Statement by the Honourable Melvin M. Turnbull
Minister for Natural Resources and Labour
Second Sitting of the Fifth Session of the Fourth House of Assembly
26th January 2023
Unauthorised Use of Beaches in the Territory
Madam Speaker, I rise to address the important and concerning issue of a significant increase in the unauthorised use of beaches in the Territory. Beaches are arguably BVI’s most important asset, contributing significantly to our quality of life as residents and to our economy. A 2013 study titled, Tourism Value of the Environment carried out by the Institute of Environmental Studies, University of Amsterdam, found that 75.8% of tourists surveyed agreed that “beaches in the BVI are particularly beautiful”.
Like any asset that is valuable, yet fragile and expected to stand the test of time, our beaches must be cared for and wisely managed. Madam Speaker, our beaches are instead suffering from misuse and abuse and what may be described as a management crisis. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour is responsible for the management of all beaches in The Virgin Islands that fall outside the boundaries of declared National Parks. The Ministry is continuing to take steps to improve management of beaches in the Territory and the degree of success of these efforts depends on the level of understanding and cooperation of the public.
As part of the Ministry’s management measures to ensure that the use of beaches does not degrade the beach environment, or result in conflicts between different users, the Ministry has had a long-standing practice requiring permission for all commercial uses and certain non-commercial uses of the beach. That practice was formalised as policy in 2020 with Cabinet’s approval of The Virgin Islands Beach Policy, which is available on the Ministry’s website: bvi.gov.vg/environment.
The Beach Policy requires that persons apply to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour for permission to use beaches for any commercial activity, regardless of the size of the operation, presence or absence of a structure, type of structure, or whether it is a temporary or permanent operation. This applies to all bar or restaurant operations, snack vending, souvenir or craft vending, beach chair rental, water sport operations, other nature-based activities, hair braiding services, spa/massage services, or any other activity involving the sale of goods or services at the beach.
The Policy also requires the Ministry’s approval of non-commercial activities in cases where there would be groups larger than 50 persons, loudspeakers or open fires. Madam Speaker, this may include, for example, large or loud private parties or barbeques, public entertainment events, sporting events, family reunions, camping, church events, corporate events, cultural events and so on.
Madam Speaker, the Ministry is aware that many persons and organizations are carrying out commercial activities and non-commercial events on beaches without the required permission. In carrying out these activities, in addition to violating the Beach Policy, in many instances persons are building structures on the beach illegally and even squatting on Crown land. Persons are also operating without basic legal requirements like a trade licence, liquor licence and food handler’s licence.
In addition to requiring permission for use as outlined above, Madam Speaker, the Beach Policy sets out parameters within which persons must operate to ensure the protection of the beach and the enjoyment of all users. For example, the Policy states that no equipment or beach chairs should remain on the sandy area of the beach unless they are in use. All items not in use must be immediately removed from the sandy area. This is a provision that we see blatantly violated at several beaches, including Cane Garden Bay and Long Bay, Beef Island. This violation impacts on the public’s ability to enjoy the beach as the sand is often covered with empty beach chairs during the weekend, preventing users from accessing preferred areas of the beach and obstructing views.
Madam Speaker, in addition to managing beach use, as an important measure to stabilise and conserve beaches for generations to come, the Beach Policy prohibits persons from cutting beach vegetation. Yet, Madam Speaker, we see instances, including very recently at Long Bay, Beef Island, where commercial operators take it upon themselves without any discussion with or approval from the Ministry to clear cut large areas of beach vegetation.
Madam Speaker, while it falls within the Ministry’s mandate, everyone has a collective responsibility for proper management of our beaches by complying with the Beach Policy and respecting all applicable laws of the Territory.
Madam Speaker, one reason for my intervention today is to again make the public aware of the requirements to apply for permission to use beaches for any commercial activity as well as non-commercial uses in cases where there would be groups larger than 50 persons, loudspeakers or open fires, and to remind persons of other requirements around beach use, set out in the Beach Policy. However, Madam Speaker, the main purpose of my intervention today is to warn all members of the public and commercial operators that the Ministry will not continue to tolerate such blatant violations around beach use and management. The Ministry will collaborate with the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force, the Town and Country Planning Department, Trade Department, the Attorney General’s Chambers and other relevant authorities to uphold the Beach Policy and enforce all applicable legislation. This means that, in the future, persons can expect for unapproved events and commercial activities to be shut down.
Madam Speaker, Members of the House would be aware that as an important part of its efforts to enhance beach management in the Territory, last year the Ministry led the process to develop the Long Bay, Beef Island Beach Management Plan which will serve as a pilot for development of other beach management plans. There is funding approved in this year’s budget for implementation of the Plan. In the context of that beach, all existing operators can expect to receive formal correspondence from the Ministry shortly, including the beach rules they must observe and the consequences for breaking those rules, as the beach management plan is implemented.
Madam Speaker, we all love our beaches and we benefit greatly from them but those benefits will soon stop flowing if as a community we don’t quickly learn to work together to respect the beach environment and fellow beach users. I urge all listening to partner with the Ministry by supporting our efforts to enhance beach management in the Territory for everyone’s benefit and enjoyment.