HOW FAR SHOULD DEVELOPERS GO IN THE BVI
Conservation issues surface as a huge resort is planned for Beef Island
Earlier this year, we were sent an interesting CD produced by the Conservation and Fisheries Department of The British Virgin Islands, along with the Association of Reef Keepers. This group of islanders are concerned by the new mega resorts planned and under construction in The BVI. Of particular concern is the hotel and marina development on Scrub Island and the huge proposed development on Beef Island. Both resorts are in areas of great natural beauty.
The Beef Island project, which was recently approved by The BVI Government, will apparently endanger the last intact wetland ecosystem in The BVI, outside Anegada. The inner marina will supposedly be excavated out of one of the salt ponds. Hans Creek and Bluff Bay are directly affected. They are considered one of the richest juvenile fish habitats in both The USVI and The BVI (some say the whole Caribbean). Ironically these bays are specifically designated a fisheries conservation area - a fact that seems to have been brushed aside by those trying to justify the project. The area is also important for certain bird migration and the sea turtles that presently lay their eggs on the beach. The $80 million, 5 star hotel and villa complex will be the largest development ever built in the BVI and will include 663 residential units, inner and outer 200 slip marinas (including 7 slips for megayachts) and a full size, 18 hole golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus. The latter, they claim, will almost certainly cause run off of chemicals into the sea, causing further damage, as seen in other island golf courses.
Hong Kong investor, Raymond Hung, has apparently opted for the '70s approach of simply leveling the land instead of trying to plan a sustainable development.
Unlike Beef Island, the Scrub Island project is already underway. An 87 unit hotel and 54 individual lots are planned on this previously uninhabited island, along with a 67 slip marina including at least one megayacht dock. The marina is directly upstream of a marine protected area and large piles of excavated soil lie only yards from a coral reef. The project was given government approval against the recommendations of the Conservation and Fisheries Department.
This CD is a well produced, sincere production, featuring many Virgin Islanders. Some are well known to charterers, such as the infamous 'Foxy' of Jost Van Dyke. You can view it online at www.documentary-film.net . Look for film Ref # 81 - you will have to register but there is no charge involved. The CD is much better quality and considerably less jerky so anyone interested should try to get a copy of the real thing.
They point out that there is no organization that can stand up to the BVI Government, which incidentally wants this project to go ahead very badly. Unlike their cousins in the USVI, they are not limited by departments such as the DEP. It will bring significant revenue to the area, jobs for local people and a considerable return for the landowners.
It's however, so easy to blame officials for not following our ideals. The BVI Government feel that their first responsibility is to their own people. They don't have to look very far to see what can go wrong. American free enterprise didn't work for most of the local people in nearby St. Thomas, who feel they got left behind when American investors first discovered the US Virgin Islands. Locals see cruise ship passengers spending more in one jewelry store in 30 minutes than they will earn in two years. It's not surprising that there is resentment and friction. It is vitally important that the BV Islander benefits and the government, though they are connected to Britain, is in a better position to make their own rules than St. Thomas, which is a small part of The US.
What The BVI Government seems to have overlooked is that these new mega-resorts will require huge amounts of imported labor, which will dilute the benefits to locals, as well as increase crime and affect important local culture.
It is also easy to criticize the local Tortolan's who own that land. Yes it has natural significance but basically it's scrub and not worth much to anyone - a tough sell. Along comes a huge corporation with the money to completely transform this scub land into a resort, and in the process, give the families of the local land owners more money than they have ever dreamed of. It's easy to preach, but most people would, I suspect, take the money and run.
I was lucky enough to live in Tortola in the early 70s, before the developers and tourists came. One thing we all used to talk about was how we hoped The BVI would take a long look at St. Thomas and not be tempted to make the same mistakes. It seems they have almost gone too far the other way in protecting local Tortolans, but it seems the end result for the land is unfortunately the same.
So what is right? How can The BVI Government run that fine line of helping their own people and filling their coffers while at the same time, safeguarding the beautiful and very fragile ecosystem, and keeping these beautiful islands from being over run by developers?
Progress is inevitable and never easy, and while I do feel it is to their credit that The BVI Government has tried to look after local interests, I am saddened by the huge surge of building and the apparent lack of long range planning. Local islanders have had little trouble getting building plans approved, with the result that Road Town is a haphazard mixture, but many might argue that this is part of it's charm. In the same vein, the new marinas could benefit chartering. The BVI is (and will be) one of the perfect places for a yacht charter vacation - it's the islanders, naturalists and divers that will be effected most by these decisions.
Like many other people, I am however encouraged to see for the first time, a significant number of local people coming out to show their concerns for some of these developments. Let's hope it's not too late to make a difference.
What do you think?
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