The Government of the Virgin Islands will be facilitating a series of workshops and public consultation meetings to promote and improve turtle conservation.

Director of Agriculture and Fisheries Mr. Theodore James said the meetings will be conducted in collaboration with the local non-profit Association of Reef Keepers (ARK) and the United Kingdom-based Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and that the data gathered will be critical in improving sea turtle conservation in the Virgin Islands.

Mr. James stated, “These engaging workshops that will be held on Tortola, Anegada, Jost Van Dyke and Virgin Gorda, will aid us in better understanding how the community feels about turtle fishing and conservation.”

The director said persons interested in sea turtles are invited to have their say as their views and values will be taken into account, along with social and biological scientific evidence, to inform legislative changes planned for this year. He added that the input obtained from integral community stakeholders will influence the sustainable management of turtle conservation in the Virgin Islands.

The workshops are scheduled to commence on Monday, April 17, and will see the screening of a new documentary film entitled ‘Turtles in the Virgin Islands – balancing conservation and culture’ following which, members of the public will be afforded the opportunity to express their views and opinions.

The workshops are a central component of the Sustaining Turtles, Environment Economies and Livelihoods (STEEL) project, which is funded by the United Kingdom Government’s Darwin Plus programme.

The STEEL project is supported by the Association of Reef Keepers (ARK) which has coordinated the biological research component of the project which includes turtle tagging and habitat surveys.  The University of Exeter has also provided technical and academic advice.

Managing Director of ARK, Dr. Shannon Gore said the association has been carrying out sea turtle research in the Territory for over two decades, and that they are seeing significant changes in the numbers of some sea turtle species.

Dr. Gore said, “During that time, there has also been a lot of controversy over the turtle fishery. The STEEL project seeks to improve turtle conservation in the Virgin Islands while taking into consideration the local culture and values associated with turtle use.”

The STEEL project will produce a Sea Turtle Recovery Action Plan for the Virgin Islands, including recommendations for reform of the turtle fishery regulations that is projected to be completed later this year.

Meanwhile, the Marine Conservation Society has utilised its ‘Community Voice Method’ to dialog with communities on conservation issues, through film, workshops and public consultation. The society has previously administered a similar strategy to reform turtle fisheries in the Turks and Caicos Islands and Montserrat.