As my KU Biodiversity Law class draws to an end, here is my students' last dispatch from those pearls of biodiversity, the Virgin Islands:
We began our day at Botany Bay. A biologist discussed the progression of the development plans of the west side of Saint Thomas. Initially, the plan called for massive construction of over 340 houses, condos, and town-homes, which would have covered (and devastated) all of Botany Bay. Concern by local biologists and residents prompted a change in the plan for less density development. The current plan, which is still subject to change, calls for about 30 residences and a hotel, all voluntarily encumbered by strong conservation easements.
Next, we snorkeled through Mermaid's Chair Bay, observing its marine biodiversity again. On this snorkel we witnessed most of the same taxa we observed on the previous dive, except we noticed larger fish and more diversity, including a shark, a barracuda, and a moray eel. This discrepancy could be from a number of factors, including time of day, time lapse between the last storm, illegal net fishing, or our increased experience in the water.
In the afternoon we were afforded the privilege of traveling to a remote island with a distinguished diving professor from the University of the Virgin Islands UVI to snorkel further. Upon entering the water we immediately noticed the diversity was greater than any other area we observed on our visit to the Virgin Islands. A small sample of the ocean life we encountered includes the puffer fish, flounder, shark (the professor did not get a good look and told us it was either a Nurse or Lemon Shark), and sea turtle. We also noticed not only more coral, but that the coral there is substantially larger. This appears to allow many types of fish (and other organisms) to swim and reside there. We returned to shore reluctantly, realizing that the next significant activity would be an early morning flight back to KU.
We all sincerely hope that biodiversity law can help to preserve the richness of nature present both above and below the waves in the Virgin Islands.