ST THOMAS, USVI -- Governor John de Jongh has informed the prime minister of Grenada, Dr Keith Mitchell, "with great pride" that the United States Virgin Islands has endorsed the Caribbean Challenge Initiative (CCI) and is prepared to sign the CCI Leaders Declaration. The CCI was launched in 2008, with the support of The Nature Conservancy, in order to promote greater regional leadership in protecting and preserving the Caribbean's coastlines and harbors.
By endorsing the CCI, the US Virgin Islands commits to conserving at least 20 percent of marine and coastal environments in national marine protected systems by 2020, and to creating a conservation trust fund dedicated solely to the management of the protected systems. Countries and jurisdictions that are already participating in the CCI are Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Governor John de Jongh
De Jongh stated in his letter to Mitchell, who was co-host of the summit of Caribbean political and business leaders held in May of 2013, that attendance at the summit gave the government of the US Virgin Islands "an opportunity to see the alignment of the CCI's regional initiative alongside our own ambitions for conservation, effective management and innovative financing."
He mentioned that the "USVI has made significant progress towards the conservation of our marine and coastal environment" since the summit. Currently the territory meets the requirements to protect 20 percent of marine ecosystems through "existing federally and locally-managed national monuments, marine parks, marine reserves and sanctuaries."
He remarked, "We know that more effort is needed in this area and anticipate that participation in the CCI can assist the territory to overcome resource challenges to providing effective management of our coastal areas."
The governor publicly supported the CCI in November 2013 at the 30th meeting of the US Coral Reef Task Force.
In the July 30 letter, he wrote, "During my public announcement endorsing the CCI, I committed the territory to creating a new US Virgin Islands Parks and Protected Area System and to collaborate with key partners on this endeavor. To date, we have partnered with The Nature Conservancy on marine protected area management and sustainable finance planning."
As was done in 2013 on St Croix, de Jongh will join other governors on the All-islands Committee (AIC) at the 32nd meeting of the task force to be held in Maui, Hawaii. There, he and the other governors will continue to seek support of the Task Force for the AIC's opposition to the listing of additional coral species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
The AIC is urging NMFS to reconsider its initial position for listing additional species, and support more on the ground management efforts that have been building within each of the local jurisdictions, such as the Caribbean Challenge Initiative. The AIC is also seeking the reauthorization of the Coral Reef Conservation Act with more dedicated funding to the jurisdictions, which will support objectives outlined as part of the Caribbean Challenge.
Additional commitments made by the US Virgin Islands for the Caribbean Challenge Initiative include: continue the USVI Coral Reef Initiative for sustainable management and protection of coral reef ecosystems and fisheries; accelerate the transition to alternative energy sources and reach a goal of 60 percent reduction in fossil fuel-based consumption by 2025; and increase enforcement of protected areas.
Karl Knight, director of the Virgin Islands Energy Office, will be the US Virgin Islands lead for the CCI.
In conclusion, the governor stated, "The United States Virgin Islands welcomes the opportunity to collaborate on initiatives which will safeguard the Caribbean region's marine and coastal environment for the betterment of all."