Saturday, January 16, 2010

Biodiversity Law 2010 - Over the Sea to Britain

Our third day took us to Jost van Dyke and Sandy Cay in the British Virgin Islands. Here is the University of Kansas School of Law Biodiversity Law class' account:

We went to Jost Van Dyke, a small island in the British Virgin Islands. After braving the sea and a small squall with our fearless Captain Ron, we arrived safely. We met with Susan who works for a non-profit organization that is committed to preserving biodiversity in the BVI. After our introduction Susan took us to a very small island called Sandy Cay. Sandy Cay was a private island owned by the Rockefeller family but was recently donated to the BVI government and is now designated a national park. It only takes twenty minutes to walk across Sandy Cay, however, it supports a very diverse ecosystem. The islands plant and land structure varies greatly from the sandy beaches on one side to the higher rock cliffs that support cactus. Before the island was donated it was used as a botanical garden and during this time people introduced several invasive species to the island including but not limited to rats, spider lilies and different species of palm trees.

When the BVI government acquired control and designated the land as a national park, some people involved with Susan’s organization worked diligently to eradicate the invasive species. They have successfully removed the rats. They still monitor the possible presence of rats, but there has been no evidence of rats inhabiting the island in six years. Because of the removal of the rats, the native species such as several different types of species of lizards, and soldier crabs have flourished on the island. The amount of lizards and solider crabs is vastly higher on Sandy Cay than on neighboring Jost Van Dyke. This is an example of how invasive species can decimate a population of native species and how removing the invasive species, the native populations can be restored and thrive.

The spider lilies are abundant on the island, however the removal of them has not been as widely supported because they are seen as threats, and they are quite beautiful when they bloom. However, judging by the shear mass of spider lilies on the island, it would be interesting to see what plants might flourish on the islands if this invasive species was removed.

In order to preserve the ecosystem of these islands, there needs to be a structured enforceable legal framework. Eradicating a species requires cooperation from the local governments. An example of this is the successful eradication of rats on Sandy Cay whereas Jost Van Dyke’s biodiversity is still plagued by the presence of mongoose and goats. Without local support it is impossible to begin and or carry out the lengthy process of eradicating these invasive species. Local people are opposed to the eradication of goats because they depend on them for their economic independence. The eradication of mongoose is opposed because the mongoose effectively controls snake populations, and while not poisonous the locals have a deep-rooted fear of snakes.

There are several ideas for future statutes and regulations to control invasive species. One idea would be to educate the local population on the benefits of biodiversity and the threats invasive species cause to the entire ecosystem including the people themselves. If the local people were more amenable to control invasive species, the invasive could easily be eradicated as evidenced on Sandy Cay. Another idea might be strict liability for releasing an invasive species. This strict liability should include not only fines for releasing the invasive but also liability for the costs of retribution including the costs of eradicating the species.

Despite the laws currently imposed or laws proposed, in order to see any benefits to biodiversity strong, consistent enforcement is necessary. There is extreme sporadic enforcement of environmental laws on the island causing most people to ignore them without the fear of repercussions that undermines the effectiveness of the law.

Tomorrow, the class will hike on Saint John, from mountaintop to seashore.


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