Annual Report for 2003
UPDATE ON THE FOUNDER
Dr. Edward Towle, founder of Island Resources Foundation, has been an environmental leader in the Caribbean for four decades. Among those who know him best, Ed is recognized for his tireless energy, unabashed enthusiasm, resourceful creativity, and longstanding commitment to small islands.
During recent years, Ed has faced significant health problems, which have altered but not diminished his ability to inspire and to challenge. To friends and colleagues who have heard that Ed is now confined to a wheelchair, we assure you that the Foundation's first visionary is still very much on the job, both as chair of IRF's board of trustees and as the Foundation's senior environmental planner.
And for those of us who work closest with him, and have personally observed his amazing courage, it seems appropriate to paraphrase Winston Churchill — this has indeed been Ed's "finest hour".
AN AWARD FROM EPA
Island Resources Foundation has received an Environmental Quality Award for 2003 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These prestigious regional awards are presented to organizations or individuals in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands who have made significant contributions to improving the quality of the environment.
At an April ceremony in New York City, EPA Regional Administrator Jane Kenny presented the Award to IRF president Bruce Potter.
Potter commented that the EPA Award was a great honor for the Foundation, one of the Caribbean's oldest environmental NGOs. "It is also a well-deserved tribute to the energy and spirit of Ed Towle, our founding president and chairman."
Preserving Natural Area Treasures in the British Virgin Islands
For over 40 years, tourism visionary and international conservationist Laurance S. Rockefeller has had a special relationship with the British Virgin Islands. Now in his nineties and bringing to an end many of his conservation activities, Mr. Rockefeller has once more focused on the British Virgin Islands. In August, he announced funding for a $200,000 conservation program in the BVI that is designed specifically to help strengthen parks and protected areas in the Territory.
To help with this new program, Mr. Rockefeller has called on the Island Resources Foundation to coordinate implementation of the program, in collaboration with the National Parks Trust (NPT) and the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College (HLSCC).
The new program is linked to Mr. Rockefeller's final planning for the future management of Sandy Cay, a 14-acre undeveloped island in the BVI that has been owned by him personally for more than three decades. Sandy Cay was the focus of several planning studies carried out by Island Resources for Mr. Rockefeller in 2000-2001; these studies examined the island's environment and its natural carrying capacity in the face of increasing tourism pressure.
As Rockefeller considered options for the island's future, it became apparent to him that Sandy Cay did not exist in isolation. As he wrote to the Chief Minister in August,
"Support for initiatives that assure Sandy Cay will be managed and protected in perpetuity as a unique natural area will be more effective if they are a part of a broader base of support for conservation and sustainable development in the BVI."
To accomplish this, the "Sandy Cay II" project was established with grant support from Mr. Rockefeller.
The preliminary program plan, to be executed by Island Resources, calls for a two-year project of conservation collaboration, institutional strengthening and testing of new models for protected areas, often using Sandy Cay as a base for study. Dr. Edward Towle will serve as project director, assisted by deputy project leader Lloyd Gardner; director of the BVI National Parks Trust, Joseph Smith-Abbott; and head of the Center for Applied Marine Studies at HLSCC, Clive Petrovic.
Environmental monitoring activities established by Island Resources Foundation at Sandy Cay four years ago will be incorporated into the more expansive "Sandy Cay II" project. Ongoing activities include periodic monitoring for evidence of black rats
(Rattus rattus), which were eradicated from the island in late 2002 by IRF researchers under a prototypic invasive species control program. During 2003 the IRF monitoring team completed seven visits to the island and concluded that it remains free of rats. Monitoring is currently carried out by HLSCC's Rob Power, IRF's Jean-Pierre Bacle, and a new assistant Marcus Maturine, a recent BVI high school graduate.
Inventory of Wetlands in the U.S. Virgin Islands
Wetland loss and the condition of surviving wetland sites were ongoing concerns in the U.S. Virgin Islands during the decades of rapid economic growth from the 1950s through the 1980s, especially as more and more wetlands were lost to commercial and tourism infrastructure in coastal areas. In recent years, concern for nearshore coral reefs and associated marine habitats has focused new attention on the role of wetlands in maintaining water quality and healthy reef habitat. Additionally, recent studies of flood mitigation practices have reaffirmed the historic role of manmade and natural upland wetlands in flood control.
At the same time, the Virgin Islands Government has long recognized that the absence of a territory-wide statistical baseline for Virgin Islands wetlands impedes strategic planning for the conservation and restoration of surviving sites. As a result of these concerns, the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) awarded $120,000 to Island Resources Foundation for the first phase of a comprehensive inventory of wetlands and associated riparian areas in the USVI.
The work is being carried out by IRF in partnership with the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) and builds on DPNR's 1998 Unified Watershed Assessment of the USVI and the subsequent development of Watershed Restoration Action Strategies. The current wetlands inventory will support these earlier initiatives by generating detailed wetland habitat data.
In recent months, several different approaches to wetland characterization have been tested by the IRF/UVI team, ranging from development of an index of biological integrity based on GIS mapping to basic water quality testing using both conventional laboratory analysis and high-tech instrumentation. Bruce Potter is the project director, and Dr. Barry Devine of the UVI serves as senior scientist.
Integrating Science and Management in the Caribbean
The integrity of coral reef ecosystems is under threat worldwide as a consequence of numerous stresses that include sediment loading, nutrient enrichment, climate change, over harvesting, and storm activity. In response to the continued decline of coral reef health, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Ecosystem Studies
Program (NOAA-CRES) has funded a new research program that brings together a multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary study team led by scientists at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR). The objective of these investigations is to provide science-based recommendations for management of the resource.
Island Resources Foundation is a part of this team and has been awarded a two-year grant in the amount of $143,000 to support the effort. IRF's principal investigator for the project is no stranger — he is Carlos Ramos-Scharrón, who has worked with the Foundation for over five years. Carlos was lead investigator for IRF's erosion and sediment reduction studies on the island of St. John in the USVI, in particular, at Fish Bay where the Foundation owns 50 acres of protected green space.
As part of the St. John study, Carlos developed an erosion and sediment yield model. Application of the model indicated that actively used unpaved roads are the dominant source of sediment delivery into Fish Bay, with road cutslopes and streambanks playing a secondary role in total sediment yields and undisturbed hill slopes contributing only minimal amounts. This work is also the subject of his doctoral dissertation being submitted to Colorado State University in 2004.IRF field investigations under the collaborative UPR project will focus on La Parguera, Puerto Rico, where Carlos and his assistants from UPR-Mayaguez and Universidad del Este are quantifying the rate of sediment production from a variety of sources. These results will be linked to other project components to provide improved, scientifically based, best management practices.