Oct. 24, 2003 Thursday marked a kind of beginning of the end of a preservation project whose seeds were planted 40 years ago, as a ribbon was cut and three dozen people were given 2003 Coastal America Partnership Awards for their parts in bringing the St. Croix East End Marine Park project to its current stage. (See list of awardees.) But that beginning may be the biggest challenge of all.
Most of the speakers at the 9:30 a.m. ceremony at Cramer's Park warned that the work has just begun.
The park boundaries have been established and the various use zones identified. Now the territory must create a management plan for the 60-square-mile protected marine environment — home to fish, sponges, endangered turtles and thousands of other marine species — and figure out how to enforce the regulations.
The waters extending three miles out into the sea from 17 miles of shoreline stretching east to Point Udall from Green Cay on the north and Great Pond on the south have been divided into allowable-use zones: no-take areas, turtle wildlife preserve areas, recreational areas and open areas. Funding and personnel to monitor the areas and enforce the restrictions have yet to be identified.
John Beagles, vice chair of the Coastal Zone Management Commission, brought home the importance of protecting the coastal environment as he described growing up on St. Croix and looking forward to a weekly car trip to Cramer's Park. Driving from Christiansted to the eastern tip of the island "seemed like crossing the desert," he said, but was worth the reward at the end.
He said he hoped "that future generations can do the same."
Beagles talked about the process of getting the community to buy into the park plan, which he said "seemed rigid for the area we've lived in all our lives." Conducting public hearings beginning in July 2002 was "like stepping out into a hurricane without even a raincoat," he said.
Basil Ottley, representing Sen. Louis P. Hill at Thursday's ceremony, said one reason the public was not immediately enamored of the park plan is that "people don't know how to swim and therefore are not aware of the beauty" just below the water's surface.
"It would have been appropriate to wear bathing suits" to the park dedication, Ottley said. None of the dozen local and federal officials attending the ceremony were in bathing attire.
L. Lynn Scarlett, assistant secretary for the Interior Department's Office of Policy, Management and Budget, made her first visit to the Virgin Islands to bring a message from President Bush and to hand out the three dozen awards to Marine Park Advisory Committee members. "I wonder what took me so long," she said, commenting on the natural beauty of the island and the friendliness of the people.
Stephanie Wear, protected-area specialist with The Nature Conservancy, said that "the children will look back and be grateful" for the action taken to preserve the area.
Participating in the ribbon cutting were Gov. Charles W. Turnbull; Delegate Donna M. Christensen; Scarlett; Housing, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Ira Hobson; Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett; and Beagles.
Turnbull in his remarks said the marine park is expected to improve "the economy, ecology and quality of life on St. Croix."
On Friday, Sen. Almando "Rock" Liburd, who did not attend the ceremony, issued a release noting that he was the prime sponsor of the legislation establishing the park and stating that he is "very happy to see this major step foward" in the development of a comprehensive marine park system. "I am proud to have done my part in this collaborative effort to ensure that our marine resources are protected and enjoyed by future generations," he said.
In order to achieve the park goals, Ottley and others warned, enforcement regulations must be developed. "It's easy to come here and say 'we love this place,' but if we don't protect it, what we love will be lost," he said.
It will now be the job of the cooperating agencies on the project, but primarily the lead agency, DPNR's Coastal Zone Management Program, to find the means to protect "what we love."
"East End marine park will be just a beginning"
Territory's first marine park wins CZM approval"
List of Awardees:
Ursula Anlauf, DPNR Coastal Zone Management Division
Dayle Barry, University of the Virgin Islands Eastern Caribbean Center/Conservation Data Center
Rafe Boulon, V.I. National Park
Virdin Brown, Caribbean Fisheries Management Council
William Coles, DPNR Fish and Wildlife Division
Thomas Daley, St. Croix Fisheries Advisory Council
Olasee Davis, UVI Cooperative Extension Service
Julita de Leon, DPNR Coastal Zone Management Division
Nick Drayton, The Ocean Conservancy
Carlos Farchette, DPNR Environmental Enforcement Division
Sue Higgins, DPNR Comprehensive Coastal Zone Planning Division
Zandy Hillis-Starr, U.S. Department of the Interior
Janice Hodge, DPNR Coastal Zone Management Division
Aaron Hutchins, DPNR Environmental Protection Division
Onaje Jackson, Caribbean Infra-Tech Inc.
Jonathan Kelsey, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Dr. Barbara Kojis, DPNR Fish and Wildlife Division
Karen Koltes, Department of the Interior
James R. "C.C." Kreglo, St. Thomas/St. John Fisheries Advisory Council
Gerson N. Martinez, Fisheries Advisory Council
Robert N. McAuliffe, Fishermen's United Services Cooperative of St. Croix
Bill Millhouser, NOAA
Dr. Rick Nemeth, UVI Center for Marine and Environmental Studies
Dean Plaskett, Planning and Natural Resources commissioner
Bruce Potter, Island Resources Foundation
Michelle Pugh, Dive Experience
Lucia Roberts-Francis, DPNR Environmental Enforcement Division
Caroline Rogers, U.S. Geologic Survey
William Rohring, DPNR Coastal Zone Management Division
Dr. Henry Smith, UVI
Marcia Taylor, UVI V.I. Marine Advisory Service
Toby Tobias, DPNR Fish and Wildlife Division
Dr. Ed Towle, Island Resources Foundation
Joel Tutein, Department of the Interior
Stephanie Wear, The Nature Conservancy
Rob Weary, The Nature Conservancy
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