Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Islands In The Legal Stream (Day 6)

The final lecture focused on three topics: international biodiversity treaties, enforcement of biodiversity law, and effects of global climate change on biodiversity. The class discussed how biodiversity is, and has been, regulated internationally under such agreements as the North Pacific Fur Seal Treaty, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the World Trade Organization (including both the Dolphin/Tuna and Turtle/Shrimp disputes). Then, the class grappled with the challenges of biodiversity law enforcement, citing Virgin Islands biodiversity issues as heuristic examples. Next, the class considered the biodiversity legal issues raised by global climate change, relying particularly on the startling data in IPCC Technical Paper V (entitled "Climate Change and Biodiversity"). Lecture concluded with a discussion of how observations the students had made about biodiversity law in the Virgin Islands related to biodiversity law in the rest of the world.

Our final fieldtrip was to Lindquist Beach. Our guide was Toni Thomas, who is renowned in the Virgin Islands as a superb botanist, conservationist, and author of a number of books on the islands' natural patrimony. Lindquist Beach is a relatively undisturbed parcel of land on the Northeast shore of Saint Thomas that has just been purchased by the Territorial government as the founding piece of the Virgin Islands Territorial Park system. Low dry scrub vegetation, hosting such birds as parakeets and anis, led down to a beautiful white halfmoon-shaped beach fringed by coral formations just offshore. To study the effect of development on biodiversity, the class then compared Sapphire Beach, a similar parcel of land adjacent to Lindquist Beach. Here, a hotel development had removed almost all of the native vegetation, and the offshore coral formations were visibly disturbed, broken, and diseased. On a more positive note, as the class snorkled away from the greatest density of the hotel's guests, the quality, size, and diversity of coral communities did increase. A couple of students even observed Green Sea Turtles grazing sea grass and stingrays gliding over the sandy bottom in the middle of the bay.

Having compared Lindquist and Sapphire Beaches, one student summarized his reaction as follows:

While the Virgin Islands are a beautiful place now, I can only imagine what they must have been like when Columbus explored their coasts. While all of the development on the islands makes for great postcards, in the long run I don't believe it's what will be best for the VI. The "naturalness" of the islands is one of their big attractions. The ability of the islands to heal themselves after an event, such as a hurricane, is made possible because of biodiversity features, such as mangroves. Once this biodiversity is gone, in order to make some place more aesthetically appealing to humans, the ability of self-regeneration may forever be lost. I would think that after Hurricane Katrina, we all would have learned a valuable lesson. So, Toni [Thomas] said, in the long run, allowing the natural biodiversity to flourish would be more valuable than a manicured postcard-perfect beach.

Another student remarked, more generally, that the

biodiversity of the Virgin Islands is a major draw for tourists - but development designed to capitalize on the tourism industry may end up adversely impacting the very ecosystems that make the pace so desirable as a destination. There is some interest in protecting biodiversity, but currently the Virgin Islands seem to lack the political will and necessary enforcement capacity to make biodiversity protection effective.

Heading back to our accommodations as the sun set on their final day of the Biodiversity Law fieldtrip, the entire class appeared a tad melancholy about leaving the biodiversity of the Virgin Islands behind as they returned to KU Law School for the start of the Spring term. However, they also seemed eager to begin the papers they will now write on various aspects of the biodiversity law of the Virgin Islands.


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