Protect the British Virgin Islands Marine Area From Development

Beef Island is an ecologically important area in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) complete with live corals (including the endangered Elkhorn Coral), one of the most important mangrove systems, precious salt ponds and the Hans Creek Lagoon System - all integral parts of the island's ecosystem and local fishing economy. Rare and elusive species of wildlife, including Caribbean roseate flamingos and West Indian whistling-ducks, depend on Beef Island habitat for their survival. But a planned five-star hotel, marina and golf course are threatening the existence of this world treasure!

The Virgin Islands Environmental Council is taking legal action to stop the development and to ensure that the government adheres to the procedures set forth in law. Help protect this world treasure today by telling BVI Premier Ralph T. O'Neal that the health of marine ecosystems is important to you!
Dear Rt. Hon. Ralph T. O'Neal, Premier of the British Virgin Islands,

I am very concerned about threats to the marine environment around Beef Island on the British Virgin Islands.

Beef Island boasts important dry tropical forest, and mangroves that are integrated with sea grass, salt ponds and coral reef habitats. The ecosystem of Hans Creek Lagoon, a marine protected area, is crucial for sustaining viable fisheries around Beef Island and throughout the territory. The proposed hotel, marina and golf course complex would destroy this world-class treasure.

Beef Island has the most important mangrove ecosystem in the BVI, second in acreage only to far-flung Anegada. All of Tortola's nine mangrove ecosystems have already been decimated or destroyed by development. Mangrove systems provide nurseries for hatchling birds and juvenile fish, homes for lobster and conch and feeding grounds for waders and waterfowl.

Destruction of the Beef Island ecosystem will be a devastating blow to both the fishing and the tourist industries. The whole ecosystem is important ecologically and economically to both these cornerstones of the BVI's success.

Researchers have found up to 80% of all commercially important fish species live in Hans Creek. No other area has such a high recorded diversity. It is a hugely important nursery habitat which supplies other parts of the BVI with big fish.

BVI legislation recognizes the importance of the environment. The problem is holding the government accountable and enforcing these laws. International confidence in the BVI's decision-making process has been shaken by several contraventions of the Planning Act. These form the basis of the Virgin Islands Environmental Council's challenge.

For example, the Planning Act says that a development has to obey all written laws in the territory, and the Fisheries Regulations says that: "No person shall carry out any development activity, which may or is likely to adversely impact on a marine protected area." Yet the proposed development will devastate Hans Creek Marine Protected Area.

Additionally, I am gravely concerned about the Development Agreements that pre-agreed planning permission, and the Order that was passed to allow the Minister alone to approve all developments exceeding USD10m in value.

I urge you to review these decisions urgently. An agreement to revisit the process at this stage, as called for by VIEC, would ensure that worldwide confidence is restored in the BVI decision-making process.

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