the 5th day of June ‘World Environment Day’.This initiative sought to create a platform for increasing awareness about our environment and the actions needed to protect it.
For more than twenty-five (25) years,the Conservation and Fisheries Department under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour has used World Environment Day to draw closer attention to the Territory’s environmental issues and formulate various courses of action to alleviate environmental stressors. We recognise that there are fragile ecosystems in the Virgin Islands, which are vulnerable to our changing environment. Now more than ever, they must be protected.Our livelihoods and our health depend on the presence of a clean environment which supports our recreational activities and our tourism product. The importance of the environment cannot be underestimated as it contributes $200 million to our economy according to a study undertaken by the University of Amsterdam and the Wolfs Institute.
This year, under the theme ‘Join the Race to Make the World a Better Place,’ the Department has put together one week of activities that emphasize the need for sustainability in our Territory and encourages the participation of the local community.
The environment is our mandate and to consistently meet the sustainable needs of the Territory, the Department has developed and implemented several environmental programmes. It has devoted much of its time to rehabilitation programmes, public awareness, and education campaigns. These plans and campaigns assist in the restoration of the environment and education of the people of the Virgin Islands on various marine species and relate important sustainable concepts for the future. These programmes include the:
- Coral Reef Nursery Programme which aims to rehabilitate our coral population; and
- the Sea Turtle Monitoring Programme that is used to assist in maintaining a sustainable turtle population.
- Mangrove replanting projects in the Brandy Wine Bay and Slaney area.
Over the past year, we have experienced several challenges. The Conservation and Fisheries Department took a multi-pronged approach to address those challenges while improving our environment. The response by the Department included water quality testing at areas coinciding with high Sargassum influxes. Results at these areas, which included,2015 Sea Cows Bay, Road Town and East End Harbour yielded unhealthy dissolved oxygen levels which led to some of the massive marine life die-offs. The Department also tested other areas, such as East End Bridge and Little Mountain dock on Beef Islands where the dissolved oxygen amounts were very good and which served as good comparisons.
The influx of Sargassum seaweed left many beaches and bays covered with seaweed and impacted marine life. The Department mobilized community support to assist in the removal of seaweed from coastal areas and, through the participation over eight (8) organizations, nine hundred and thirty (930) bags of seaweed were collected and delivered to the Agriculture Department for use in the agricultural sector.Public Awareness campaigns, which educated communities,highlighted the impacts, its benefits and some suggested uses of Sargassum seaweed were undertaken. Moreover, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour in partnership with Virgin Unite, The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Caribbean Council and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States hosted a regional conference which focused on the means to harness the economic and ecological benefits from Sargassum. The regional exchange which included partners from the non-governmental, scientific and commercial communities resulted in the determining a pathway for further collaboration and dialogue to address future incidences of Sargassum overabundance within the Members States of the OECS and the wider region.
The Department remains effective through consistent revision of its policies and legislation for the better management of our natural resources and fishing industry. The Ministry and the Department have begun to vigorously implement our Climate Change Adaptation Policy. The partnership fostered with the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States under the Global Climate Change Alliance project has begun to yield fruits. We remain at the vanguard in our response to Climate Change. The Territory has enhanced its capacity to track weather through the acquisition of an automated weather station positioned at Brewer’s Bay. Moreover, Global Positioning System equipment was acquired for the Conservation and Fisheries and Agriculture Departments. The Northshore Integrated Watershed and Coastal projects, which are being undertaken at Cane Garden and Brewer’s Bays shall lead to concrete actions in the very near future. Any proposed remediation work will be founded by good science after the conduct of coastal dynamics and watershed studies of both areas. We have consulted with the communities and are now finalising proposals to account for the manner in which the identified problems will be addressed over time.
The Climate Change Trust Fund established in March 2015 is the principal tool to mobilise, manage and administer funds for climate change adaptation and mitigation on behalf of the Territory. It is envisaged to serve as a mechanism to access international resources available for climate change to assist in minimising impacts from rising temperatures, stronger hurricanes, flood events, droughts and rising sea levels. Aditionally, it should assist the Territory in our transition to clean and renewable sources of energy. The Trust shall be governed by an independent board of Trustees that will be established through a public application and nomination process. An initial call for applicants and nominees was launched and we received a strong pool of candidates. There are some key sectors that must comprise the membership of the board by law. While the total number of applicants and nominees remains strong, the pool is not fully representative of the full complement of sectors that must be represented. As such, the process of nomination and application has been extended until July 15, 2015 to allow additional nominations and applicants.
A study conducted by the University of Amsterdam and the Wolfs Institute revealed that 90% of the visitors to our shores come because of our pristine beaches. They represent part of our national patrimony which requires special attention and care. To that effect, a Beach Use Policy will be promulgated and we anticipate a greater focus on the conservation of this invaluable resource, which is so intricately linked to our social and economic well-being.
The Virgin Islands Natural Resources Management and Climate Change Bill is undergoing major revision and it is anticipated that public consultation on the principles of the bill will be a major drive and focus during the upcoming period.
The Virgin Islands’ natural environment must be protected. As new challenges emerge, we will continue to search for solutions so as to ensure that we pass on a natural environment of which we can be proud.The Conservation and Fisheries Department and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that our natural resources are conserved for future generations while ensuring that they provide those services which are crucial for our continued growth and development.