The National Parks Trust’s 50th anniversary is an opportune time to recognise the organisation’s many accomplishments while recommitting to expanding and improving upon them.
The NPT has done much good work for the territory since it was established in 1961. That year, Joseph Reynold O’Neal worked with United States philanthropist Laurance Rockefeller to set aside Virgin Islands land for conservation purposes. With Mr. O’Neal as founding chairman, the trust soon began planning a system of protected areas.
Fifty years later, the NPT has come a long way. Today, it manages 21 national parks and helps protect and restore populations of native species, among other responsibilities.
This work is exceedingly important, especially considering the territory’s rapid development in the past three decades. Residents’ quality of life is greatly enhanced by access to unspoiled natural areas. The tourism industry benefits, too: National parks like The Baths, Sage Mountain and others have proved extremely popular attractions for visitors.
However, these protected areas must not be taken for granted. As environmental pressures mount, the territory should jealously guard its protection mechanisms.
The dangers of carelessness in this regard were highlighted by the recent appeals court ruling invalidating the Hans Creek, Beef Island, fisheries protected area. We are glad that amended rules appear to remedy this problem, and hope that the VI will learn a lesson from the hiccup.
Moving forward, one important yardstick is the 10-year Protected Area System Plan tabled in the House of Assembly in March 2008. That document — which covers efforts by the NPT, Conservation and Fisheries, and Town and Country Planning — is a comprehensive and well-considered strategy designed to protect the territory’s natural resources for a sustainable future.
To that end, the document includes many sound recommendations:
• creating new protected areas in locations such as Smugglers Cove;
• assessing the carrying capacity of the most heavily used protected areas to better plan for the future; and
• providing adequate funding to allow the NPT and other agencies to properly manage protected areas, to name a few.
Such recommendations should be carefully considered, and incorporated into the territory’s policy-making process at all levels — particularly as the new government starts work on the tourism plan it has promised.
These efforts will be key to ensuring that the NPT’s next 50 years are as fruitful as its first.
See the original article at the Beacon website.