Workshop on the use of the Ocean Health Index in the Virgin Islands
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you today to the opening of this workshop that will serve as a platform for further actions to protect our oceans and sustainably use them. Our communities and culture has traditionally been closely linked to healthy oceans. They have for many decades served as a means of survival, sustenance, recreation and repose and inspiration to many Virgin Islanders. Our reliance on healthy oceans continues today, as we, in-part, derive our food through fishing. Moreover, we possess an economy which is in large part dependent on the presence of vibrant coastal and marine ecosystems. Whether we refer to our charter and cruise industries, commercial, recreational or sports fishing, a common thread that is found amongst all is the great dependence on a clean and appealing environment. By now all of you have heard me say that there is absolutely no tourism without the environment.
It is important to always ensure, that we manage the environment in such a way that our rich biodiversity will continue to sustain our needs well into the future. As I was out walking with my friends, I pointed out to them that no matter how many people come to the B.V.I., no matter how many rich people build this and that, they can’t take it up and got with it. No matter how many come and visit, they can’t take it up and carry it with them. The most they can do is enjoy it and leave it as it is. It belongs to us. We have been given the opportunity and the privilege to call this place “home”. We live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. We have been tremendously blessed and if you treasure something you will do your best to protect it.
It is extremely important for us to appreciate it. Against this background, we must always strive to improve our stewardship and management of the environment so that we may bequeath our future generations with the means to thrive. Rest assured that the conservation and the sustainable use of our natural resources continues to be paramount in my mind. I want to tell you that my commitment to the environment of this Country is more than skin-deep and I am going to do my best to protect the environment. There is no tourism and fishing industry without the presence of a healthy environment: one where we all increasingly take note of its importance to our economic, social, and spiritual well-being. It sustains every facet of our lives.
We have convened this workshop to sensitise the public, the private and non-governmental sectors as to the use of the Ocean Health Index. My PS and I had gone to Cartagena, Colombia to attend an international meeting that was being attended by the President of Colombia and Prince Charles. Over breakfast we met with Dr. Sabastian and we were discussing various events and I said to PS, “This is something we can be involved with,” because the Index is an objective tool that is aimed to facilitate the evaluation of the wide range of benefits that a healthy ocean can provide to a country.
In other words, at its core, it is used to assess how, for instance, countries are harvesting seafood sustainably. In the case of the Virgin Islands, we have worked with fishermen to establish seasons when we may regulate the catch of commercially important species. These control measures ensure that we maintain viable populations of fish that will ensure our food for local consumption. The rational use of our fisheries resources will only enhance our food security while sustaining jobs and ensure a continued thriving coastal economy around the relevant sectors. What this means is that we can measure through the use of the index is the condition and health of marine ecosystems. Healthy marine ecosystems help the Virgin Islands to adapt to the impacts of climate change, while coastal habitats safeguard shores and help to absorb carbon. The expansion of the protected area network to designate our precious coastal and marine resources will build on Government’s commitment to enhance the tourism product. It will help to protect our iconic species and habitats and maintain the attraction of the Virgin Islands as a coastal destination of choice.
Most of you are aware that we did a study two years ago to look at the economic value of the environment to the tourism product, a study that was done by the University of Amsterdam in cooperation with the Wolfs Foundation. The study clearly showed the value of the environment to the tourism product and what it also showed, more than anything else, is that 90 per cent of our visitors say that they come to the B.V.I. because of the environment. 90 per cent of the visitors said that the ‘number one’ component of our environment is our beaches and the majority of them said that there would be no reason to come back to the B.V.I., if our environment was destroyed.
This workshop will be followed by a consultative meeting with fishermen over the following two days. The outcomes of that dialogue will assist us in further defining the legislative framework that will advance fishing interests in the Virgin Islands. Dr. Asha, in-large part, we already have an Ocean Governance Policy because our Fisheries Act has encapsulated a number of the major issues that are important to sustainable fisheries in this Country. Thus, continuing to show that when it comes to issues of the environment the B.V.I. will continue to be a leader.
We are going to be making some amendments to the Fisheries Act, which will be guided by the stated needs of the fishing community and we welcome the feedback and honest assessment of their needs and how Government can assist in facilitating the attainment of their goals.
It is important for us to thank the Conservation International and Mr. Pacheco please take back to your team and your boss, our fond regards, and our commitment to continue to do what we have to do to ensure that we will protect our environment. We thank you for agreeing to introduce this very valuable tool for measuring and quantifying the manner in which the Territory benefits from healthy and clean oceans.
We passed a piece of legislation in 2004, called the Statistics Act. What is intended to do is to help to present the policy makers, and decision makers of the day, with clear scientific information; data to help to make decisions and not just take things willy-nilly and think you’re on the right track. In the wider context of the well-being of the Virgin Islands, the data that will eventually come out of quantifying the health, the Ocean Health Index will help to put things in perspective and also will be used for the next generation of leaders to understand what needs to be done in order to protect preserve, and present and environment to the next generation to make their livelihood sustainable.
I am heartened to see a diverse range of partners within the marine, fishing, conservation, non-governmental and governmental sectors that are here gathered this morning. This can only facilitate dialogue. And the dialogue fostered through this workshop and the subsequent consultation with fishermen this week will only strengthen our capacity to benefit from our oceans and ensure our long-term economic and environmental sustainability.
The work that we have done thus far, in putting our fishing industry in the focal point of the economic development of this Country will continue. But what is important is that everything matters the way you do it and building one step at a time is extremely important. Nothing happens by chance. It happens from a commitment and by taking practical and realistic steps to move forward. I think we have done significant work to put our fishing industry on a firm-footing. As we build on the foundation that we have established I think we are creating millionaires in the fishing industry. The resources are there and they belong to us. We have a 200 mile exclusive fisheries zone that belongs the us. I am told that the fish are out there, we just have to find a way to bring those fish in. And to use my friend, Kevin’s words, “We have to turn fish into concrete.” In other words, we have to show fishermen how to bring those fish in and make the money and ultimately build the future that they want for their families and for this Country.
And so I take this opportunity on behalf of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour, on behalf of the Premier and the Government to thank all of you for the work that you do to help protect and preserve our environment. It may not be the most romantic and fanciful of jobs. I often times look at the people working in the Tourism sector and the Hospitality sector and it looks like they have all the glamour, but their work is useless without the work that you do because the B.V.I.’s tourism product ultimately depends on the environment. I want to thank you all very much and I wish you success over the next day and a half.
God bless you and may God continue to bless these Virgin Islands.