March 2nd, 2021
The Honorable Donna Frett Gregory.
34th Legislature of the United States Virgin Islands
Good Day Senate President Donna Frett Gregory, other members of the 34th Legislature of the US Virgin Islands, legislative staff, and members of the viewing and listening public, my name is Oriel Blake and I am the Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association (VIPCA). Today we are presenting testimony on the Minor Coastal Zone Management Permit No. CZT-44-19W for the Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association, Inc., which allows for the installation of one hundred (helix) type anchor moorings at locations across the Virgin Islands. The moorings will be used for transient vessels. This activity will occur around the islands of St. John, St. Croix, and St. Thomas, within the territorial water limit.
The Marine industry is an essential part of the U.S. Virgin Islands tourism economy. It is also a highly resilient sector as seen after the hurricanes of 2017 and most recently in the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020-21, USVI-based charter boats alone are anticipated to contribute nearly $88 million to the territory’s economy. Other transient vessels such as superyachts and private recreational cruising yachts from both neighboring islands and around the globe, add even more dollars to the USVI’s coffers. This permitting request pertains to these transient vessels and specifically to moorings.
To quickly define, moorings are permanent structures affixed to the seafloor to which a vessel may be secured. Helix-type moorings are easier, faster and safer to install than other types of moorings and provide for environmental protection. Moorings contrast with the use of anchors to secure a vessel in one place. Anchoring entails a vessel cast a cable-attached metal anchor that digs into the seabed each time the vessel visits whether for one hour or stays overnight.
With the approval of this permit, the 100 moorings will be strategically distributed in bays throughout the USVI per DPNR. This type of secure infrastructure better supports these transient yachts, organizing each bay, and assures their presence to contribute to the USVI’s economy. These moorings will also protect the territory’s natural undersea environment and their routine surveillance, management and regular maintenance can provide jobs for Virgin Islanders interested in a career in the marine industry.
I’d like to further elaborate on the economic, environmental and employment benefits of placing these moorings as I believe this will serve to underscore why granting this permit request is of the utmost importance and benefit.
First, the economic. There are two points: expenditures and contributions. VIPCA was approved by the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration for a $562,000 grant investment, plus an in-kind matching grant of $133,400.00 by DPNR, and a further $175,000 by the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands to assist in the Virgin Islands Moorings Installation project. Thus, funding for these 100 new moorings is available. These grants were approved for VIPCA as it is a 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization. As for contributions, consider that one USVI-based term charter yacht contributes nearly $13,000 annually directly to the U.S. Virgin Islands and U.S. Federal governments. This includes a business license, gross receipts, DPNR registration, anchoring/mooring permit, National Park Commercial Permit plus National Park mooring fees, USVI insurance tax, Virgin Islands Port Authority fees and U.S. Coast Guard documentation. More sizable still is that this same yacht contributes approximately $150,000 each year indirectly to the USVI economy. These expenditures include provisioning, fuel, onshore dining, hotel/lodging, boat cleaners, dockage, diving/fishing rentals, maintenance, taxis and laundry. Multiply these figures by 150USVI-based captained week (term) charter yachts, 100-non-captained bareboat charter yachts and add similar expenditures by the 194-day charter boats, and this is how VIPCA arrived at approximately $88 million as the anticipated annual economic contribution for USVI-based charter yachts for 2020-21. With borders closed in neighboring islands due to the pandemic, marine yacht charter operations continue to increase. This number has increased dramatically. On a related note, these moorings will assist in diversifying the territory’s marine tourism industry, a prudent move considering the pandemic-forced stop of cruise ship visits for a year now.
Secondly, the environmental. One of the most significant benefits of vessels using moorings rather than anchoring is in protecting the undersea environment. This was the primary reason for the public-private partnership between VIPCA and DPNR in 2017, and what led to the securing of grants to install the moorings for which this permit is now requested. According to Steve Prosterman, Dive Safety Officer at the University of the Virgin Islands, anchoring can not only break corals that may take a century to grow back, but the action of the anchor chain sweeping back and forth as the yacht moves in the wind creates a V-shaped area of destruction of soft corals like sea fans as well as seagrass, a mainstay of endangered sea turtles. The helix-shaped mooring we propose only disrupts a 2-to-3-inch area on the seafloor. Plus, the line attached to the yacht is supported by a floating buoy, removing the lengthy and damaging anchor chain, thus preventing the damaging action seen in anchoring. One of the top natural draws to the U.S. Virgin Islands is its marine environment and the proposed moorings will be protective.
Third, employment. To be safe and secure, moorings must be routinely surveilled and continually maintained. Revenue generated by transient boaters using the 100 new moorings is approximately equal to the cost of their surveillance, management and maintenance. Thus, this is a self-funding, not profit-making program. Through VIPCA’s programs such as the Marine Apprenticeship Program, which is a 5-week Captain’s training course for Virgin Islands residents between the ages of 19 to 29, the surveillance and management of the moorings will be yet another of the job opportunities in the territory’s marine industry. Not least to mention that as the yacht charter industry booms, so too does job availability both on the water for recruitment of local captains, as well as on the shore in marine technical services. At the heart of VIPCA’s mission is to boost local workforce recruitment in the marine industry.
In conclusion, the US Virgin Islands marine environment is a huge draw for visitors and marine tourism a critical part of the territory’s economy. In recent years, the rebound in marine tourism more quickly than land-based venues after hurricanes followed by the influx of transient yachts to the territory as neighboring islands borders closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, presents an opportunity to provide for and strengthen this part of the economy. In tandem and just as importantly, a vibrant marine industry and the infrastructure that supports it such as these moorings can benefit the people of the Virgin Islands in three key ways which I touched on earlier. To underscore, there’s the opportunity of additional jobs both in the industry directly and indirectly in support services; secondly, the benefits of resource preservation and a healthy undersea ecosystem which supports fish stocks; and thirdly, the recreational enjoyment of the territory’s beaches and bays via strategic mooring placement by DPNR.
On behalf of VIPCA, we request that the Senate approve Minor Coastal Zone Management Permit No. CZT-44-19W for VIPCA to install 100 hundred helix-type moorings at locations across the Virgin Islands. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.