Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Islands in the Legal Stream (Day 4)

The class began by exploring the implications for biodiversity law and policy of uncertainty, risk, and surprise (à la Clark and Kates), the ecological concepts of resilience, resistance, and stability, and C.S. Hollings’ theory of discontinuities in natural systems. A propos of Sunday, today’s lecture included a discussion of ethics and biodiversity law; in particular, we discussed the legal implications of Muir and preservationism, Pinchot and conservationism, and Leopold’s land ethic. Lecture – today conducted under an awning by the MMSC’s main dock – was interrupted at one point by the surfacing nearby of a Federally-listed Green Sea Turtle, perhaps interested in learning more about the Endangered Species Act.

After lunch, the class visited the new Nature Conservancy property at Magen’s Bay, an extremely long bay on the North shore of Saint Thomas known for its white sand beach. We discussed the role of private legal efforts to conserve biodiversity, including conservation easements, tax incentives for conservation, and debt-for-nature swaps, as we hiked from trailhead halfway up the mountain down to the endangered mangrove wetland just behind the beach. As one of my students put it

As we marched from the top of the mountain down to Magen’s Bay the biodiversity changed as we marched towards the sea. The vegetation seemed to be in about 3-4 distinct zones form top of the mountain to the bottom, where the ocean is. Also of note was the difference and volume of organisms. Around the middle of the protected area I saw the greatest number and diversity of species, including many lizards, solder crabs, and even a tarantula. As we got closer to the bottom we could hear noise from the beach. Also, as we got closer to the noise there appeared to be fewer organisms. I am unsure whether this was mere a coincidence, an effect of the change in vegetative zone, or an effect of the beach noise. It does pose an interesting question for conservationists wanting to preserve sects of land. If an organism you’re seeking to preserve is affected by noise where and how large of an area would you need to reserve to effectively provide the habitat? Balancing the need for biodiversity and the human interest and effect on the land will be a difficult task. Before this balancing can be reached, however, there may be the need for more research and discovery in the field of biodiversity.

We ended the day by visiting Coral World, a local for-profit aquarium that acts as a nursery for mangrove trees to be reintroduced around the coasts of the Virgin Islands and a hospital and rehabilitation for endangered species, such as Hawksbill and Green Sea Turtles.

Tomorrow morning after lecture, we plan to meet with Senator Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, a former member of the Virgin Islands Legislature who perennially received more electoral votes than any other candidate for Senator, and candidate for Governor in last autumn's election, who has been the most ardent supporter of biodiversity conservation the USVI have seen. He will share his experiences in drafting and successfully passing a number of biodiversity statutes, including his baby: the new Territorial Park law.


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