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Senate approves permit for VIPCA-DPNR partnership to install 100 new moorings for transient yachts

by VIPCA 7 Mar 15:44 UTC
Charter yacht moored in the U.S. Virgin Islands. © Steve McCauley

The strategic placement of 100 new helix-type moorings for transient yachts in bays throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands received a green light from the territory's Senate today, paving the way for economic, environmental and employment benefits. Specifically, following testimony on Thursday from Oriel Blake, Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association (VIPCA) and JP Oriol, Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) in front of a full legislative hearing, Senators voted overwhelmingly, 14-1, to approve Minor Coastal Zone Management Permit No. CZT-44-19W for installation of the moorings.

"On behalf of VIPCA, I'd like to thank Senators for their approval today, for our underwater and marine surface environment is as compelling an attraction to visitors and residents as our scenic environments on land. The marine industry is needed as an essential and resilient part of the U.S. Virgin Islands tourism economy, with USVI-based charter boats alone in the 2020-2021 season projected to contribute nearly $88 million to the territory's economy. The safe and strategic placement and maintenance of these moorings will provide for the continued revenues from this sector and do so in a way to preserve and protect our submerged natural resources and create jobs for Virgin Islanders."

In 2017, the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) and VIPCA teamed up in a public-private partnership to pursue a U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration grant for the territory-wide installation of new vessel moorings. The need for such moorings was not new and had been recognized years earlier. Yet, funding, placement and maintenance logistics had presented challenges. The two Category 5 hurricanes in 2017 created greater urgency as the storms severely damaged the territory's few existing moorings. VIPCA, as it is a 501(c)6 nonprofit, was approved by the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration (EDA) for a $562,000 investment for moorings installation. In addition to the EDA grant, this project has also received an in-kind matching grant of $133,400.00 by DPNR, and a further $175,000 by the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has created an even greater need for moorings. Over the past year, more vessels have anchored in the territory's bays for both business and pleasure as borders in other Caribbean islands have closed. Most noticeable is that with the British Virgin Islands' seaports closed until recently, USVI-based charter yachts that would typically include the BVI on their itinerary, are now focused on charters solely in the territory, thus increasing vessel traffic significantly.

"Securing this permit was the last permitting hurdle to the installation of these new moorings. I think this represents exciting growth and development for the U.S. Virgin Islands. Consider that despite not having cruise ships for a year now, the Governor stated in his State of the Territory address that the Government of the VI had 30 days of cash on hand. I think that is due to diversifying our economy. In the past year, instead of the usual 200 to 300 vessels in the territory, we've had some 750 between territorial and the federal waters of the Virgin Islands National Park. This represents both recreational yachts and charter boats that have moved their businesses back to the territory," says the DPNR's Oriol.

One of the most significant benefits of vessels using moorings rather than anchoring is in protecting the undersea environment. Fixed moorings can also manage indiscriminate anchoring that can create overcrowded bays.

"Anchoring can not only break corals that may take a century to grow back, but the action of the anchor chain sweeping back and forth as the yacht moves in the wind creates a V-shaped area of destruction of soft corals like sea fans as well as seagrass, a mainstay of sea turtles. A helix-shaped mooring only disrupts a 2-to-3-inch area on the seafloor. Plus, the line attached to the yacht is supported by a floating buoy, removing the lengthy and damaging anchor chain, thus preventing the damaging action seen in anchoring," says Steve Prosterman, Dive Safety Officer at the St. Thomas Campus of the University of the Virgin Islands.

A vibrant marine industry and the infrastructure that supports it such as these moorings can offer employment opportunities to Virgin Islanders directly via routine surveillance, management and regular maintenance of the moorings as well as indirectly via jobs in the local businesses that serve the charter yacht industry.

"From my vantage point, I see several marine services that trained young Virgin Islanders can perform. Moorings require regular maintenance such as zinc replacement, painting and underwater repair and inspections. All of these can be performed by a trained marine workforce," says Guilderoy Sprauve, producer of the USVI Stars and Stripes Poker Run.

VIPCA will offer its 4th annual Marine Apprenticeship Program again this summer, a 5-week intensive course where graduates are entry level job-ready to start working and earning as a member of the U.S. Virgin Islands Marine workforce. Those who are 18 to 29 years old, live in the U.S. Virgin Islands and are interested in this course and career opportunity have until May 1, 2021, to apply by emailing . Course dates are July 1 to August 5. This course is free to selected applicants. For more information about VIPCA and to apply, visit vipca.org/youth-training.

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