During its monthly meeting Friday morning, board members of the Magens Bay Authority voted to ban balloons on the beach and discussed a possible ban on drinking straws and selling sunscreens that can harm coral reefs.
The authority has been advising beachgoers not to decorate the pavilions with balloons since January, but this motion will allow them to create an enforceable policy. Starting on May 1, balloons will no longer be permitted at the beach.
Chairman Robert Moron said there’s concern about balloons getting in the water and being consumed by marine life like sea turtles. Ingesting balloons can kill sea turtles, since it can cause stomach blockage.
All board members voted for the ban except for Aubrey Nelthropp, who said that most people responsibly secure their balloons and that the board could do more to educate those who don’t.
The board also discussed the dangers that drinking straws and certain sunscreens pose to vulnerable marine life.
Paul Jobsis, an associate professor of biology at the University of Virgin Islands, said that straws are hazardous for sea turtles and can get stuck in their noses. He said that last year, a biologist who posted a video of a straw being removed from a sea turtle’s nose created a media firestorm, in effect raising awareness of the threat.
“Straws are hazardous for sea turtles as are plastics in general. Biodegradable straws would certainly be better and some places do ban plastic straws,” Jobsis said. The authority is checking in with the concession to learn about what the currently used straws are made of and is interested in exploring alternatives.
Sunscreens that contain oxybenzone can disrupt coral reproduction, so the board discussed ways to limit their use at the beach and is considering ending their sale at the concession. Jobsis said that he’s not aware of any beaches or hotels that ban these harmful sunscreens in the Virgin Islands, but that sunscreen manufacturers have been petitioned to remove this hazardous element from their products.
The board also moved forward on its plans to construct a new concession, announcing that local architecture firm Jaredian Design Group is being contracted to complete a location and design study.
Moron said the group will complete a major environmental report, create a design model and will help decide whether the current building can be refurbished or not. They will also consider moving the concession closer to Bath House 2, as well as assist making sure the construction is in compliance with Coastal Zone Management regulations.
Board members raised safety concerns about the lookout area at Drake’s Seat, which the authority also manages.
“We should be concerned about tourists falling over the wall and then fingers being pointed at the Magens Bay Authority for not addressing the structural concerns sooner,” board member Aubrey Nelthropp said.
Moron agreed that the structural issues at Drake’s Seat need to be handled and that the blind spot on the road there is “an accident waiting to happen.”
Jobsis also addressed the board about expanding the Edmund Penn Scholarship, which provides tuition for an undergraduate student who studies marine and environmental sciences at the University of the Virgin Islands.
Jobsis said that he’d like to work with the authority and UVI to secure funding to provide the four-year scholarship to a new student each year, since students interested in the scholarship must wait until the person who is currently receiving it graduates.
Depending on the year they enter college, some interested students don’t have the chance to apply for the scholarship, which is only available to incoming freshmen from the territory. Moron said he would discuss the matter in more depth with the authority’s planning committee.
The board agreed to renew AAA Taxi’s lease for the Magens Bay Taxi Concession but without the option to renew the lease after the three-year term is up.
Board members Aubrey Nelthropp, Katina Coulianos, Moron, Dayle Barry, Elliot McIver Davis and Hubert Brumant were present at the meeting, as well as six community members.