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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, May 18, 2024
HomeNewsLocal newsOp-Ed: A Brief History of Magens Bay: Part 5

Op-Ed: A Brief History of Magens Bay: Part 5

Without a plan and enforcement the bay and everything in it is in danger

Nearly 40 years after a former planner with the Department of Conservation and Cultural Affairs helped fashion a mooring plan for the Virgin Islands, she was aghast, after spending every morning at Magens Bay for an entire week in January, to find that a huge luxury yacht anchored very close to the beach had not moved “once” during her seven-day vigil.

Close-up luxury yacht observed in bay for a full week without moving (Source photo by Shaun A. Pennington)

She wondered in a phone call to the Source what it was still doing there after seven days and where it was dumping its waste.

Though Debra Brown DeLone took up residence on the mainland years ago, she remains a Virgin Islander. She happened to be back home the week that the Magens Bay Authority Board held their first in-person meeting town hall since COVID.

“I am saddened — saddened — every morning when I take my walk on Magens Bay and watch huge yachts — that one sitting there seven days — berthed or docked here in Magens Bay, and I really wonder if they are going out to dump, because when I come down the next morning, they are in the same spot they were the morning before,” she said.

An article from “Pride” a monthly magazine published for decades on St. Thomas by the late former Sen. Earle B. Ottley, which featured stories on local people who made a difference as well as political commentary, from 1986, sums up DeLone’s conviction: “Magens Bay will never be a mooring area.”

Also in attendance at January’s “town hall” meeting was former Sen. Ruby Simmonds Esannason, who devised the mooring plan along with DeLone.

Esannason said the one concession legislators approved when she was a senator was that generational fishers could moor in the bay. “That was the only thing that we wanted on Magens Bay Beach. The only kind of vessel would be those traditional fishing boats” on the east corner of the beach, she said.

Big boats up close (Source photo by Shaun A. Pennington)

Without any moorings in place to accommodate them, the boats anchor wherever they want with no system in place to prevent, regulate, or enforce any of Magens Bay’s established rules.

Magens Bay Rules (Photo courtesy Sara Smollet)

The larger luxury vessels arrive with motorized paddleboards and privilege –  not to mention jet skis– which are explicitly prohibited in the bay–  and what may as well be thought of as racing dinghies pulling all manner of boards and skis behind them at great speed and therefore danger to the inhabitants of the bay. Especially at risk are the sea turtles that must surface for air regularly.

Jet skis off the back of luxury yacht (Source photo by Shaun A. Pennington)

A later episode of this series will detail the other living things that are endangered by the advancing naval invasion and what that means in the context of the growing global climate disaster.

But turtles are not the only species in danger. Human beings routinely suffer the consequences of the unregulated free-for-all being played out day in and day out by a few unruly aliens.

One afternoon last fall, before the water chilled off while swimming at the far southwestern end of the beach, I was shocked to experience the sudden audio and then vibrational assault of a speeding dinghy-type vessel, going so fast that only the rear end was still in the water in the 50-foot area between the no wake buoys and the swim buoys which form a very visible parallel line from one and of the bay to the other 75 to 100 or so feet out into the water from the shoreline.

The reckless disregard and endangerment were real and otherworldly in the normally serene waters far from the concession at the other end of the beach.

It was during a time when there was a lifeguard shortage at the bay, so lifeguard stand number seven was unoccupied. Once I emerged from the water which I did by immediately making my way out of the water to the safety of the beach, walking the distance to where my car was, rather than risk a return of the demon dinghy.

It was late in the afternoon, a time favored by locals, along with early in the morning. I drove toward the exit and was able to track down a Magens Bay employee inside a newly refurbished conference room that sits between the gatehouse and the office, but there was nothing to be done. The offending dinghy had long since disappeared.

There are multiple roadblocks to any kind of meaningful surveillance or enforcement. Former Magens Bay manager Hubert Brumant said in a 2021 story. DPNR is not necessarily equipped to make spot visits, in part because of staffing or because they do not always have a vessel available, but also because the boat trip from Crown Bay to Magens Bay is time-consuming. Brumant, who was fired said the department has floated the idea of purchasing a jet ski to store at the park that would also help it monitor other bays on the North Side of St. Thomas.

As for a vessel being currently available, the rubber dingy available to Magens Bay personnel is kept on a trailer most of the time.

MBA dinghy usually confined to a boat trailer (Source photo by Shaun A. Pennington)

It was deployed, however, after the controversial red and green channel markers were installed so that the lifeguards, after being coached in guest relations by former general manager Brumant, could visit the yachts and show the captain and crew how and exactly where they could brings guests to the beach.

It is likely that several unpleasant encounters led up to the channel markers being placed.  As of publication, it was unknown who actually placed the buoys, which in and of themselves have created a great deal of controversy, and at whose request. The job likely fell to Planning and Natural Resources, which is supported by the fact that board members said in their monthly meeting last June they weren’t even aware of the red and green buoys that are placed at the far northeastern part of the beach 50 feet apart.

Yacht anchored between channel marking buoys. (Submitted photo)

The need to reign in the visitors began to reach critical mass beginning in 2020.

Shortly after the COVID pandemic locked these cruising yachts out of other jurisdictions, the USVI, being under the American flag, could not turn them away.

It happened suddenly – like the pandemic – without any preparations in place for the onslaught. Not knowing what the rules are and lack of enforcement, however, is one thing. Knowing what they are and flouting them is quite another.

A personal experience, but of a type that many residents encountered on various occasions, involved telling a gentleman carrying several parasol-toting gentlewomen to the beach in a very large Zodiac that he was not allowed to pull into the middle of the beach where we were working out in the water. His immediate response was, “I know,” as he kept right on going toward the white sandy strip of beach somewhere between bathhouse number two and number three, pulling up the motor as he slid the boat far up onto the beach to allow the passengers to exit without getting the bottoms of their sun dresses –  or even their feet – wet.

Not long afterward, another Virgin Islander advised yet another dinghy full of charter guests that they had entered a swim area where boats were not allowed and was told to mind her own business by one of the guests this time. “Go back where you came from,” said the charter guest to the resident who advised she already was where she came from. Fortunately, it was Fourth of July weekend and there happened to be a DPNR enforcement boat in the area. “I left it to them,” the resident said.

Large conveyance vessel pulled up onto beach at northeastern end of the beach sometime in the last six months. (Submitted photo)

That a DPNR enforcement vessel and officer was in the bay was something of a miracle, likely as a result of the holiday weekend.

There is another issue mentioned earlier by DeLone. A sign recently seen for the first time leaning up against the shed at the entrance to the bay says it all: “Water is not currently suitable for swimming or wading.”

Water not suitable (Source photo by Shaun A. Pennington)

More than 20 years ago artist and long-term Virgin Islands resident and avid swimmer the late Jens-Peter Kemmler wrote in a Source letter to the editor: “At the depth that I swim from end to end, about 8 to 10 feet, straight in my sight of vision I could have counted no fewer than 50 pieces of trash — cans, bottles, plastic cups, plastic plates, lots of napkins, on occasion the sanitary type as well, forks, knives, plastic bags, and yesterday even a condom.”

Crab caught in plastic bottle (Photo courtesy Sara Smollett)

Being a gentleman, what he did not say in the letter but said to me on more than one occasion related to the ”floating turds” he also encountered in his daily swims.

In a report on the watershed above the beach written in 2013 and updated in 2018,  Darlan Brin, former commissioner of DPNR and, before that, head of the Department of Conservation and Cultural Affairs, wrote, “Magens Bay is among the territory’s most significant natural resources and economically valuable assets, which require the highest level of protection. It is a world-class, highly valued scenic and recreational amenity which must be saved for present and future generations. Should no action be taken now and into the future to restore, protect, and preserve the quality of the white sandy beach and bay waters, Magens Bay’s demise will continue.”

“It cannot be replaced or replicated, but it can be restored.”


Related Links:

Op-Ed: A Brief History of Magens Bay, Part I: Fairchild’s Dream

Op-Ed: A Brief History of Magens Bay: Part 2

Op-Ed: A Brief History of Magens Bay: Part 3

Op-Ed: A Brief History of Magens Bay: Part 4






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