July 22, 2004 – What stress on the environment does the concentrated camping on East End beaches during the Easter holidays cause? Are regulations on the harvesting of juvenile conch enforced? How can jet skis be used along the shoreline? And where should restrooms and parking lots be placed?
These were just a few of the questions discussed by 15 people at the Education Department Curriculum Center Thursday on St. Croix at a public meeting held to consider strategies for enhancing marine resources in the East End Marine Park.
William Rohring of the Planning and Natural Resources Department gave an overview of the three-year plan in effect now. He also specifically addressed one area of concern — land-based sources of pollution.
Marcia Taylor presented priorities and goals for making the public aware of the marine park and its value.
Michelle Pugh gave an overview of potential recreational uses of the park.
The park came into existence in January of last year when Gov. Charles W. Turnbull signed legislation establishing as protected areas all territorial waters from the western tip of Chenay Bay out three nautical miles around to the western tip of Great Pond Bay. The boundaries encompass an area of about 60 square miles including 17 miles of shoreline. (See "East End Park Will Just Be the Beginning".)
The land-based pollution issue prompted some discussion, but it was mostly technical. Residents wanted to know the best way of determining water quality, the rules on boats discharging waste into the water and how to determine runoff pollution.
Rohring said a scientist will take core samples to trace the history of pollution in the area. Members of the audience said that residents had set up sediment traps that would be helpful in determining runoff pollution.
When the discussion turned to education about the park and its recreational use, speakers seemed to become more involved.
There were questions about how camping is affecting the park. William Tobias said more people are camping longer each spring. "I remember when they would pick out a good spot a couple days before Easter," he said. "Now they start camping a couple weeks before Easter and stay a couple weeks after."
Several people said that during the camping season juvenile sea life is being harvested illegally and eaten.
Tobias said, "I don't see how that activity can go on. It is contrary to the mandate of the park."
Rohring said marine park officials cannot regulate activities on land. However, he said, the park could partner with another agency that does have regulatory power on land in order to make sure regulations are enforced.
Pugh said that determining the historic and current uses of the park by vessels should be a priority in the planning stage. "Who is using it now, and who will be using it in the future?" she asked.
Another priority is determining where waste-disposal facilities for those using the park's shorelines should be placed. It was suggested that the group also look into more parking areas. Pugh agreed that was a good idea. "People now just park wherever they want to park," she said.
Taylor listed three goals to make local people and visitors aware of the resources of the marine park:
– Integrate coral reef education into the schools.
– Promote local understanding of the value of coral reefs.
– Increase coral reef education for visitors through hotels and cruise ships.
Marilyn Chakrott, who also worked with this group, said that it is hard to get school children into the ocean because of a drowning a few years ago and a decision by the governor against student swimming trips.
Ways of educating children utilizing videos, scuba divers, aquariums and glass-bottom boats were discussed..
"Listening to this conversation is breaking my heart," Nick Drayton of the Ocean Conservancy office on St. John said, "We are talking about taking children one step away from experiencing the ocean first hand. There is no way to substitute that experience."
Drayton said he respected the governor's decision and that a drowning was a tragedy, but he added, "We do live on an island; that is part of the package."
Rohring said there will be a separate public meeting at a time to be announced to discuss another area of focus for park planners fishing. He said he was worried that a discussion of fishing at Thursday's meeting could overwhelm all of the other concerns.
He said that a draft of rules and regulations for the park has been circulating. The park is still in its planning stages, he said, and implementation should begin next year.
Currently the marine park has a sign at Cramer's Park, but Tobias suggested that the office for the marine park might best be located in the old West Indies Laboratory buildings, which reportedly have not been used since 1989.
Conrad Knowles, the marine park coordinator, said Hovensa owns the property, and it is for sale.
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