Affiliate of the Week: Virgin Islands Conservation Society

In honor of our 80th Anniversary celebration throughout 2016, the National Wildlife Federation is recognizing each of our Affiliate Partners in a special “Affiliate of the Week” blog series that showcases the dedicated conservation efforts taking place across the country each day. This week we celebrate our affiliate, the Virgin Islands Conservation Society, and their commitment to wildlife.

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Who We Are

The Virgin Islands Conservation Society, Inc. (VICS), incorporated on June 4, 1968 is the oldest non-profit conservation organization in the U.S. Virgin Islands. VICS’ programs include environmental conservation, education and advocacy initiatives to protect the coastal habitats of the USVI. VICS is NWF’s Affiliate for the USVI and an Associate Member of the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE).

What We Do

Beach clean-up group. Photo by VICS
Beach clean-up group. Photo by VICS

For nearly 50 years VICS has been the watchdog against inappropriate development and threats from the private sector and government that would degrade the environment and the quality of life in the Virgin Islands. VICS engages routinely in beach clean-ups and environmental education advocacy initiatives to maintain and restore precious habitats across the islands.

VICS manages the USVI’s FEE Blue Flag program, an international program that works to achieve environmentally-friendly sustainable development at beaches and marinas across the world, and also leads the sustainable-schools program EcoSchools for the islands.

Current VICS campaigns include the protection of a fragile bioluminescent lagoon on St. Croix and development of a watershed management plan for the Smith Bay watershed on St. Thomas.

Making a National Impact

As a tropical maritime island territory, USVI is particularly at risk to climate change impacts on marine wildlife and coastal habitats. To combat these risks, VICS has been named to the USVI Governor’s Advisory Council on Climate Change Adaptation. VICS has taken an active role in national recycling and recovery initiatives, particularly in campaigning for a territorial plastic bag ban. Single-use plastic bags are a direct threat to sea turtles, sea birds and marine fish in the waters surrounding the territory and worldwide.

Pyrodinium bahamense, the brilliant dinoflagellate in Bio Bay. Photo by VICS
Pyrodinium bahamense, the brilliant dinoflagellate in Bio Bay. Photo by VICS

VICS’ bioluminescent lagoon protection initiative is breaking new ground through the extension of wildlife conservation efforts to a microscopic organism, a planktonic dinoflagellate.

At the same time, this project is campaigning to require federal government departments and agencies to uphold their mission to protect natural and cultural resources — VICS is engaged with the USVI legislature to seek a hearing with the SE regional National Park Service in Atlanta and the national NPS office in D.C. on the dangers their projects will pose to the continued health of these bioluminescent bays.

VICS is also contacting local interests and stakeholders to more broadly define the opposition to the NPS projects island-wide and territory-wide.

VICS is collaborating with USVI senators, especially Senator Sammuel Sanes, to write a bill that would be presented by our U.S. Congressional Delegate Stacey Plaskett establishing Bio Bay as a known and valued environmental resource, as has been done for Puerto Mosquito in Vieques. Additional legal work is in process with Earth Justice to establish evidence supporting a temporary restraining order on construction work being done on the western shore of Bio Bay, and to seek a more permanent stoppage of the construction and misuse of this entire Cape of the Arrows historical area.

VICS' work helps conserve native wildlife such as this brown booby. Photo by bvi4092 via Flickr Creative Commons
VICS’ work helps conserve native wildlife such as this brown booby. Photo by bvi4092 via Flickr Creative Commons

Get Involved

Peninsula adjacent to Bio Bay. This was taken before the NPS had the right to build on it. Photo by VICS

Wildlife comes in all sizes, down to the microscopic! VICS works steadily to preserve and enhance the very rare bioluminescent phenomenon in St. Croix’s Salt River Park, one of only a handful of places where this occurs year-round on the planet. In 2013, VICS collaborated with the St. Croix Environmental Association to design and implement a study with Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s bioluminescence expert Dr. Michael I. Latz of the Latz Laboratory in La Jolla, California to document and build the case for protecting this natural wonder.

There were three bioluminescent bays (bio bays) in Puerto Rico: Laguna Grande near Fajardo; Puerto Mosquito in Vieques; and La Perguera on the southwest coast, but that bay has gone dark due to development around it. There are two bio bays on St. Croix: the one known as Bio Bay in Salt River Park; and the much-larger Altona Lagoon, just east of Christiansted, that has excellent bioluminescence very intermittently and in various areas year-round.

Finished construction by the NPS on the peninsula by Bio Bay. Photo by VICS
Finished construction by the NPS on the peninsula by Bio Bay. Photo by VICS

Altona isn’t as well known because it’s harder to locate the bioluminescence on a nightly basis. Latz found extremely bright areas when he was here in 2013, but Michael Baron, Vice President of VICS, has been back and seen next to nothing one night, and blazingly bright scenes another. Baron is also working with a pro bono lawyer to craft local legal strategies to stop, slow down, or at least monitor any adverse effects like siltation and bottom disturbance in and near Bio Bay.

If you want to learn more about our effort and the history of Bio Bay, St. Croix, visit Support VICS’ effort to have Congress designate their Bio Bay as a known bioluminescent lagoon, as has been done for Puerto Mosquito in Puerto Rico, before inappropriate development by the National Park Service destroys this very rare gem.

Contact VICS

Connect with the Virgin Islands Conservation Society to get their latest news and keep up with their conservation efforts by visiting their website.