Saturday, January 12, 2008

Biodiversity Law Across Drake's Passage

Here is the second in a series of daily observations about my KU Biodiversity Law class' experiences learning about biodiversity law in the Virgin Islands:

Today we traveled to the British Virgin Islands (BVI) to explore Tortola and Jost Van Dyke. We discovered that the BVI contains much less development, and therefore a greater area of land and water available for biodiversity conservation, than do the United States Virgin Islands (USVI). For instance, Jost Van Dyke maintains a human population of less than 150. As a result, the hills are covered with vegetation (and the creatures that live amongst it) that is largely undisturbed by humans. Also, we noticed on the island of Tortola that the islanders are rehabilitating the mangrove population that grows along the coast of the island. By contrast, Saint Thomas (USVI) has an official population of 60,000 permanent residents (and likely many more unofficial permanent residents), which requires much more land, water, and other resource use for human needs. And, although Saint John is mainly preserved as a National Park, tourists (and their adverse effects - see) are not an unfamiliar sight. Conversely, we did not notice the presence of nearly as many tourists on the islands of Tortola and Jost Van Dyke.

There was a striking difference between the protected and unprotected portions of the BVI. Tortola contains a tropical rainforest (watered year-round by either rain or cloud moisture) protected by a sizable National Park where we observed many species of locally-rare rainforest trees, beautiful butterflies, and the native, ancient fern tree, not to mention a breathtaking view of the surrounding islands from the highest point in all of the Virgin Islands. However, in one of Tortola’s cities, Road Town, we ran into the familiar sites of any other Caribbean city, such as schools, cruise ships, and churches, in addition to rock quarries, cement trucks, and soccer fields. And, despite the low human population on Jost Van Dyke, a portion of the hillside vegetation has disappeared as a result of overgrazing by goats. Overall, however, the biodiversity conservation success of the BVI appears much more noticeable than that in the USVI.

Tune in tomorrow for the next installment - same biodiversity time, same biodiversity channel.


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