The Anegada Iguana Headstart Facility released 250 iguanas into the wild. (Photo: ZARRIN TASNIM AHMED)

The Anegada rock iguana, queen conch, frigate bird and turtle dove are just some of the Virgin Islands animals that could receive stronger protections under proposed legislation currently before the House of Assembly.

A 94-page bill dealing with the international trade of endangered species came to the HOA for a second reading on Friday, and members concluded by heading into closed-door committee to hammer out the details.

The Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Act, 2019 would bring the territory’s regulations in line with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Some of the main functions of the bill are limiting the sale of animals and penalising illegal trade. It would also establish management and scientific oversight authorities, which would work to ensure any licensed trade does not significantly affect endangered populations.

Penalties for trading without a valid permit or illegally possessing endangered species would include a fine of up to $10,000 and up to a year of imprisonment. Those maximums double for species of special concern.

1987 law

This legislation would replace the 1987 Endangered Animals and Plants Ordinance, which isn’t effective in meeting worldwide trade standards, according to Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley.

Though reform attempts were made in 2008, Mr. Wheatley said, the draft legislation still didn’t meet CITES standards. In 2012, the ministry took another stab at crafting a more specific bill that has been workshopped over the years.

HOA members contended that the legislation is necessary to protect the territory’s natural resources.

Opposition Leader Marlon Penn said it will be important with such conservation legislation to figure out what works best for protecting different species and protecting fishers’ livelihoods. Mr. Penn pointed to the seasonal restrictions on lobster harvesting and subsequent population boom as a success, and the continued scarcity of whelks as an area in need of improvement.

Opposition member Mitch Turnbull lent his support to ensuring endangered species are protected, particularly the territorial bird, the turtle dove.

“It’s important to remember that this territory was left to be a bird sanctuary,” he said.

Mr. Turnbull also cautioned that other parts of the world are taking note of the value of the VI’s flora and fauna. He said the territory must take the lead in promoting and protecting its assets.

The House is scheduled to reconvene at 10 a.m. Monday, resuming its discussion of the bill.