Editor’s Note: This is an open letter from Tonia Lovejoy, a live-aboard sailor and Development Director of the Friends of Virgin Islands National Park.
Dear Senator Blyden, and fellow Virgin Islanders,
As a full-time resident of St. John, a live-aboard sailor, and mother I believe I have a unique perspective on conversations surrounding the influx of boaters into the Virgin Islands territory and National Park during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Firstly, protecting the environment during times of crisis takes tremendous foresight and leadership. I commend Sen. Marvin Blyden and our leaders for highlighting issues related to environmental protection during this time.
As I witnessed after hurricanes Irma and Maria, when human lives are at stake, our focus is on saving human lives, as it should be. Any efforts to protect or preserve the environment tend to fall to the wayside unless certain provisions have already been in place and practiced.
There are some challenging resource management decisions that have not been addressed in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and many other nations in the Caribbean, and around the globe. To address these now will only improve the future possibility of an informed regional investment in maritime services that comply with international environmental standards.
In the meantime, we as boaters must comply with international law regardless of enforcement, or threat of penalty. This is good seamanship and good citizenship. This is the resounding sentiment of all boaters that I have met, and the message that we expressed formally to Virgin Islands National Park.
The majority of boaters that have come to take safe harbor in the U.S. Virgin Islands during this crisis like you, do not have anywhere else to go. Like the majority of you, they are quarantined to their home learning how to survive in new ways. Similar to the fear you may have about not paying rent and being evicted, so do the boaters that have fled here for safe harbor fear being kicked out.
This is a scary time that requires us to be extraordinarily calm and compassionate. Though they say it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch, we all know there is more good than not among us. Let us be kind, grateful, and supportive. Let us be wise and continue to rely on science to drive our decision-making as we all learn to navigate these rough and uncharted waters together.
From myself and many hundreds of boaters, THANK YOU for sharing the Virgin Islands as a safe harbor. In this way you have stood out among many as showing strength and compassion during this unprecedented time.
— Tonia Lovejoy, St. John, is Development Director, Friends of V.I. National Park.