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Saturday, July 20, 2024
HomeNewsLocal newsDPNR Coasting to Cleaner Environments with the MyCoast App

DPNR Coasting to Cleaner Environments with the MyCoast App

The MyCoast App is available on both Android and ISO systems. (Screenshot)

The Virgin Islands’ beaches are a place of beauty and wonder, but also often littered with trash and debris, home to derelict vessels, and sometimes overrun by sargassum. Kitty Edwards, director of the Division of Territorial Parks & Protected Areas for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, took up this call to action and launched a “citizen science and data gathering tool,” the “MyCoast” app.

MyCoast allows users to create and track progress on their own reports of derelict vessels and sargassum sightings. For both the vessel and sargassum reports, you can submit a photo and add the location and time utilizing satellites to assist in pinpointing the vessel or sargassum. The reports slightly differ as the vessel report has options describing the vessel and a section for additional notes, whereas the sargassum has just a comment section.

Edwards saw a need for the removal of debris and derelict vessels after the 2017 Category 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria, which left the beaches and the ocean unsafe. Derelict vessels can pose a hazard to navigation, as they can be challenging to see. Edwards made reference to an incident after the hurricanes where two sunken vessels in the Christansted Harbor had shifted into the landing path of the seaplane, almost causing a collision.

A sunken vessel in the Christiansted Harbor from the 2017 hurricanes. (Photo submitted by Kitty Edwards)

Luckily, the seaplane only managed to scrap the vessel and no injuries occurred. Overall, the vessels pose a significant threat to the marine environment, human health, and global economy with the risks of the release of harmful pollutants, such as oil, fuel, and heavy metals. Since then, Edwards has been on a mission to help keep our oceans clean and safe for everyone to enjoy.

The director said she “started looking at different ways to collect data with the public for marine debris and vessels and saw more” when she came across the MyCoast app. Edwards had a meeting with the creators of the app, who have created similar apps for other states and began to seek funding. Edwards wrote the funding for the app, which also includes its own website, MyCoast.org.

One of many vessels impacting the V.I. Community being removed. (Photo submitted by Kitty Edwards)

Through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris Program, DPNR received a $4.2 million grant for marine debris removal caused by the 2017 hurricanes.

With the funding, “Everything from refrigerators to barges and over 60 vessels have been removed,” said Edwards. With the grant, DPNR was also able to give “more than $100,000 to local nonprofits for individual clean up debris,” she said.

The remains of rusting debris at Krum Bay, waiting its turn for removal. (Photo submitted by Kitty Edwards)

“The customization and applications to create a form based on need is great, especially for the sargassum,” she said. “There have been sargassum reports from Coral Bay, St. John, Red Hook, and Hawksnest, but no reports from St. Croix. We encourage the community to use the tools provided,” said Edwards.

“This app can add the awareness of the public of sargassum to help reduce and create a blueprint for tacking and tackling these problems. It’s a great tool that people will have access to in this era of being more involved in technology, and it also appeals to a young audience,” said USVI Marine Debris Coordinator of Coastal Zone Management Zola Roper.

Roper had a helping hand in the creation of the beach clean-up portion of the app. Roper explained that there is a feature on the website where you and a group can “Adopt-a-Beach” on a day of your choosing to clean the beach, track the debris picked up, and monitor the beach.

“It helps to track recurring items found on the beach to create action plans for cleanup,” said Roper.

Thanks to Roper, who created the list of beaches throughout the territory for the website, you can select the beach of your choice with a drop-down menu. Roper mentioned that on one of her recent beach cleanups, she realized that not all of the beaches listed are accessible by land. With this in mind, Roper said she is now reviewing the list to differentiate which are accessible by land and which by boat only.

Beach cleanups help to protect marine life, such as turtles, dolphins, and fish, which can become entangled in or ingest trash, which can cause them to die. The cleanups help to raise awareness about the importance of keeping beaches clean.

An aerial visual of some of the collected debris in Krum Bay. (Photo submitted by Kitty Edwards)

One of the hiccups is that these “Community-Based cleanup projects are not consistently included in local funding because there is federal funding available because the programs are new. The NOAA grant expires on September 30th, and the next grant has been written,” said Edwards.

Based on inflation and more wreckage being found, it would require more funding this time around. “We thought there were 17 vessels and found 25, and it’s going to take another $8 million to clean up that area,” according to Edwards. Part of the cleaning and removal is done by a contractor who crushes the vessels and scrap. They are put on a barge and sent to Puerto Rico, where they’re melted and recycled.

“We are all working towards a common goal of protecting the community of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Cleaning up pollution and repairing damage to marine infrastructure brings us together,” said Roper.

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