Reinvigorating the Blue Economy
- January 5th, 2021
- in Environment
With 35,000 residents, the BVI is a small community with a lot of ocean to look after. The islands of the BVI measure 154 km2 (59 miles2). Yet its territorial waters extend over an area nearly 100 times that of its islands. Ninety per cent of the BVI is blue, and its people are inseparably connected with the sea. The sea provides transportation, drinking water, food, recreation, and wealth through tourism. Also from the sea comes the threat of climate change.
Climate change has hit hard in the Caribbean islands. Even before the shocking damage wrought by a parade of category 5 hurricanes between 2017 and 2019, the Caribbean has contended with ever-increasing impacts of global climate change—warming oceans, dying coral reefs, intensifying rainfall and flooding events, increasingly frequent African dust clouds, and massive intrusion of Sargassum seaweed. These impacts are compounded by the environmental effects of human activities, including disposing of solid wastes and sewage, introducing pests and invasive species, over-fishing, chronic boat anchoring, and elevated tourism traffic within sensitive natural areas.
Confronted with these complex and rapidly accelerating challenges, the BVI is taking strategic action to defend its coastal communities, and diversify its marine-based economy. Not only is it rebuilding hurricane-damaged infrastructure, but the BVI is also strengthening its natural and economic resilience by embracing a new concept in global environmental economics—the Blue Economy.
At the 2012 Rio+20 Summit, small island developing states (SIDS) helped define ways to improve human well-being and social equity while working to reduce environmental risks and ecological scarcities in their unique island/coastal settings. This charted the course for the Blue Economy model. For the BVI, Blue Economy means expanding marine-based economic opportunities that integrate environmental stewardship. Such opportunities require a skilled workforce, and the BVI’s H. Lavity Stoutt Community College (HLSCC) has positioned itself to deliver through its Division of Workforce Training’s Centre for Applied Marine Studies (CAMS).
HLSCC’s Centre for Applied Marine Studies (CAMS), with substantial support from the BVI government, private philanthropists, and local businesses launched a new boot-camp-style marine training programme in 2019. And in 2020, HLSCC laid the groundwork for a complementary environmental programme that specifically addresses marine sustainability and research needs identified by the BVI’s Blue Economy Roadmap of 2019. HLSCC has restored two scientific laboratories at CAMS to serve as the BVI’s centre for marine water quality testing and for coastal restoration. The latter is supported by a new facility for culturing red mangroves.
This mangrove nursery is a community-based facility that delivers intensive training through internships and volunteer programmes, engages the wider community through public outreach and youth education, and supplies mangrove seedlings for community-based restoration. It was funded in 2020 by grants from Unite BVI, The Falconwood Foundation, and Seven Seas, and its activities were made possible with the support of generous partners, especially the BVI’s Ministry of Natural Resources, Labour, and Immigration, Rotary and Rotaract, local environmental groups such as the Jost van Dyke Preservation Society and the BVI National Parks Trust, and marine businesses like BVI Commercial Dive Services.
In its initial six months, at the same time the territory struggled with pandemic lock-downs and associated economic hardship, the CAMS Mangrove Nursery trained nine early-career interns and five high-school volunteers, engaged more than 50 youth from local summer camps and nearly 100 adult volunteers, produced more than 2,000 Red Mangrove seedlings, and started restoration plantings at five prioritized wetlands across the BVI.
Why a mangrove nursery when our goal is to build coastal resilience to climate change? Mangrove wetlands have always provided a natural defence by stabilizing coastlines, sheltering boats during storms, and regulating floodwaters. They also provide ecological services critical for sustaining marine water quality, fisheries, bird populations, and coral reef ecosystems that together underpin the BVI’s fisheries and tourism economy. The BVI lost nearly all of its Red Mangrove trees in hurricane Irma. In some wetlands, the mangroves are slowly growing back, but in others, they are not. The BVI government and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have mapped and prioritized areas in which mangroves need our help. As we face the challenges of climate change, restoring mangroves provides an ecosystem-based, adaptive solution that defends coastal communities against flooding, seawater inundation, and erosion.
The BVI Government has drafted well-planned strategies for adapting to climate change as specified in the draft Environmental Management and Climate Change Adaptation Bill, 2019, the National Development Plan draft, 2019, and the Virgin Islands Strategic Blue Economy Roadmap 2020-2025, 2019). These documents lay out the BVI’s priorities for climate adaptation, and HLSCC is delivering on the following four:
- Reinforcing coastlines and increasing the BVI’s resilience to climate change
- Accelerating mangrove recovery and regaining ecological and economic benefits from existing wetland habitats
- Engaging communities to protect coastal ecosystems
- Developing capacity and innovating methods for ecosystem-based climate adaptation
HLSCC’s Workforce Training Division is integrating environmental actions into its training and outreach programmes to teach people how to care for our coastlines and integrate environmental sustainability into their work and businesses. This Division provides opportunities in Marine Training via its Marine Professional Training (MPT) programming and STCW certification, and it also offers programming in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Training and Technical studies (construction and architectural drawing). The Division for Workforce Training strives to develop customized professional training to respond to industry and community training needs, with the Blue Economy initiative representing an important new focus that will impact a broad range of industries. With continued support from our wider BVI community, HLSCC looks to expand its environmental management programmes to serve the BVI’s entrepreneurs and workforce as our Blue Economy develops.