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Conflicts Between Turtle Protection, Beach Access Dominate Town Meeting

June 6, 2007 — Several St. Croix natives spoke against restrictions on access to Sandy Point at a town meeting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Thursday.
The meeting was held to spread information and get public feedback to help the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service puts together a comprehensive conservation plan for the territory’s national wildlife refuges at Sandy Point, Buck Island and Green Cay. The plan would outline goals and strategies to reach those goals, consistent with the overall mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The motto of the refuge system is “wildlife comes first.”
It is to be a 15-year plan, with review and revisions every five years. Fish and Wildlife officials expect the plan to be complete around December 2008. There will be several town meetings between now and then to gather more input. After the plan is written up as a document, there will be a 30-day review period before it is put into effect.
“Public input can influence the outcome of this plan,” said Leon Kolankiewicz, a consultant for Fish and Wildlife.
Public access to Sandy Point beach was the biggest concern expressed by residents. Currently, Sandy Point is closed to the public from April through August for turtle nesting and hatching. In the fall and winter, the refuge is open Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. During nesting season, groups and organizations, accompanied by U.S. Fish and Wildlife personnel, can watch the turtles nest and hatch.
“I don’t have anything against conservation within reason,” said St. Croix native Michael Boyce. “I have no problem with some protections when they are making their nests and so on. But four or six hours on the beach is not island life. And Sandy Point is the best beach on the island.”
Boyce said he had seen a turtle project in Brazil in which the eggs were carefully dug up and moved to a safer location, and asked whether something similar might protect the turtles but open the beach to more public use.
Some opposed any restrictions on access to Sandy Point at any time.
“I’ve never been able to take my children to Sandy Point to see the dolphins at sunset,” said Dr. Carmen Cintron. “You only open the beach in winter. We don’t go swimming in winter when the water is cold and cloudy. Snowbirds may love it. You open the beach for snowbirds, and we who are from here can’t use it.”
(“Snowbird” is a term for seasonal tourists and part-time residents who come to escape northern winters.)
Cintron said she heard there were plans to close down more beaches, one after another. She also questioned the value of protecting the turtles at all, saying breeding coral to fill in the barrier reef and increase the fish population would be a better plan.
“What is the population of turtles you want?” Cintron asked. “You’ve taken my beach away from me. … The only benefit I see is one day there will be enough turtles so we can eat them.”
Olasee Davis, a natural-science professor at the University of the Virgin Islands and a longtime advocate for the preservation of Virgin Islands cultural, historical and environmental resources, took a different tack on the subject: “If it were not for conservation, we wouldn’t have any resources left right now. … The main reason you don’t see dolphins much is because of us. Back 50 or more years ago, there were more dolphins. … Our natural resources here have to be protected. As we have a tourist economy, without those resources, there is no tourist economy and it will affect your pocket.”
Davis disputed the suggestion that closing the beach hurt locals to benefit seasonal tourists.
“I was born in the Virgin Islands, and my family goes back generations here,” Davis said.
“And you should know how Sandy Point became protected. It wasn’t some federal official. It is because of a native: Arthur Turnbull, who is still here. Go talk to him about it. He was with DPNR (Department of Planning and Natural Resources). He came out to Sandy Point and saw people going on the beach digging up the turtles and killing them just for fun. That’s why they made the refuge.”
The population of the island was much smaller in the past, and with the rising population, more restrictions were necessary to avoid destroying the remaining resources, Davis said.
“This kind of public input is great,” said Sandy Point Refuge Manager Michael Evans. Public opinion and feedback will help shape the final conservation plan, Evans said.
“I was born here, too,” said Park Superintendent Joel Tutein. “And I’ve lived here almost all my life. We need to strike a balance. We want to keep our resources, and we want to keep the people’s access to the resources. … Use and conservation are not always compatible.”
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June 6, 2007 -- Several St. Croix natives spoke against restrictions on access to Sandy Point at a town meeting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Thursday.
The meeting was held to spread information and get public feedback to help the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service puts together a comprehensive conservation plan for the territory’s national wildlife refuges at Sandy Point, Buck Island and Green Cay. The plan would outline goals and strategies to reach those goals, consistent with the overall mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The motto of the refuge system is “wildlife comes first.”
It is to be a 15-year plan, with review and revisions every five years. Fish and Wildlife officials expect the plan to be complete around December 2008. There will be several town meetings between now and then to gather more input. After the plan is written up as a document, there will be a 30-day review period before it is put into effect.
“Public input can influence the outcome of this plan,” said Leon Kolankiewicz, a consultant for Fish and Wildlife.
Public access to Sandy Point beach was the biggest concern expressed by residents. Currently, Sandy Point is closed to the public from April through August for turtle nesting and hatching. In the fall and winter, the refuge is open Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. During nesting season, groups and organizations, accompanied by U.S. Fish and Wildlife personnel, can watch the turtles nest and hatch.
“I don’t have anything against conservation within reason,” said St. Croix native Michael Boyce. “I have no problem with some protections when they are making their nests and so on. But four or six hours on the beach is not island life. And Sandy Point is the best beach on the island.”
Boyce said he had seen a turtle project in Brazil in which the eggs were carefully dug up and moved to a safer location, and asked whether something similar might protect the turtles but open the beach to more public use.
Some opposed any restrictions on access to Sandy Point at any time.
“I’ve never been able to take my children to Sandy Point to see the dolphins at sunset,” said Dr. Carmen Cintron. “You only open the beach in winter. We don’t go swimming in winter when the water is cold and cloudy. Snowbirds may love it. You open the beach for snowbirds, and we who are from here can’t use it.”
(“Snowbird” is a term for seasonal tourists and part-time residents who come to escape northern winters.)
Cintron said she heard there were plans to close down more beaches, one after another. She also questioned the value of protecting the turtles at all, saying breeding coral to fill in the barrier reef and increase the fish population would be a better plan.
“What is the population of turtles you want?” Cintron asked. “You’ve taken my beach away from me. ... The only benefit I see is one day there will be enough turtles so we can eat them.”
Olasee Davis, a natural-science professor at the University of the Virgin Islands and a longtime advocate for the preservation of Virgin Islands cultural, historical and environmental resources, took a different tack on the subject: “If it were not for conservation, we wouldn’t have any resources left right now. ... The main reason you don’t see dolphins much is because of us. Back 50 or more years ago, there were more dolphins. ... Our natural resources here have to be protected. As we have a tourist economy, without those resources, there is no tourist economy and it will affect your pocket.”
Davis disputed the suggestion that closing the beach hurt locals to benefit seasonal tourists.
“I was born in the Virgin Islands, and my family goes back generations here,” Davis said.
“And you should know how Sandy Point became protected. It wasn’t some federal official. It is because of a native: Arthur Turnbull, who is still here. Go talk to him about it. He was with DPNR (Department of Planning and Natural Resources). He came out to Sandy Point and saw people going on the beach digging up the turtles and killing them just for fun. That’s why they made the refuge.”
The population of the island was much smaller in the past, and with the rising population, more restrictions were necessary to avoid destroying the remaining resources, Davis said.
“This kind of public input is great,” said Sandy Point Refuge Manager Michael Evans. Public opinion and feedback will help shape the final conservation plan, Evans said.
“I was born here, too,” said Park Superintendent Joel Tutein. “And I’ve lived here almost all my life. We need to strike a balance. We want to keep our resources, and we want to keep the people’s access to the resources. ... Use and conservation are not always compatible.”
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.