The Government of the Virgin Islands and Virgin Unite co-hosted a two day regional conference this week, to explore the strategies needed to address the future management of the Sargassum seaweed.
The conference was held on March 21 at Moskito Island and was co-sponsored by the Government and Virgin Unite with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Caribbean Council and the OECS.
Ministers from the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, business representatives, senior technical officers and scientific leaders attended the conference and discussed ways to create an effective partnership between all sectors to harness related opportunities and benefits of the seaweed.
His Excellency the Governor, Mr. John S. Duncan, OBE addressed the opening ceremony and said that although the problem of seaweed was new in the region it was not new in other areas and there would have been years of experience in harvesting and science that could assist the discussions to come.
Governor Duncan said, “Seaweed infections are not a new problem. When I am not in the BVI, I live in North West France, where people have been harvesting seaweed for more than 100 years: firstly as a fertilizer and today for pharmaceutical products. It’s a thriving but a small industry.”
The Governor added that he was grateful to see a number of resource persons who have studied the issues beyond the Caribbean, and who have brought their expertise to the discussions.
Premier and Minister of Finance, Dr. the Honourable D. Orlando Smith, OBE said the Virgin Islands’ collective economic well-being had been impacted by the overabundance of seaweed on the tourism, fisheries and transportation sectors.
Premier Smith stated, “Our coastal residents and their communities have been on the front line of the Sargassum events, witnessed over the last few years. We have displayed a great resilience and have sprung into action in partnership with government and the civil sector to clean our beaches and find innovative means of addressing the matter of the seaweed.”
Premier Smith said moving forward, any action taken by government, community organisastions and the private sector, should be founded on the best information available.
He added, “We therefore anticipate that the outputs of this conference will provide multiple stakeholders, on the local, regional, national and international levels, a roadmap to rationalize collective actions.”
Meanwhile, Founder of Virgin Unite and the Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson said that as a business leader he was particularly aware of the link between conservation, economic empowerment and entrepreneurial solutions.
Sir Richard said, “Virgin Unite helps shine a light on solutions trying to make our planet a safer and more sustainable place to live. I know first hand the importance these solutions have to play in restoring the Caribbean environment and growing the economy. We have all learnt a lot, it’s been fascinating. There are a number of scientific challenges that need to be answered. The opportunity for entrepreneurs is massive.”
Deputy Premier and Minister for Natural Resources and Labour outlined that the impact of the Sargassum is not just regional and international, and that it affects daily living. He said the major issues of Climate Change show that the Sargassum problem is a direct result of the changes in the environment, the issues of Global Warming and the issues of the rising sea temperatures.
Honourable Pickering said, “So these discussions have been far and wide and we have we arrived at this place today and we have taken care to include individuals from various sectors of the community. We have included scientists, academics, and business persons and of course, we have included policy makers.”
The Deputy Premier said he looked forward to seeing solutions, on how to advance, joining these to business opportunities to ensure that the Sargassum is not only a nuisance but that it becomes a means of entrepreneurship and therefore a means of economic potential for individuals throughout the Caribbean.