86.8 F
Cruz Bay
Saturday, December 9, 2023


In the waning days of the Clinton administration, outgoing Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has recommended to the president that thousands of acres of V.I. reef ecosystem be given national monument status.
On Friday, Babbitt, who last visited the Virgin Islands in September, sent his list of five monument designations to Clinton. For the territory it would mean the expansion of St. Croix’s Buck Island Reef National Monument and would give greater protection to about 12,500 acres of submerged lands north and south of St. John.
The areas, which are already owned by the federal government, would establish "no-take" zones for fishing. Overfishing's effects on coral reefs were a prime concern of Babbitt during his visit to Buck Island in September.
At Buck Island, the protective boundary around the island will be pushed out farther from its encircling and unique barrier reef, the sole reason the area was made a monument by President John F. Kennedy.
While two-thirds of Buck Island is a no-take marine garden, fishing is taking place right on the monument’s doorstep, according to U.S. Park Service officials.
At St. John, home of the Virgin Islands National Park, the 12,500-acre area includes "all the elements of a Caribbean tropical marine ecosystem," the Interior Department said, including mangroves, sea grass beds and coral reefs.
According to the Associated Press, Babbitt's action Friday does not ensure that the areas will be given monument status, though Clinton has not turned down any of Babbitt’s 11 monument recommendations so far.
Although critics – including President-elect George W. Bush – of the administration’s monument designations have called the moves federal land grabs, they acknowledge that overturning the acts in Congress would be difficult.
Babbitt’s move to protect U.S. coral reefs falls in line with the administration’s effort to further protect coral reef resources and fish spawning areas as part of President Clinton's Coral Reef Initiative.
It also plays a part in the memorandum of understanding signed by Babbitt and Gov. Charles W. Turnbull more than a year ago that contained language aimed at protecting the territory’s natural resources because of their tourism value. The memorandum set forth a plan to establish a V.I. Conservation Fund to provide money for protection efforts. The fund, however, has yet to be established.
Along with the areas in the Virgin Islands, Babbitt proposed national monuments in:
– The Upper Missouri River Breaks, 377,000 acres along 149 miles of the river in north-central Montana.
– Pompeys Pillar, a 150-foot sandstone outcropping along the Yellowstone River east of Billings, Mont. Capt. William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition carved his name in the pillar in 1805, leaving the only remaining archaeological evidence of the journey.
– Carrizo Plain, 204,000 acres of rolling grasslands between San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield, Calif. The area is home to wildlife including several endangered species, several American Indian sacred sites and a portion of the San Andreas Fault.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.