Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change
Premier's Office
Release Date:
Wednesday, 14 June 2023 - 3:45pm





Good morning to all!

I extend a warm Virgin Islands welcome to the visiting teams from the United Kingdom (UK), including the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). I also extend greetings and thanks to our local partners for being part of this important conversation towards a framework for a new Overseas Territories Biodiversity Strategy.

As you know, you are here to discuss priorities for biodiversity and nature conservation based on a shared vision for biodiversity in the Virgin Islands. One of the downsides of being Premier is that you often don’t get to sit around the table with technical officers and people on the ground to be a part of these interesting conversations at the granular level, which I very much hope to change.

 So, I’m going to take this opportunity of opening remarks to share my vision for biodiversity and what I think are some of the requirements and priorities to get there.

To do so, allow me to take you back a bit to my grandfather’s days. Back then, we didn’t have as much formal knowledge, data or tools related to our environment, yet somehow, we managed to get it basically right. You only had to go to the shoreline and throw a line to get a healthy catch to feed the family.

Coral reefs were teeming with life. Mangroves fringed large segments of Tortola’s southern coastline and salt ponds dotted across the islands, filtering any runoff, keeping coastal waters pristine and preventing flooding. Beaches faced a fairly low level of threat. People utilised the environment and natural resources, of course, but it was done in a manner, and at a level, that demonstrated an understanding and respect for nature and allowed for a balance and marriage of nature and development.

We got it basically right because the environment and biodiversity conservation were not abstract concepts but a reality to supporting our subsistence economy and way of life. We got it basically right because the culture, the society recognised that environment and biodiversity management were not a ‘government’ responsibility but a ‘people’ responsibility.

My vision for biodiversity in the Virgin Islands is simple: A Virgin Islands where biodiversity and human society can once again co-exist and each can thrive through a reciprocal relationship where, on our part, biodiversity is respected and protected through careful management, for its intrinsic value and its critical services to society.

So, how do we get there?                     

  • We have to stop seeing ourselves as separate from the environment and biodiversity, but a part of it – part of the ecosystem of life that must remain in balance. We are dependent on nature, and nature’s health is largely dependent on us.
  • We have to move away from the modern way of thinking that says biodiversity and environment matters are only the business of the people who work at the Ministry or the people in the environment sector more broadly.
  • We have to move away from the thinking which says we are making a choice between protecting the environment and preserving biodiversity or developing our economy. We have to get to a place of understanding that the sustainable and lasting development of our economy requires and depends on protecting the environment and preserving biodiversity and that there are indeed easy ways to do both at the same time.
  • We have to see every dollar spent on environment and biodiversity protection as an investment that will create multiplied revenue and other benefits, as it indeed does, as opposed to an unreturned expense

Those simple shifts in philosophy will be transformative. In fact, if we truly embrace these new, ‘old’ and wise ways of thinking and allow them to influence all of our high-level policy and day-to-day decisions, we would achieve quantum leaps and our target on any priority issue set as a result of this consultation can become reality. 

From my standpoint, some of those priorities are:

  1. Coral reef restoration;
  2. Mangrove restoration;
  3. Beach management;
  4. Expanded and up-scaled monitoring and protection of endangered species, such as the Anegada Rock Iguana and Virgin Islands Boa;
  5. Monitoring and protection of sea birds and marine mammals;
  6. Expanded marine protected areas that will in return help to boost our fisheries sector and promote the Blue Economy;
  7. Sargassum management;
  8. Reducing and recycling waste, especially plastic waste, which often ends up in the environment where it is very harmful to biodiversity;
  9. Development of more economic opportunities tied to nature and biodiversity to help take us back to our roots of seeing the environment and biodiversity as necessary and directly linked to supporting our way of life;
  10. Comprehensive environmental management legislation; and
  11. Sustainable financing mechanisms for environmental management and biodiversity conservation.

In most speeches I’ve made since being re-elected and serving as Premier, I’ve made a point to stress the importance of the environment portfolio under my leadership. I’ll repeat again that the environment will be a critical part of the agenda over the next four years. In fact, it’s my goal to spark an ‘Environmental Revolution’ that will serve the present generations and ensure that those to come have a rich natural inherence to continue to depend on.

So, as you discuss and agree a biodiversity vision and priorities, I challenge you to be practical, but bold and future-thinking in your ambitions and aspirations.

Think about not just the present but future generations. Think about working in partnerships versus in silos. Think about opportunities and solutions over challenges. Think big and connected and not limited and fragmented.

I hope that these thoughts would serve as a useful launching pad for your discussions. I wish you a successful workshop and look forward to the Biodiversity Strategy that will ultimately result, and more importantly to supporting its implementation.

Before I end, allow me to recognise, the very kind assistance of the United Kingdom’s Government through its various agencies such as DEFRA, or initiatives such as the Darwin fund which the BVI has benefited from.

Let me certainly express my very profound appreciation.  We recognised that most of the Biodiversity in the United Kingdom is in the overseas Territories, and certainly, we appreciate the significance and importance ascribed to Biodiversity in the BVI, as we have a wealth of it, and we are doing all that we can to ensure that we preserve it, protect and promote it.

Thank you very much, and wish you a very successful workshop.