Long Bay, Beef Island restoration
Invasive species were recently removed from the dunes at Long Bay, Beach Island, and native species were planted in their place. (Photo: TREMIS SKEETE)

We applaud the ongoing restoration efforts at Long Bay on Beef Island, which are part of a well-conceived management plan designed to repair and protect one of the Virgin Islands’ best-loved beaches.

Most recently, a joint effort between the government and the Unite BVI Foundation this month accomplished extensive work on the delicate ecosystem.

Workers, for instance, dug up invasive species like the neem tree, wild tamarind, and cow heel bush and replaced them with native species such as seagrape, loblolly, cedar and lignum vitae.

Those measures will slow the rate of erosion and preserve habitat for seabirds, turtles and other vulnerable fauna.

The plans to plant 240 native trees in Long Bay during this phase of the project — and to add many more later — will help counter the impact of climate change and repair damage done by the 2017 hurricanes and excessive visitation to the beach in recent years.

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, damage to tourism infrastructure in Cane Garden Bay meant that beaches such as Long Bay were more heavily used by cruise ship tourists and others than they were in the past. The environment at Long Bay suffered.

Thankfully, the current restoration project — which is supported by funds from the Sir Richard Branson-backed Unite BVI Foundation and the government’s Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change — is delivering the needed help.

The charity also donated a multi-purpose vehicle that will be used for litter control and ongoing maintenance, a detail of public projects that often goes unconsidered.

Even more heartening is the fact that the project is part of the government’s follow-through on earlier efforts including the landmark 2020 VI Beach Use Policy and the Long Bay beach management plan that was finalised in December 2022 after extensive public consultations.

Moving forward, we hope the Long Bay project will serve as a model for other beaches across the territory.

Several have suffered serious damage from the destruction of dunes, salt ponds and mangrove wetlands. Runoff and other pollution, meanwhile, have killed coral reefs, which protect beaches and other terrestrial environments. And government’s plans to greatly increase tourist numbers will surely cause additional stress on the territory’s natural resources in the coming years.

Besides creating similar management plans for all the territory’s beaches, government can respond to these challenges by further strengthening laws and dedicating significant resources toward environmental projects. For example, legislators should fulfill their 20-year-old promise to enact a comprehensive environmental management law that includes much stronger legal protections for vulnerable ecosystems.

Government should also make the Climate Change Trust Fund, which was established in 2015 but never funded, operational without further delay. Using the tourist environmental levy for beach management and other thoughtful environmental works would be a worthy use of those funds.

The Long Bay restoration effort is a great example of a community partnership well executed in support of an important cause. We hope that it can be replicated across the territory.