We are constantly reminded how vital our economy is to the survival of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Our main focus is to attract/generate more business, encourage more development and keep our tourism edge. Since we depend on tourism for at least 70% of the money we make, it is our main industry.
What actions are we currently taking to protect our extremely valuable natural resources, which our tourism dollars depend entirely on? These finite resources include our beautiful white sandy beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters, green lush hillsides, our culture, history and our magnificent 360º views. Visitors come to our shores to partake of our paradise. We should consider these assets our golden eggs that can bring us continued revenues and security long into the future if we plan and use them wisely.
Our pristine beaches, formed by ancient off shore coral reefs are threatened. Erosion caused by the indiscriminate cutting down of trees is an imminent threat. Another factor is the seaward flow of sewage due to a failing infrastructure, which continues to threaten our reef systems that house the grouper, yellowtail, conch, etc., that finds its way to our dining tables. And we haven't even considered the additional harm of rising sea temperatures due to global warming.
Do we understand the connection between our lush green hillsides, which offer the beaches, and coral reefs enormous protection from heavy rain run offs and erosion? If not for their root systems, the run offs would create muddy beaches, bays and surrounding areas and smother our coral reef systems. Do we know how many people, including residents, visit our beaches per year? Can you imagine swimming in a permanently muddy Vessup Bay, Hawksnest, Kramer's Park or any other beach in the VI where we are known for our white sand and clear blue water?
We can use existing laws followed with enforcement to protect our limited natural resources we depend on now without destroying our resources as well as our tourism product for our children tomorrow. The VI Code mandates the Department of Natural Resources (DPNR) with the protection of our natural resources from the effects of domestic sewage, industrial wastes and other polluting substances. One of the duties of (DPNR) is to provide for the conservation, maintenance and management of the natural resources of the United States Virgin Islands.
Another duty of DPNR is to establish reasonable impact fees as a condition of approval of all development projects with a construction cost above $500,000. Since this law has been in the VI Code, how many developments over $500,000 have been assessed impact fees? Impact fees will fund enforcement of laws, maintenance of our infrastructure and developing environmental educational programs for children, builders/contractors and residents.
We can require by law, builders of new developments provide adequate green space to protect our bays and beaches. More green space around large developments protect our bays and beaches from run offs, from reaching storm drains and allows rain to soak into the ground instead of into our bays and beaches.
Persons working in DPNR should have knowledge of balancing environment with developmental standards that lead toward long-term sustainability of our precious natural resources. We should also adhere to strict principles and protocols that protect our finite natural resources. These are the very same resources that provide much of what our residents take for granted and the beauty we offer to visitors who come to the Virgin Islands.
DPNR's mission should include the implementation of comprehensive land and water use plan or at the least development standards, Tree Ordinances, Territorial Park System and ongoing public information. We must teach our children to give more than is taken from our environment so our grandchildren on into the future can inherit a healthy Virgin Island environment to live, work and grow in. Economics and environment in our case go hand in hand. It is impossible to have one without the other. If we continue to destroy our tourism product, there will be no fish and no tourists.
Caroline A. Browne
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