April 15, 2003 – A nonprofit research and education organization founded on St. Thomas in 1972 has received the highest award bestowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at the regional level, a 2003 EPA Environmental Quality Award.
Island Resources Foundation, "dedicated to solving the environmental problems of development in small tropical islands," in the words of its Web site, has had a part in nearly all of the environmental explorations, battles and successes that have taken place in the northern Virgin Islands since its founding.
The foundation has just been notified of its selection this year for the award, which is "for individuals and groups who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to protecting and enhancing environmental quality in EPA Region 2 (New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.)"
Jim Casey of EPA's St. Thomas office made the nomination. Award recipients can be not-for-profit organizations, environmental and community groups, environmental education and business organizations, members of the news media and individuals.
"This is a great honor for Island Resources Foundation, which is one of the Caribbean's oldest environmental non-governmental organizations," or NGO's, Bruce Potter, IRF president, said. "The recognition is a well-deserved tribute to the energy and spirit of Ed Towle, our founding president and chairman."
Dr. Edward L. Towle made the Virgin Islands community his home when he became director of the Caribbean Research Institute at the then-College of the Virgin Islands in 1967. He remained in that position, nurturing natural scientists, historians, student publications and marine archaeologists doing V.I. research, until 1972, when he left to found Island Resources Foundation.
Continuing the nurturing of scientists and researchers at IRF throughout his long tenure at its head, he segued from president to board chair in 1998.
"One of Ed's major themes for the foundation in 1972," Potter said, was the need to use science to empower local communities to define, promote, and protect their own environmental heritage. "With the help of legions of local supporters over the years, we have consistently tried to be true to that premise," Potter said.
Among IRF's strong supporters over the years: Henry Wheatley; legal counsel and board secretary Charles Consolvo; UVI President LaVerne Ragster; Dr. Henry Jarecki of the British Virgin Islands; and Trudi Prior at Coral World, which houses a new NGO information center.
"Over the last 30 years," Potter noted, "The government of the Virgin Islands has been a strong partner for the foundation. The partnership has not always been serene, but it has been productive and stimulating, and we are extremely grateful to EPA for this recognition of the productivity of this long-standing relationship."
The foundation has looked far beyond the Virgin Islands in its quest to solve the particular problems of small islands. It has worked with a number of United Nations agencies, researched and prepared environmental profiles for six Caribbean nations, and conducted environmental work for a number of islands in the Eastern Pacific and in the Indian Ocean. The EPA award is for its activities in the U.S. Virgin Islands
The award will be presented by EPA officials at a ceremony at the agency's regional headquarters in New York City on April 24.
Excerpts from EPA award nomination
"For many, tropical islands evoke idyllic visions of clear turquoise water, white sand beaches lined with swaying coconut palms, and exotic fauna and flora. While this is often true, there is another reality. Small islands are just that — small and insular. Lacking continental capacity for dealing with the growing pains associated with increasing development pressure, small islands require special attention. Fortunately, more than three decades ago, a visionary with the foresight to recognize the unique and fragile characteristics of insular areas formed a foundation to address these issues. Island Resources Foundation is that organization and Dr. Ed Towle is the man behind its vision.
"Since 1972, the mission of Island Resources Foundation has been to 'assist small island states, especially those in the Caribbean, to meet the challenges of social, economic and institutional growth while protecting and enhancing the environment.' A nonprofit research and education operating foundation incorporated in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Island Resources Foundation funds its activities through a combination of grants, contracts, memberships, and unrestricted donations."
Among the foundation's infrastructure and activities discussed in the nomination:
– "A network of 75 program associates who demonstrate superior technical skills and small island working and consulting skills," more than half of them natives or current or former residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
– Support for more than 50 interns.
– "Small island reference libraries in St. Thomas, in Tortola, and in Washington, D.C."
– "The foundation's content-rich Web site." IRF "also moderates 24 free electronic mail lists enrolling several thousand Caribbean environmentalists."
– A list of more than 150 publications.
– The chartering in 1982 of VIRMC, a multi-institutional "cooperative" of public and private institutions in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico which resulted in collaborative research studies which are available on a United Nations Environmental Programme Web site.
– Research assistance to the V.I. National Park.
– "Programs related to the historic and cultural resources of the territory." These include "All-Ah-We," an oral history student publication; teacher training materials for the V.I. Education Department; and marine archaeological and cultural resource surveys throughout the territory at sites scheduled for major dredging or harbor development.
– Publication of studies of perceptions about hurricane hazards and commercial and recreational fishers, a video series on career education choices, offshore sand mining studies, and seagrass transplantation.
– Comprehensive land-use surveying and mapping of the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1989.
In conclusion, the nomination stated:
"For more than 30 years, IRF has sought to promote and secure funding for programs that protect and enhance the development options of small islands in the Caribbean. The foundation has combined many disciplines, people and institutional partners in an attempt to understand the constraints of insular environments, to define the special problems and concerns of those living within insular communities and to identify solutions sensitive to insular imperatives. This type of thoughtful planning and strategizing is the only hope we have for preserving the idyllic island environment that we as humankind have come to appreciate."
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