With increased development across the island, the natural resources on St. John have been getting overlooked in favor of other considerations.
One federal agency, however, is shining a spotlight on local groups and individuals who work on behalf of saving the natural beauty of the island.
Barry Devine, chief scientist at the University of the Virgin Islands’ Conservation Data Center, Clean Islands International and the Coral Bay Community Council were all granted Environmental Quality Awards as part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s annual recognition of people and organizations who have contributed significantly to improving the environment.
“It is the highest award that the U.S. EPA awards to the public in terms of environmental quality achievement,” said the EPA’s V.I. coordinator Jim Casey.
Environmental Stewardship Program
The EPA, which includes the Virgin Islands in its Region 2 along with New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico, has been taking a more active role on Love City lately, mostly due to Casey’s efforts.
Coral Bay was recently designated as a pilot community for the EPA’s Environmental Ste-wardship Initiative, which will translate into stiffer regulations aimed at stemming the tide of non-point source pollution.
With the initial program in its starting phase, the EPA is recognizing its allies in the community.
The 200-member CBCC has done a number of things to help protect the environment, from hosting community clean-up days to lobbying the Department of Planning and Natural Re-sources to include Coral Bay harbor in its weekly water testing.
“I am delighted that the CBCC is being recognized for all the work that our volunteers, members and community members have done to try to highlight and improve the environmental quality problems in Coral Bay like soil erosion, litter and protecting the marine life,” said CBCC president Sharon Coldren.
More To Be Done
Although the group has taken important steps in the past year in terms of environmental protection, there is more to be done, Coldren added.
“We’re really just beginning,” she said. “I’m encouraged that the new administration seems to be putting a little more emphasis on the environment. We also might be able to get additional federal funds to assist us in planning the right kind of environmental protections.”
Detention ponds are needed to protect resources in Coral Bay, according to Coldren.
“The most important thing from a Coral Bay perspective is putting in storm water detention ponds,” Coldren said. “The ponds guide water run-off off of roads and impermeable surfaces and into sheet flow. Or, the detention ponds go on land so the water is absorbed in the land instead of running into the bay.”
The awards vindicate the efforts of environmentalists, according to Conservation Data Center scientist Devine, who has been working on behalf of the local environment for the past eight years through field study and marine testing.
“I feel happy about the award and I’m pleased to have won it because there are a lot of people who it could have gone to,” said Devine. “I am happy to have gotten some recognition and vindication of the stance we’ve taken in protecting the natural resources. I think the federal government is showing they are in support of that stance.”
Protecting Coral Reefs
Protecting coral reefs is the most critical issue affecting the Virgin Islands, according to Devine.
“We’re still looking at sedimentation and the reefs,” he said. “Building and operating these large developments and even small homes can be done better. The key is sustainable development, whatever that means.”
“We need to impact the environment less and take a look at zoning,” Devine continued. “The zoning map was developed as a carrying capacity for the landscape and we know now that this is not the case.”
The marine life can only take so much, Devine added.
“Understanding what the landscape and seascape can handle is important,” he said. “The bays surrounding the land can handle only so much.”
The scientist will continue working with the island’s natural resources in the future.
“I’ve got three or four new projects going on that deal with endangered species like elk horn coral,” said Devine. “We’ll be taking a more in-depth look at the historical contribution of sediment with the U.S. Geological Society. We are also involved with doing a mapping project to potentially locate an area to be part of a territorial protected park.”
Clean Islands International was also granted an EPA Environmental Quality Award for its work at the V.I. Environmental Resource Station and collaborations with the V.I. Waste Management Authority.
“We assisted the VIWMA with some training for their solid waste advisory council,” said Clean Islands International executive director Randy Brown.
The organization, which was founded in the Bahamas in 1992, has been running VIERS for the past 10 years and also works throughout the Caribbean on waste management and environmental education issues, Brown explained.
Conserving resources is the best way to protect the environment, according to Brown.
“I think conservation of resources is the most important thing to keep the environment safe,” he said. “If people use what they have in a responsible way and take a practical and respectful approach to the environment then what’s on St. John would stay the way it is.”
EPA representatives will officially bestow the winners with the Environmental Quality Awards at an April 26 ceremony at the agency’s lower Man-hattan offices. While Coldren and Devine will not be able to attend, Brown will be on hand to accept Clean Islands International’s environmental award.
CBCC’s EPA award will hopefully bolster membership rates and help garner needed financial support, according to Coldren.
“I hope receiving this award will encourage people to make the effort to become formal members of CBCC and help provide our financial support with dues of $20 per year, or more generous donations of $100 or more, if people can afford it,” Coldren said." Numbers count and we need the dollars raised to fulfill our many project goals. Application forms are available at Connections East in Coral Bay and at www.coralbaycommunitycouncil.org or at our meeting Monday night April 16, at 6:30 pm at the John’s Folly Learning Institute.”