Loren Pitsch, a United States resident who has visited the Virgin Islands for the past 11 years, fishes off the dock in Cane Garden Bay yesterday morning. The beach remains closed.Photo: CLAIRE SHEFCHIK

Cane Garden Bay beach remained closed for swimming yesterday despite an earlier press release declaring it open, Information Officer Nekita Turnbull confirmed.

In December, the beach was temporarily closed due to poor water quality, which may have resulted from heavy rainfall, hurricane-related storm surge and a nonfunctioning sewage treatment plant, according to a statement from acting Chief Conservation Officer Kelvin Penn.

Loren Pitsch, a United States resident who has visited the Virgin Islands for the past 11 years, fishes off the dock in Cane Garden Bay yesterday morning. The beach remains closed.Photo: CLAIRE SHEFCHIK
After more tests were performed this month, however, the government declared the beach open in a press release issued Monday. But as of yesterday morning, the release was no longer listed on the government site, and links to it no longer functioned.

Chief Information Officer Desiree Smith explained that she received a communication from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour Monday saying the release was no longer approved.

“The information wasn’t approved for release and we took it down,” she said. “It’s always the purpose of [Government Information Services] to facilitate the information that the ministry wants to release.”

There was no further communication sent out on the subject, and the ministry did not tell GIS why the release was pulled, according to Ms. Smith, who said she couldn’t comment on whether any tourists had been allowed to visit the beach after it was closed.

GIS referred all other questions to ministry officials, who were not immediately available for comment. Calls to Second District Representative Mitch Turnbull, whose district includes CGB, also were not immediately returned.

According to the earlier statement from Mr. Penn, tests were performed in five different areas of the beach and the results had improved enough to declare the beach safe.

Mr. Penn, who was quoted extensively in the Monday release, said yesterday that he didn’t know that the beach had been closed again and directed queries to the ministry.

Tourists at the beach

Tuesday morning, a safari bus driver on his way back from Cane Garden Bay said he had just dropped off a load of cruise ship passengers from the Marella Celebration at the beach. He was planning on making at least one other trip before the end of the day. He said that to his knowledge, the beach at CGB had been open since Friday, and a spokesperson for Paradise Club said via Facebook yesterday that the business also believed the beach had been cleaned up and reopened.

Yesterday morning, a lone tourist, Loren Pitsch, who lives in Michigan and has visited the territory annually for 11 years, was fishing off the dock in Cane. He said he swam and snorkeled in the water Tuesday and, although he found debris including liquor bottles and an old blender, he noticed no issues with the water’s overall cleanliness compared to previous years.

“They’ve recovered well,” he said, adding that he plans to return next year. “The streets are cleaner than they looked on YouTube.”

Hurricane damage

CGB has long been the most visited beach on Tortola, but the area suffered severe damage in the hurricane and continues to rebuild. In the meantime, the cruise ship tourists who normally are taxied there in large numbers have been directed to Long Bay Beach on Beef Island. The Celebration is due to return today.

During a speech to the House of Assembly Dec. 13, Mr. Turnbull slammed Premier Dr. Orlando Smith for allowing tourists into the territory before the area had adequate time to clean up, and called for Dr. Smith to resign as minister of finance.

“If we want to continue to serve in excellence, the facilities must be first class,” Mr. Turnbull said in December, adding, “What we cannot afford to do is lower our standards.”

Dr. Smith later fired back, defending his actions and criticising Mr. Turnbull’s outburst.