Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour
Release Date:
Friday, 5 June 2015 - 1:30pm



Friday June 5, 2015

‘The welfare of the environment is our mandate’

It gives me great pleasure to deliver the 2015 World Environment Day Address for this World Environment Day. World Environment Day was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972, and first celebrated in 1973.  Since then it has been hosted each year by different cities and it serves as a period in which several initiatives are introduced and implemented or others may be recognized for their sustainable benefit to our region. 

In June of 1990 the Conservation and Fisheries Department (CFD) under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour joined in the celebration as an incentive to help reach its long-term goal of sustainability; CFD decided to extend the celebration throughout the entire month of June to better capture this unique experience and inspire proactive measures to sustain our growth within the context of environmental integrity within the territory.  This year under the theme: “Celebrating 25 Years of Environmental Education through Sustainable Development and Cultural Preservation,” we will be leading our local community into a year-long celebration as we recognize that our progression relies on the impartation of knowledge to our people about the importance of the environment.  We believe that this theme embraces the core value of our mission and requires action and dedication for improved environmental stewardship and a more balanced way of developing which adds value to our lives and is beneficial while ensuring environmental integrity.

The welfare of the environment is our mandate and over the years the environment has significantly changed. In order to ensure sustainability in the use of our natural resources the solutions we conceive today must be long lasting, which must especially minimize waste and maximize our conservation efforts.  Enhancing our efforts to become more sustainable will be encouraged through an interaction between humanity and its environment over time, which embraces innovation and conscientious decision making taking into account the limits of acceptable change.  Environmental sustainability is the key to preserving the natural environment for the future.  We rebuild our environmental stewardship core values developed over time.  The Conservation and Fisheries Department has strategically introduced public awareness to enhance our understanding of the ecosystems of importance to our survival and the continued need for the preservation of its natural resources. 

Over the past twenty five (25) years the state of our environment has been broadcast in the media throughout the BVI.  We are improving the framework for the sustainable use of our natural resources through the implementation of laws, regulations and policies which are put in place to better conserve our resources and prevent the habitual destruction of our coral reefs, mangroves and salt ponds.  The Conservation and Fisheries Department and the National Parks Trust have continued in their programme of replanting mangroves throughout the Territory and we are observing the fruits of their continued efforts .

Since 1997 the Virgin Islands Fisheries Act, was established to make provision for the promotion, management and conservation of fisheries and its resources and all other associated matters. Five years later, to complement the 1997 Act, the Fisheries Regulations were put in place to support and ensure the sustainable use of our fishery resources.  Our laws and regulations have been employed to foster and better develop our economic sector of fishing. 

Other useful territorial policies are increasingly addressing our need to adapt to the possible threats within our Virgin Islands and the world namely: Climate Change.

After a period of consultation with our partners, stakeholders and the public, we devised a strategy which would aim to assist the Territory to adapt to the adverse effects of Climate Change.  We believe above all that through education and awareness we will sensitise the Territory to the need of not only protection of vital areas but to transform our society to reduce fossil fuels and increase the use of alternative sources of energy.  The Climate Change Adaptation Policy, which was approved in place in 2012, will assist the necessary transformation required to augment our efforts to conserve the environment, whose protection is integral to our economic and social well being, as we address Climate Change.  The conservation of our natural resources is not something solely for environmentalists.  Our livelihoods depend on intact, healthy and vibrant natural communities such as coral reefs, mangroves and salt ponds.  A milestone was achieved in 2015, with the passage of the Climate Change Trust Fund Act.  The establishment of the Trust Fund will facilitate in raising funds to better adapt to Climate Change and manage our environment. 

I am pleased to announce the establishment of a coral replanting programme in keeping with our theme of cooperation and collective action to safeguard the environment.  Government has partnered with the Association of Reef Keepers (ARK), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), dive companies and the private sector to put in place a few nurseries from which we will rehabilitate the reefs, which may be in need.  Additionally, the coral reef nurseries will store precious fragments which can be used immediately after a hurricane may have ravaged an area or to restore those sites which may have been inadvertently damaged after boat groundings.   This technique has been employed elsewhere in the region and is beginning to bear fruits. We anticipate that this programme will greatly improve the current status of the Territory’s reefs.

The fishing industry is a vibrant and important sector, which continues to require Government’s action to foster the environment where it may continue to thrive.  The Conservation and Fisheries Department and the Ministry of Natural Resources & Labour have met with fishermen to further enhance the framework for continued growth in the sector.  Amendments to the Fisheries Act, which are envisaged for later in the year, will be based on the feedback received from stakeholders within the industry. 

One aspect however, which continues to hinder the growth of the fishing industry and which has resulted in environmental impacts is the presence of ghost traps – those traps which may have been lost and which may remain along the seafloor indiscriminately catching and killing fish.  Their constant movement as a result of ocean waves has been creates havoc on the coral reefs. The Ministry in partnership with colleagues from the UK will be undertaking the removal of ghost traps from out Territory’s waters to ensure the continued vibrancy of the sector and prevent further deterioration to our fish stocks.

Protected Areas fill a vital and critical role in ensuring that the natural resources that we depend on for food, recreation and our well-being are maintained in a manner that will ensure that those benefits are enjoyed and shared by not only current but future generations.  In order to ensure a sustainable supply of fish stock, protect our reefs, reduce anchor damage and reduce deforestation of our hillsides, we must protect our waters and our lands. Protection of natural and historical areas makes not only environmental but economic sense.  These areas are part of the engines that fuel our tourist economy and provide many other benefits to our Territory.  The Ministry has consulted with various stakeholders regarding the proposals for protection of areas on Anegada, Jost Van Dyke and Virgin Gorda. Additionally, it is vitally important to also protect Smugglers Cove and Belmont and Long Bay Beach Beef Island that are considered ecologically fragile and are important areas for recreation and biodiversity.

It is important to highlight the fact that our actions to conserve natural resources must be founded on the solid foundation of a legal framework that will ensure our right to a clean and healthy environment.  The Ministry and the Conservation and Fisheries Department along with other Ministries and Departments of Government have diligently worked on a Natural Resources and Climate Change Bill with the assistance of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Commission and the European Union’s Global Climate Change Alliance. This bill will address the overall management of the environment in relation to biodiversity conservation and the control of pollution and hazardous materials. The bill shall ensure that development and the vital economic sector of tourism are fostered in balance with the need to protect and ensure the viability of our precious natural environment.

The natural environment is not separate and distinct entity to us.  Nature and the environment are important to our economic survival and our well-being.  This Environment Day we celebrate 25 years of observance in the Territory.  We must realize that the environment is very much intertwined with everything that we do.  Let us observe this Environment Day by celebrating the beauty of our islands and ensuring that our children may enjoy a clean and healthy environment which will support the continued development of our Virgin Islands.

God bless you and may God continue to bless these Virgin Islands.