in the Caribbean
helped start it all.
The BVIs have been catching up quickly.
Bonaire's underwater preserve, considered a world-class model, surrounds the entire island from the high water mark to a depth of 60 meters, well beyond sport diving limits.
In addition, Bonaire was the first to use the mooring buoy system for dive boats. On land, Bonaire in 1979 created the 13,500-acre Washington-Slagbaai National Park that includes one-fifth of the total island.
However, some islands were considerably slower to enact any significant protection, which frustrated many conservationists including Jean-Michel Cousteau when he visited the British Virgin Islands in the 1980s.
He says “I lost hope about what the country was doing to itself back then. There were fish pots all over the place. These are nothing but on-going killing machines. And there weren't any boat moorings, so the reefs were being destroyed by anchors.”
Jean-Michel says he tried working with the BVI government to implement reef-saving measures but was rebuffed. Like other divers who can't stand to see a favorite playground ruined by indifference, he took his tanks elsewhere, vowing never to go back.
Yet Jean-Michel was prompted to return to the BVIs after many assurances that genuine conservation efforts were underway. He admits, “I was curious to see if there really had been a change of attitude. I'm glad I went back, because something definitely is happening there.”
Jean-Michel was so impressed he agreed to become a Trustee of the British Virgin Islands National Parks, USA, a group mostly of Americans with long-standing ties to the BVIs. Other Trustees include Winthrop Rockefeller, newsmen Walter Cronkite and Peter Jennings, author George Plimpton and actor Cliff Robertson.
J.C. Pierce, Trustees president, explains that all of the celebrity Trustees “don't want the BVIs to turn into another St. Thomas, and they're willing to give their time to prevent it.”
That translates into appearing at fundraising speeches and dinners or having time with them auctioned off, such as a tennis date with Peter Jennings.
Collected funds will support the BVI National Parks Trust, the official government body, which has earmarked 10 new locations to be added to the existing 20 national parks. Among these are the Anegada Nature Reserve—Horseshoe Reef; Copper Mine Point on Virgin Gorda; and Green Cay, Sandy Cay and Sandy Spit off Jost Van Dyke. The Trustees already are responsible for land donated to create two of the newest national parks: 19.6 acres of Cam Bay in the island of Great Camanoe, and 18.44 acres at Shark Bay at Anderson Point, Tortola.
The BVI's trustees approach directly addresses a main problem many islands face: The inability to cover the full cost of staffing, equipping and acquiring park areas. According to the World Commission on Protected Areas, relying on national trusts, non-government organizations and private resources are the Caribbean's most popular methods for managing conservation areas.