The nearly pristine mangroves in Hurricane Hole are one step closer to being fully protected, thanks to the latest phase of the storm mooring chain installation which started last week.
Used as a refuge during tropical storms and hurricanes, vessel owners traditionally tied their boats to mangroves in the Hurricane Hole areas of Bourge, Princess, Otter and Water Creeks.
With the installation of the storm chain, mariners can secure their vessels safely without harming mangroves, which are necessary for maintaining a healthy bay, explained Rafe Boulon, the V.I. National Park’s chief of resource management.
“The mangroves in Hurricane Hole are extremely important because they are probably the most pristine ones left in the Virgin Islands,” said Boulon. “They are extremely important as a nursery for juvenile reef fish and as a wildlife habitat for a number of birds, because of their protected location.”
Mangroves Are Vital
“The mangroves also filter runoff from the land and help to keep the water clean,” Boulon continued. “Mangroves offer a lot of very important free ecological services.”
Mangroves are also protected under both federal and territorial regulations, Boulon added.
“The chain offers a number of benefits and it’s illegal to tie to mangroves,” he said. “Mangroves are protected under federal and V.I. law. We probably have less than 50 percent of mangroves here in the Virgin Islands than we did 100 years ago.”
“That has a huge impact,” the VINP’s chief of resource management added.
The Hurricane Hole storm mooring chain is part of a larger resource protection project, spearheaded by the Friends of the V.I. National Park, which includes the installation of day use, fishing and dive moorings, according to Friends’ executive director Joe Kessler.
Funded by Chesney Foundation, Ocean Trust
The Friends raised $90,000 for the mooring installation project, which was funded by the Kenny Chesney Foundation and the Ocean Trust, Kessler added.
The overall project includes day use moorings in Hurricane Hole; six moorings for fishermen near Cabritte Horn Point off of Lameshur Bay; and dive moorings at Eagle Shoals off the South Shore, and the Leaf in Fish Bay.
“The day use and dive moorings were done around 2003 and we started the storm mooring project in 2004 or 2005,” said Kessler. “We completed the first half of the project and now we’re working on the second half.”
While change is often difficult, the reaction from boaters has been mostly positive, according to Kessler.
“The reaction has been very good,” he said. “Ninety percent of the people come up and thank you for doing it. It takes some of the stress from preparing for hurricane season.”
Boaters pre-register for a specific spot on the storm chain, which eliminates jostling for positions. Also, boaters can set their ground tackle and it will be monitored by VINP rangers, explained Kessler.
“It’s a win-win situation,” he said. “It’s a win for the boaters because the chain is stronger than the mangroves and the system makes the administration of the area much easier.“
“It’s also a win for the environment,” Kessler continued.
Workers with the well known Tortola-based mooring company Moor Seacure, which installed the first phase of the chain system two years ago, are back in the territory for the second phase of the project.
Seven Foot Sand Screws
A series of seven foot sand screws, with three swivels, are driven down in the sand and then connected with one-inch chain. Boats tie to the chain between the screws, taking advantage of the double strength of two screws.
The system has tested successfully for up to 20,000 pounds of upward pull, explained Kessler.
“When the screws first go in is when they are at their weakest because the sand has been disturbed,” Kessler said. “That is when we test it and we know it can withstand 20,000 pounds of upward pull. Once the sand settles the system gets even stronger.”
When the current installation phase is complete, the chain system will be able to accommodate about 80 boats of 60 feet length on deck or less.
This phase will hopefully not be the final installation, Kessler added.
“This may or may not be our last phase, depending on funding,” he said. “We always need more funding.”
Registration June 9
Hurricane Hole mooring registration is June 9 at the VINP’s maintenance facility in Cruz Bay on a first come first serve basis. Boaters who left their gear on the chain system at the end of the last hurricane season will be processed last, Boulon explained.
“Boaters who left their gear there last year won’t be helped until after everyone else has been registered,” said Boulon. “They know who they are and we know who they are.”
For more information, call V.I. National Park Rranger Thomas Kelly at 693-8950, extension 225. To make a donation to the Friends of the V.I. National Park, call 779-4940.