The pristine blue water of Lindbergh Bay was busy with two groups of divers Saturday morning as Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone took a birthday dive, accompanied by a team from Admiralty Divers, along with divers from the Environmental Association of St. Thomas (EAST).
Malone got his money’s worth for his birthday present.
"I’m amazed," he said. "It’s breathtaking to see what’s happened since 1937, when the hole was dug. Only now is the sea life starting to come back after years. What’s really telling, more than anything else, is that there’s a coral reef right outside the area."
Malone, chairman of the Senate Planning and Environmental Protection committee, said he wanted to see for himself the sea life is in what’s called the "bowl," the area proposed by the West Indian Co. and the V.I. Port Authority in a $12 million plan that calls for dredging St. Thomas harbor and depositing the 162,000 cubic yards of material in Lindbergh Bay.
There has been much opposition to the plan, which was approved May 5 by the Coastal Zone Management Committee, signed May 21 by Gov. John deJongh Jr., and ratified June 23 by the Senate. Malone expressed concern about the effect the anticipated project would have on the coral.
"There’s 30 percent Elkhorn coral growing there,” he said. “The reef … would be impacted, even if it’s within 10 kilometers of the dump site, so we have to be careful.”
The senator saw plenty of life underwater.
"We saw seven sea turtles, one leatherback, all in the bay, and a whole bed of conch," Malone said. "It’s in abundance there. The point is, it makes sense to see what is potentially damaging. It’s something every person should see. It made my birthday."
EAST members came to the beach Saturday, not for a celebration, but for business as usual. Jason Budsan, acting EAST president, was pleased with the group’s endeavor. The group provided marine fish-counts kits and set to work.
"We had a couple teams of divers who collected the fish – grunts, yellow tail, conch, starfish, a proliferation of sea life," Budsan said. "This, once again, confirms to us we need to protect the marine environment. After repeated beach cleanups, this gives the public a greater sense of responsibility. It was a wonderful diving experience."
An appeal opposing the project has been filed with the Board of Land Use Appeals by the National Wildlife Federation and the V.I. Conservation Society. Another appeal has been filed by the Coalition to Save Lindbergh Bay, along with Emerald Beach Resort, the Carib Beach Resort, the Island Beachcomber Hotel and Walker’s by the Sea restaurant.
Budsan said Sunday EAST has received no notice of action on the appeal.