Jan. 15, 2003 – St. Croix's fisheries will get a boost once management of the East End Marine Park, approved last week by the governor, is implemented.
On Friday, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull signed into law a measure establishing as protected areas all territorial waters from the western tip of Chenay Bay and out three nautical miles around to the western tip of Great Pond Bay.
As early as 1960, the U.S. Department of the Interior had recommended that the area be designated a natural reserve.
"At the inception of my administration in 1999," Turnbull said in a release, "I set a goal to establish a marine park in the territory for the long-term management of our unique and significant marine resources for all the people of the Virgin Islands." The 24th Legislature unanimously passed the marine park bill on Dec. 23 in its last session, authorizing the Coastal Zone Management Commission to set up the preservation area.
The East End Marine Park Management Plan was pieced together for CZM by The Nature Conservancy, a national environmental group. The draft of the plan must undergo a public hearing process before it is finalized.
The plan is for the first leg of a larger V.I. Marine Park Systems Plan that seeks to protect sensitive habitats from damaging activities, restricts intensive uses to sites that can sustain them, and separates incompatible uses to avoid conflicts.
Buck Island National Monument lies within the park but will remain under federal jurisdiction. The boundaries encompass an area of about 60 square miles and 17 miles of shoreline, according to the plan, with four use-zones to be designated: open fishing, recreational, no-take and turtle wildlife preserve. All but the open fishing areas are intended to ensure the protection of park resources.
"Each of these zone types is designed to reduce damage to resources and threats to environmental quality, while allowing uses that are compatible with resource protection," the plan states. "The zones will protect habitats and species by limiting consumptive and/or conflicting user activities and allowing resources to evolve in a natural state, with minimum human influence."
In the no-take areas, located primarily along the coastline, commercial and recreational fishing and jet skiing will not be permitted, but swimming, diving and boating will be allowed. The no-take designation is intended to protect near-shore environments including coastal mangrove stands, seagrass beds, lagoonal patch reefs and barrier reefs.
The recreational areas would permit catch-and-release fishing and bait-fish collection and swimming, snorkeling and diving.
The usage areas can be modified as the marine park habitats are monitored.
Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett has said the plan is intended to meet the federal mandates of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, of which the Virgin Islands is a member. The task force aimed to protect at least 5 percent of all coral reefs and associated habitat types in each major U.S. island group and Florida by 2002, and to extend that protection to at least 10 percent by 2005 and at least 20 percent by 2010, Plaskett said.
Implementing the plan is anticipated to cost about $5 million over the first five years. The annual operating expense is estimated at $850,000, with a first-year cost of about $1.6 million.
Nearly $800,000 in federal grant funding has been identified for the first two years, leaving a funding gap of $4.2 million over five years. Several local agencies within DPNR were recommended to foot about $860,000 of that gap.
The plan suggests the collecting of a $5 tourist tax from every visitor to the territory, generating about $9 million per year. No method of collecting that tax was outlined in the draft plan, which also says long-term funding could come from the leasing of mooring buoys and from fishing and diving licenses.
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