An archipelago of 60 islands and cays, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) is a UK overseas territory located in the Caribbean 60 miles east of Puerto Rico. The capital, Road Town, is situated on Tortola, the largest island that is approximately 20 km long and 5 km wide. Other main islands are Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke. Most of the islands are volcanic in origin and have a hilly, rugged terrain. Anegada is geologically distinct from the rest of the group and is a flat island composed of limestone and coral. Executive authority is invested in The Queen and is exercised on her behalf by the Governor of the BVI. A new constitution was adopted in 2007 and came into force when the Legislative Council was dissolved for the 2007 general election. The Head of Government under the new constitution is the Premier, who is elected in a general election along with the other members of the ruling government as well as the members of the opposition. A Cabinet is nominated by the Premier and appointed by the Governor.
Around 100 BC, the Virgin Islands were first settled by the Arawak from South America although there is some evidence of Amerindian presence on the islands as far back as 1500 BC. The Arawaks inhabited the islands until the fifteenth century and then were displaced by the more aggressive Caribs, a tribe from the Lesser Antilles islands, after whom the Caribbean Sea is named. Columbus may have seen these indigenous people when he sailed by in 1493 and named the islands for St. Ursula and her 11,000 martyred virgins. Throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the BVI were under Spanish control, during which time the islands provided temporary anchorages for Spanish convoys hiding from English privateers. The Dutch on Tortola established the first permanent European settlement, in 1602, but by 1666 they had been replaced by English planters. Due to its arid climate and hilly terrain, the BVI was one of the more unprofitable of Great Britain’s plantation islands during the colonial period. As a British colony, the BVI was administered as part of the Leeward Islands Federation from 1872 to 1956. From 1902, when the local BVI legislature was abolished, to 1950, when it was reconstituted, the BVI experienced little in the way of direct governance by Great Britain.
With the breakup of colonial rule in the eastern Caribbean in 1956, the BVI declined both amalgamation with the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) and membership in the now defunct West Indies Federation of British Islands (1958 – 1962). Constitutional reform in 1967 established the BVI as a British dependent territory, with a locally elected legislature and chief minister, and also established the US dollar as the official national tender. Increased BVI political autonomy was matched by increased economic autonomy, related to the development of a successful tourism economy beginning in 1962, and the development of an offshore financial services sector started in the early 1980s. The expansion of the BVI economy was accomplished through extensive reliance upon imported labour. Of the present-day BVI population of 29,000, more than half are non-British Virgin Islanders drawn to work in its burgeoning tourist and financial services economies. Throughout this period of rapid growth, the BVI maintained a high degree of political and social stability and its present-day per capita income of $42,000 (US) is exceeded only by the per capita incomes of Bermuda and the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean. The economic development that fostered radical demographic and social change has gone hand in hand with a marked growth in the BVI nationalist sentiment and environmental awareness. The first annual BVI Go Green Festival was held in June 2010 and the Jost Van Dyke Preservation Society has been particularly progressive with a community-based programme advancing environmental protection and sustainable development.
Renewable Energy & Eco Housing
The BVI depends almost entirely on fossil fuels to drive its service-based economy, render critical services, and power the production of desalinated water upon which the Territory heavily depends. Energy consumption and the associated costs of production are quickly rising. In September 2010 the BVI Electricity Corporation signed a two-year fuel supply contract worth at least $64 million with Delta Petroleum. In addition, the Territory’s electricity generating and distribution infrastructure is quite exposed to the climate change impacts discussed elsewhere, including a greater risk of coastal and inland flooding, stronger hurricanes and storm surges. The main power generating plant at Pockwood Pond, for example, sits at the base of a major ghut, making it vulnerable to flooding in heavy rain events without a well-engineered drainage system. Furthermore, the plant is in the low-lying coastal zone with some components very close to the sea, and these may become within the reach of stronger storm surges, especially as sea level rises.
Without any fossil fuel reserves, the energy security of BVI is highly vulnerable to global shocks in the production, distribution, and price of fossil fuels. The Territory is rich in solar and wind energy but the integration of these as a renewable power source is frustrated by antiquated regulations that prohibit independent people generating their own power unless, of course, they have no grid power available to them. Most households and businesses have their own backup diesel generators that are tied to the grid and can sense when the national power supply falters and can automatically kick in to provide power until such time as the government-supplied energy is available again. These systems, however, are not permitted to supply primary power to the household, nor can they supply power back into the grid. Domestic systems with the capability of putting power back into the grid are where the big opportunity really lies for BVI. If you had a thousand houses all with a one-kilowatt solar array, it’s a megawatt of power that can help offset peak demand. If peak demand is the air conditioning load in the middle of the day when it’s hottest, that’s also when the solar panel is putting out the most power.
One small company Alternative Energy Systems opened in 2004 on Tortola and to date has sold 50-75 solar-powered back-up systems, which are often used in lieu of generators, and more than 100 solar hot water systems. Currently, much of the company’s business depends on customers who are willing to make an investment up front in hopes of earning their money back in the long term through reduced electricity or gas bills. The company does its best to educate potential customers about such benefits, but eco-friendly government policies would also help bolster the alternative energy sector. For example, the company pays a 10-20 percent duty on solar panels and other equipment it imports. Reducing or eliminating such duties on merchandise would lower the cost for consumers who wish to go green. In the meantime, the BVI Electricity Corporation has stepped their efforts to preserve energy by installing some solar street lights on Tortola as part of a pilot project.
A Canadian company, Schneider Power, has according to its website been active in the development of renewable energy solutions in the greater Caribbean region including the BVI and Bahamas. Whilst it does own a controlling interest in the Bahamas Renewable Energy Corporation, nothing as yet appears to be happening on BVI. Instead, Peter Island, a 7 square-km resort island just south of Tortola, was the first to announce plans for a commercial wind power project that will support an island grid in the Territory and is expected to save more than 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel annually. The resort is currently installing 2 x 250 kW WES30 Mk1 hybrid turbines from Wind Energy Solutions in the Netherlands and is forecast to provide approximately 60% of the resort’s energy requirements. The project includes a new 3 x 550 kW diesel power station in a new location, to replace the existing 4 x 750 kW station, a new control system to manage the wind and diesel power sources and a new desalination facility to provide potable water. It also incorporates a new service center that will be partly powered by photovoltaics and will be used to test other renewable energy technologies prior to use in other installations on the island.
The Virgin Group billionaire, Sir Richard Branson, who owns Necker Island announced in February 2007 that he wished to make his other recently acquired BVI property, Mosquito Island, more eco-friendly. To do so, Sir Richard hired experts on renewable energy like Daniel Kammen, a professor at the University of California Berkley Energy and Resources Group. To Dr. Kammen, the territory could actually make money by turning to renewable energy that would allow it to sell carbon credits in Europe and fuel to the USVI. There are plans for a 60-foot high wind turbine and solar panels that will power Sir Richard’s private residence, 20 luxury villas and a beachside restaurant. The developers will build with clay composite, a heat reducing technique, and avoid using air-conditioners. Local produce from farmers in Virgin Gorda will provide food for the resort, beach buggies powered by biofuels will be available for people to get around and tree planting will be encouraged to offset carbon emissions. Although having submitted an Environmental Impact Assessment and holding a public meeting in February 2008, the project is still under review by the Town and Country Planning Department.
Plans to introduce green technology at the Oil Nut Bay resort on Virgin Gorda also appear to have stalled. However, the Cooper Island Beach Club recently completed a renovation project and has introduced several green initiatives in the process. A state-of-the-art solar panel system, which gleams atop the roof of the new restaurant building has been designed to supply up to 70 percent of the resort's power requirements. Each of the resort's cottages has its own cistern and rooftop solar heater to supply the showers. The waste shower water is used for irrigation, and to ensure the water is contaminant free, bio-degradable shampoos and soaps are provided. Much of the resort's furniture is made from recycled wood from disused fishing boats and the cooking oil from the fryer is recycled into bio-fuel for the generator. Eco-products are used in the resort's bar and restaurant; cups and straws are made from corn bi-products and are bio-degradable.
Some BVI homeowners and commercial developers see going green as a necessity. The OBMI Architects Tortola office has recently designed the territory’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified building. The LEED certification programme was developed in 1998 by the US-based Green Building Council and is beginning to transform the construction industry in the States. To receive the LEED label, buildings must earn points based on energy efficiency, water conservation, proximity to public transportation, use of environmentally friendly materials and other factors.
The Territory needs to look no further than USVI Energy Office for inspiration on what might be possible. In April 2009, the international partnership for Energy Development in Island Nations (EDIN) selected the USVI as one of its three pilot projects. The Energy Office received $17.8 million in funding to support a variety of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, including improvements to the islands’ power transmission and distribution system, a renewable landfill-gas-to-energy treatment system, and a 350 kilowatt solar photovoltaic panel system to supplement power for the airport on the island of St. Thomas. An MoU signed by the USVI governor in April 2010 calls for the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and federal agencies to establish an aggressive renewable energy deployment strategy that can reduce their islands reliance on fossil fuels by 60% within the next 15 years.
In addition, the BVI has a wide range of information resource and support networks in the Caribbean region to choose from including:
Caribbean Energy Information System
Caribbean Information Platform on Renewable Energy
Caribbean Renewable Energy Development Programme
Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum
Energy Caribbean Magazine
Global Sustainable Energy Islands Initiative
Green Island Inc.
Green Markets International
Latin American and Caribbean Council on Renewable Energy
Waste Minimisation & Recycling
In 2004, a paper Exploring Solid-Waste as an Indicator of Sustainable Development in Small Island Developing States (SIDS): A Case Study of Tortola, British Virgin Islands (BVI) concluded solid waste had become an increasing pollution burden in Tortola as a consequence of development and economic growth. A 40 ton per day incinerator commissioned in 1994 was expected to serve the island's waste management needs for well over twenty years. However, incinerator capacity was surpassed by 1998, a mere four years after it was commissioned. Annual solid waste receipts increased from 8,818 tons (24 tons/day) in 1995 - 21,260 tons (58 tons/day) in 2000. A second incinerator with the capacity to burn 100 tons per day was erected in February 2009 but is not expected to become fully operational until 2011 due to tendering problems with installing the unit’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.
It is estimated that 3.8 million bottles were imported into Tortola in 1996, resulting in the 1700 tons of glass received at the incinerator. Each year, the incinerator is shut down for approximately twenty days during which time the staff manually chip off glass that has melted and adheres to the incinerator walls. At the same time, incoming waste is stored, or burned, behind the incinerator, resulting in further health hazards, such as flies, vermin and toxic smoke. The plumes of dumpsite smoke have brought complaints from the Environmental Protection Agency in the USVI since they often waft over St. John.
The BVI Green Resources Foundation was established in 2010 by Charlotte McDevitt who had recently completed her Masters degree project on Sustainable Waste Management within the British Virgin Islands. Her research study recommended that the BVI adopt a systemic approach to waste management with the ultimate aim of eliminating the need for incineration and landfill. A waste reduction and resource management strategy is outlined, in addition to possible tools that move beyond conventional recycling to include extended producer responsibility and green procurement. The latter includes new local companies like Greentech BVI that offers a line of compostable, biodegradable products like cutlery, cups and plates made of corn plastic and sugar cane particularly suitable for barbeques.
The Foundation’s first venture was developing a glass studio project to address the problems of litter, accumulation of waste behind the incinerator and glass in the incineration process. It was felt essential for the health of workers, and the functioning and life span of the new incinerator, that glass be removed from the waste stream. A small glass furnace was built enabling an experienced glass blower to teach local apprentices how bottles could be turned into glass products ranging from souvenirs to recycled glass tiles for building applications. The glass studio is not designed to be a solution for all glass waste in the Territory and will only serve the restaurants and bars in the Cane Garden Bay area. However, funds raised from the furnace will go toward research and implementation of on-island applications for glass waste.
There is a willingness to deal with this problem. The Peter Island resort has invested in over $37,000.00 worth of equipment, including a glass crusher, commercial bins and a special utility vehicle. When the bins are filled, they are transported to Tortola by boat to a proprietor at the Skelton Quarry, where some of the glass is crushed and used in the cement to build better roads. Another local business couple started collecting glass bottles several years ago in hopes of selling them to an overseas recycling company for a profit. They have about 600 tons of crushed glass piled up at a site but after negotiations fell through with several potential customers now believe that a Florida company might be interested in buying. If this proves to be a profitable venture, they plan to start recycling aluminium and plastic. In 2006 a Tortola businessman started a recycling business subsidised by the government that crushes vehicles and sells them abroad for scrap metal. By compacting and shipping away as many as 2000 vehicles each year, he significantly reduces the Territory’s solid waste stream and could soon start recycling tyres as well. Interestingly, a Canadian company, Island Green Energy is introducing a technology that will have immense and far reaching impact on how efficiently the island of St. Lucia manages waste streams, eliminates landfills, generates electricity and reduces the emissions of greenhouse gases. This steam reformation system might also be a solution for Tortola.
The BVI sewerage system is primarily limited to a collection and discharge system, that is, for the most part there is no treatment component. The existing sewerage system was also not designed to cater for stormwater. The danger of illegal dumping of oil and sewerage has been documented. The Environmental Health Division and the Solid Waste Department are encouraging businesses in Tortola, particularly restaurants and mechanical repair shops, to dispose of waste oil appropriately. It should be stored in tightly sealed containers, separate from residential waste, and transported carefully to the Tortola incinerator plant for disposal. A former employee of this government department operates BioSafe out of a small shop in Road Town. In addition to installing conventional wastewater treatment systems, the company offers several green products like the SledgeHammer system, which can be installed in lieu of a septic tank, converts sewage into water that can be used to irrigate a garden or a yard. The company also sells grease interceptors that hook up to sinks to collect grease that might otherwise clog pipes or wash directly into the sea and, in the future, hopes to start selling composting toilets.
Water Management & Security
The BVI has limited freshwater resources because of its geography and limited rainfall. Its watersheds comprise of extensive networks of ghuts (transient freshwater streams) and brackish ponds referred to as salt ponds that filter water runoff before it reaches the sea. Individual household harvesting and storage of rainfall in cisterns continues to be a primary source of freshwater for domestic purposes. In the past, groundwater from what is thought to be a very extensive freshwater lens, accessible from natural springs and man-made wells, was used as the main public water supply. However, by the 1980s most wells were over-drawn and salinated, and today many have been reclaimed by development. As a result and as the population continued to grow rapidly, the Territory turned to desalination as the sole source of public water supply.
In February 2010, Biwater won a ‘Build-Own-Operate-Transfer’ (BOOT) contract with the BVI government. Negotiated in secret since December 2008, the contract promised to bring varied new infrastructure: a new desalination plant capable of producing 2.3 imperial gallons per day; two new sewage treatment facilities; repaired pumping stations; and at least 600,000 feet of 12-inch sewer mains - all at rock-bottom prices. But the contract has not come without controversy.
Extensive Agriculture & Organic Food Production
Through the centuries that followed the early Spanish voyages to the West Indies, pirates and buccaneers roamed the seas around the Virgin Islands, while warring European navies were a constant threat to settlement. Spaniards were mining copper in Virgin Gorda by 1500, and Dutch buccaneers erected a fort on Tortola in about 1648, but they were expelled by a band of Englishmen some twenty years later. English emigrants from the nearby island of Anguilla began permanent settlements on Tortola and Virgin Gorda c.1680 and went on to create a lucrative sugar and cotton plantation economy based on slave labour. They constructed factories and houses, using techniques from both England and Africa, with New World adaptations. Virgin Islanders traded their sugar, cotton, rum, molasses, indigo and lignum vitae, along with cattle and goats, to nearby islands, the American colonies, and England. Colonial prosperity in the Virgin Islands was short-lived. Following the American Revolutionary War, sugar and cotton prices slumped, while violent hurricanes, earthquakes, and periods of drought brought severe hardship. In Britain, Parliament abolished the slave trade in 1807, and in Tortola, a new settlement at Kingstown was founded for those Africans liberated from slaving vessels.
At the turn of the century, the Virgin Islands were part of the Leeward Islands Federation (a Crown Colony of the UK), with an economy based on small-holding farms and trade. Virgin Islanders exported livestock, produce, charcoal and fish to the neighbouring Danish island of St. Thomas. Times were difficult, and many Virgin Islanders emigrated to other Caribbean islands and Central America, sending home wages to support their families. In 1900, a new agricultural department was created and, with financial and technical assistance from Britain, an experimental station was set up just outside Road Town, now the site of the J.R. O’Neal Botanic Gardens. As a result, agricultural production increased, and the local government arranged to purchase and process the crops in a government factory, preserved today as the Lower Estate Sugar Works Museum. Despite the success of the cotton, sugar, lime, and tobacco industries, the Virgin Islands agriculture-based economy continued to suffer the effects of hurricanes, environmental pests, and world market conditions. The United States Government’s purchase of the nearby Danish islands in 1917 led to economic benefits in the BVI in the form of employment opportunities and increased trade, a situation which continued through the first half of the century. Following World War II, economic development focused on livestock production and, as the ‘50’s progressed, tourism.
Traditional food tends to be spicy and hearty. Local farmers still grow fruits and vegetables along with the rearing of animals. Their goods are sold in the local supermarkets. Fungi (pronounced fun-gee) is a main staple of the BVI diet. It consists of cornmeal that has been boiled and cooked to a thick consistency along with okra. Fungi is usually eaten with boiled fish or saltfish. Callaloo is a soup made from the callaloo bush/leaf, often substituted with spinach. It consists of various meats and okra, and is boiled to a thick stew consistency. Because of inter-Caribbean migration, many foods from other Caribbean countries have been adopted into the local culinary culture. For example, a popular dish is roti, of Indo-Trinidadian origin, which consists of curried vegetables and meat wrapped in a paper-thin dough. Fruits consumed in the BVI include: sugar apple, mango, papaya, soursop, genip, sea grapes, tamarinds and goose berries. "Bush tea", a general term for any herbal tea derived from native plants (including lemongrass), is the hot beverage of choice. Popular cold drinks include maubi, sorrel, soursop, sea moss and passion fruit.
Over the last few years according to agriculture department, the local farming community has noticed extended dry seasons. An interesting side effect has been increased ravaging of producer’s fields (e.g. tomato beds) by different bird species. The theory is that these birds are no longer able to find sufficient food in the wild as the vegetation they typically feed on suffers from the extended dry seasons as well. Several studies have shown that, in general, existing agricultural pests, weeds, and disease-causing pathogens will likely become more prevalent in the future due to higher concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), warmer soil temperatures, and changes in humidity.
In October 2009 the BVI government signed a $4,726,000 loan agreement with Deutsche Bank to facilitate construction and design works for the establishment of six greenhouses in the Territory, three at Paraquita Bay on Tortola and the other three at South Sound on Virgin Gorda that will grow produce under the hydroponic method of cultivation. This project is seen as a step towards establishing greater food security within the Territory and is expected to increase the production of ‘short crops’ and serve as a training facility for present and potential farmers. This greenhouse initiative was presented as the Government’s vision that the agricultural and food production sector will be vibrant and developed to be a third pillar of the local economy, providing job and business opportunities, and food security on a sustainable basis. However, local farmers are skeptical about this new technology and would probably just like to see traditional farming practices improved with larger plots of land and adequate water supply for irrigation in order to produce more organic produce as championed by Aragorn Dick-Read who runs the Good Moon Farm on Tortola and also the USVI Sustainable Farm Institute. However, the advantages of hydroponic cultivation are many, including lower water use than traditional methods as well as flexibility of production so that yields can more easily match demand, allowing for daily harvesting and marketing on a large scale. Because this method doesn’t use soil as a growing medium, it is technically not eligible for the label ‘organic,’ though growers may eschew pesticides. This new technology can be successfully combined with traditional organic gardens as has already been undertaken at the CuisinArt Resort on Anguilla.
There are 113 kilometres of roads and as in the UK, cars in the BVI drive on the left side of the road. Heavy rains, new development and unpaved roads left unchecked are a growing problem that lead to erosion and runoff clouding bays along Tortola’s northern shore. The main airport (Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport, also known as Beef Island Airport) is located on Beef Island, which lies off the eastern tip of Tortola and is accessible by the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge. Virgin Gorda and Anegada have their own smaller airports. There are also ferries that operate within the territory and to neighbouring USVI. The BVI Ports Authority has details on all the ferry schedules and their new pier that enables two large cruise liners to berth simultaneously. A document with a compilation of findings and recommendations from studies on the social, environmental and economic impacts of the cruise ship industry was produced by the Association of Carribean States in 2009. In order to accommodate the many yachts that are based, or visit during the winter months, the BVI marine industry has thrived, and their guide details a full range of services.
Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing
Tourism accounts for 45% of national income and the BVI Tourist Board has launched a Sustainable Environmental Tourism Programme (STEP) that will help maintain national goals and objectives, and at the same time, endorse the internationally recognized Green Globe Certification program. The Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) is a strategic partner for Green Globe and in 1997 established the Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism (CAST). Its activities focus on providing environmental support to the operations of more than 725 CHTA hotels members, including the publication of manuals, workshops, conferences and seminars and the formulation and implementation of projects of international cooperation. Current priority objectives include the identification and promotion of the natural and cultural resources of the Caribbean, integration of energy and water conservation programs in hotels and support for solid and liquid waste management in tourist destinations.
In 2009 a total of 839,120 people visited the islands (of whom 530,327 were cruise ship passengers) and they are a particularly popular destination for U.S. citizens. The slogan “Nature’s Little Secrets” has been used to describe the BVI for many years and there are some excellent guides and magazines that provide plenty of information on visiting natural attractions like The Baths on Virgin Gorda, snorkeling the coral reefs near Anegada, hiking forest trails up Sage Mountain on Tortola, diving to explore wrecks, kayaking through mangroves, fishing or experiencing the well-known bars of Jost Van Dyke like Foxy’s whose New Year’s Eve and Halloween parties are legendary. The BVI are known as one of the world's greatest sailing destinations, and charter sailboats are a very popular way to visit less accessible islands. Every year since 1972 the BVI has hosted the Spring Regatta, which is a seven-day collection of sailing races throughout the islands.
The richness and diversity of BVI culture and heritage are rooted in the past. Their festivals, foods, arts, crafts and music are connections with those who went before, while their historic ruins, museums, terraced hills, and island sloops are tangible reminders of earlier times. On an annual basis, the BVI hosts its Music Festival at Cane Garden Bay Beach. Their traditional music is called fungi after the local cornmeal dish with the same name and its special sound is due to a unique local fusion between African and European music. It functions as a medium of local history and folklore and is therefore a cherished cultural form of expression that is part of the curriculum in BVI schools. The fungi bands, also called "scratch bands", use instruments ranging from calabash, washboard, bongos and ukelele, to more familiar western instruments like keyboard, banjo, guitar, bass, triangle and saxophone. Apart from being a form of festive dance music, fungi often contains humorous social commentaries, as well as BVI oral history.
Biodiversity & Protected Areas
This JNCC chapter and Reef Resilience case study give an overview of environmental legislation, protected areas and species of major significance. The Department of Conservation and Fisheries under the BVI Ministry of Natural Resources & Labour seeks to manage the natural resources of the BVI in a sustainable manner. There are other environmental NGOs like the Association of Reef Keepers and and the BVI Heritage Conservation Group who are very active. The Island Resources Foundation also has an office based in Tortola. In January 2010, their substantial reference library earlier donated to the [[H. Lavity Stoutt Community College]] was dedicated and renamed the Dr Edward L. Towle Island Systems Environmental Collection at a ceremony in honour of the late IRF founder. The Green Antilles weblog provides information about green topics in the Caribbean generally including the BVI.
The Virgin Islands has at least four distinctive vegetative communities - moist forests, dry forests, woodlands, and shrublands that support a diverse group of animals, including island endemics. Coastal and marine habitats are particularly important and primarily include salt ponds, mangroves, beaches, sea grass meadows, and coral reefs and are home to a wide variety of species of fish, marine mammals, sea turtles, molluscs, and crustaceans.
From botanical investigations done so far, 484 plant species have been recorded on Tortola; 403 species on Virgin Gorda; 334 species on Anegada and 73 species on Jost Van Dyke. Bats are the only land mammals native to BVI that still persist. Six species, both insect and fruit eating are present. The Puerto Rico Bank is considered one of six “primary endemic bird areas” and thus BVI is a “priority conservation area”. Bird counts have recorded a total 210 resident and migratory species belonging to 40 different families, with resident birds present from 29 of them. Bird populations are highest in the summer when seabirds visit the outer cays to nest, and during the North American winter, when scores of migratory birds seek out the islands as a winter home. Fifteen species of seabirds breed in the islands with the Magnificent Frigatebird and Roseate Tern having globally significant colonies; eight other species have colonies of regional significance.
There are approximately 39 species of reptiles and amphibians including lizards, snakes, frogs, toads, tortoises, and sea turtles, all native to the islands with the exception of tortoises. Two lizard species hold world records - the gecko Sphaerodactylus macrolepis, for living at the highest recorded density among all non-aggregated vertebrates and Sphaerodactylus parthenopion (The Virgin Gorda gecko), an endemic, for being the smallest reptile. The Anegada Rock Iguana is another known endemic that is endangered. Snake populations have been severely depressed by the introduced presence of the Small Indian Mongoose. Extensive field research and collections have been made on Guana Island. The UK Darwin Initiative also funded a three year Assessment of the Coastal Biodiversity of Anegada project.
The first national park was established in 1964 and the BVI National Parks Trust (NPT) is a statutory, corporate body, established in 1961 to manage, preserve and promote areas, which have been legally designated national parks by proclamation of the Executive Council. The Marine Parks and Protected Areas Ordinance of 1979 provided for the expansion of the system to marine areas. In 2008, the NPT received long awaited news a Protected Areas System Plan had finally been approved by the Cabinet. The 46 marine and terrestrial sites include 6 national parks, 2 forest parks, 1 marine park, 20 bird sanctuaries and an assortment of other designations. These areas extend throughout the 60 islands and cays in BVI, representing a total land area of 153.67 km2, and total marine area of 82,759 km2. At least 33% of the nearshore environment and more than 13% of the Territory’s landmass will be under some degree of protection.
Since 1992, the NPT has also established a network of more than 400 mooring buoys around the coast, in areas where a high level of boating activity could damage the fragile coral systems or sea grass meadows. The buoys prevent boat anchors and chains from damaging the seabed. In 2005, an additional hurricane anchoring system was put in place to provide added security for boats in tropical storms. Thanks to this system, owners are able to protect their boats without entering the mangrove zones in search of shelter. With an increase in the intensity of hurricanes, the mangrove ecosystems are directly threatened by the many chains and lines attached to protect the boats during storms. The income from mooring rights is also an extremely effective funding tool for the NPT marine conservation programme.
BVI has environmental legislation for the protection of the territory’s natural resources, the most recent of which is the Fisheries Act of 1997. The Territory is a signatory to several international environmental agreements such as the Convention of Biological Diversity, the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) and the “Ramsar” Convention on Wetlands among others. Full enforcement of legislation is hindered by the lack of adequate facilities and manpower. Development of marinas and resorts along the coastal areas has been an on-going issue in the territory as elsewhere in the Caribbean. Mangroves and sea grass beds are destroyed and reefs are smothered to make way for the tourism-related infrastructure as development continues to compete with the environment on which it is based. The BVI’s first environmental court case was brought by the Virgin Islands Environmental Council (VIEC), a group of concerned fisherfolk and residents, against the government to reverse planning permission awarded to put a five-star hotel, marina, and golf course on a fisheries protected area of Beef Island – Hans Creek. and . After a two-year legal battle VIEC emerged victorious on 21st September 2009 when Justice Indra Hariprashad-Charles handed down a judgment finding the approval of the Beef Island Project illegal. However, pressure to develop continues and also to extend the airport.
Integrated Development Planning
The Jost Van Dyke Preservation Society was established in 2004 for “the preservation of the history, cultural, land and marine environment, and heritage of the island as an example of the environmental, social evolution of small islands in the Caribbean.” With fewer than 300 inhabitants, this fourth largest of the inhabited BVI is 8 sq.km in size with the highest point at 321m. Following several centuries of agriculture and ranching, tourism has become the primary industry. The island receives an estimated 25,000+ visitors per year and the most frequent destination is Great Harbour. As one of the busiest ports in BVI, it clears nearly 7,000 boats annually. Despite this, much of the island’s environmental and cultural elements remain relatively untouched; its lifestyle seems less hurried and stressful than on more developed Caribbean islands. Yet the pressures for change and growth are also evident in new houses, roads and businesses.
The Society is currently completing work on two major initiatives. Firstly, the building of a 32 foot wooden island sloop and development of maritime heritage programme involving research and education. Secondly, a community-based programme advancing environmental protection and sustainable development, along with a number of public outreach activities. As a first step, an environmental profile was completed in September 2009 giving a comprehensive overview of the facts, challenges and opportunities for the island. Researched and produced by the Island Resources Foundation, the profile serves as a baseline document for all who are interested in the island and it provides an effective means to ensure that environmental issues are addressed in development planning. Progress reports on baseline research, local monitoring projects, marine environmental education and other initiatives can be found on the Society information centre site and regular newsletters.
Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation Measures
The BVI has approximately 150 sandy beaches across its collective coastline with 10-15 widely used due to their easy accessibility. Beaches are perhaps the most important tourist attraction, an important source of recreation for island residents and critical habitat for some species, especially marine turtles. Shorelines are significant areas as most of the Territory’s critical infrastructure, commercial activity and traditional villages have evolved in the narrow coastal zone where practically all flat land is concentrated. In the near-term, the primary climate change impact to beaches and the shoreline is more intense hurricanes and associated storm surges. Already, observations have shown an increase in the intensity of hurricanes in the Atlantic and, as the climate continues to warm, the region can expect a switch to more categories 4 and 5 hurricanes.
Over the long-term, sea level rise becomes a climate change impact of significant concern. By the end of the 21st Century, average global sea level is projected to rise between 0.19 – 0.58 metres (0.62 – 1.90 feet) relative to 1980 – 1999 levels. The implications of this are serious; it would mean that areas of beach and some low-lying areas of shoreline would be at risk of permanent inundation (flooding). As a regional reference, scientific research indicates that sea level rise of 0.5 metres (1.5 feet) could consume on average up to 32% of beach area in Bonaire with lower, narrower beaches being the most vulnerable. In addition, all coastal areas would be more prone to the effects of higher storm surges produced by stronger hurricanes. In this context Anegada, with a maximum height of just 5.5 metres (18 feet) above sea level, is particularly vulnerable and the long-term viability of such islands is questionable. Coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass meadows form a highly interdependent and valuable coastal and marine ecosystem network, all threatened by climate change. The local authorities have acknowledged the importance of these habitats and established areas devoted to the replanting of young mangrove shoots in the most severely damaged areas.
In August 2010, the BVI Dept of Conservation & Fisheries produced this comprehensive Climate Change Green Paper and ‘snapshot’ version to help the general public, stakeholders in affected sectors and policy makers learn more about the emerging issue of climate change, its projected impacts locally, likely vulnerabilities, adaptation options and capacity to respond. BVI also has its own Dept of Disaster Management that will seek to reduce loss of life and property attributable to disasters by ensuring that adequate preparedness and mitigation measures, and response and recovery mechanisms are established to counteract the impact of natural and technological hazards. The BVI National Geographic Information System also provides technical support for several projects.
The UK Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) has adopted a high-level strategic objective to provide advice and support to UK government departments, the 14 governments of the Overseas Territories and 3 Crown Dependencies and others on the implementation of Environment Charters, Multilateral Environmental Agreements and the UK government strategy on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in the OTs. This includes work on climate change adaptation, mitigation and ecosystem services. JNCC staff met representatives from the EU’s 7 Outermost Regions (ORS) and 21 Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) at the European Union and its Overseas Entities: Strategy to counter Climate Change and Biodiversity Loss conference, hosted on Reunion Island in July 2008. At this conference JNCC launched two short videos and a series of outreach materials focussed on climate change in the UKOTs with the substantial ones listed below:
Climate Change in the UKOTs. An Overview of Science, Policy and You
Guidance for Biodiversity Conservation and Management in a Changing Climate in the UKOTs
Climate Change Presentation