While experts say marine debris is a pervasive problem in the Virgin Islands, a collaborative plan for how local organizations can mitigate it has yet to be developed, according to a task force working on the issue. Two separate workshops held last week aimed to change that.
At the workshops, stakeholders from numerous organizations were asked to provide feedback on how to properly go about solving what organizers described as a pressing issue in the territory.
“The USVI Marine Debris Action Plan marks a historic moment for the territory, as it is the first such plan developed for any U.S. insular area,” said Kristin Wilson-Grimes, a research assistant professor at the Center for Marine and Environmental Studies at the University of the Virgin Islands and the principal investigator for the plan. “This National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-funded effort led by the University of the Virgin Islands provides a framework for identifying objectives and strategies to ensure that the USVI and its coasts, people and wildlife are free from the impacts of marine debris.”
Organizations represented at the workshops included multiple departments of UVI, various divisions of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Red Hook Dive Center, NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, the Nature Conservancy National Marine and Fisheries Service, Playland Marine LLC, V.I. Waste Management Authority, U.S. Geological Survey, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, V.I. Conservation Society, the USVI Hotel and Tourism Association, Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association/ Marine Rebuild Fund, Coral Bay Community Council, Ocean Conservancy, Blue Flag USVI and the National Park Service.
The workshops were hosted on Zoom and used MURAL, a workspace for digital collaboration that allows users to contribute to one document.
Participants were assigned to smaller “goal” groups based on the information they provided when registering for the workshop. For example, the Source attended one of the workshops and was placed in the “Engage and Inform” group.
The five goals that received feedback were: Engage and Inform, Prevent and Reduce, Remove, Research and Coordinate. All goals were broken down further into at least three main objectives. Participants gave their input on how each objective should be prioritized, in addition to other comments they felt could improve the action plan.
Howard Forbes, coordinator for the V.I. Marine Advisory Service and facilitator for the Engage and Inform group, said “I feel as though the workshop went exceptionally well. Although I was only facilitating the Engage and Inform group, when we reconvened as a larger group – as well as from looking at the draft plan within MURAL – it was evident that a lot of progress has been made thus far. And for that our team is thankful and are eager to host our second workshop in 2021 to finalize the action plan.”
The MURAL link will be active until Oct. 15 for stakeholders who attended the workshop, so suggestions and feedback are still coming in from the participants.
The core group of the Marine Debris Action Plan will look over the feedback and reconvene in Spring 2021 to finalize the plan.
“It was amazing to see such a turnout for a virtual workshop,” Wilson-Grimes said. In total, 75 people attended the workshop over the two days, representing local businesses, local and federal government agencies, local and national nonprofits and the University of the Virgin Islands. “Everyone was excited and engaged,” she said, adding that she thought the next version of the territory’s action plan “will be improved because of the contributions these individuals mad– so thank you to each and every person who attended!”