Residents stage protest to save Bio Bay

April 1, 2016

Love for Bio Bay

A flotilla of kayakers took to the sea while environmentalists and ordinary residents toted banners near Judith’s Fancy in protest of a planned marine research center at bioluminescent bay by the National Park Service that they say has already had an adverse impact on the environment. The simultaneous protest was organized two days ago after reports that U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell would tour the Salt River location on Thursday.

Protesters

About 20 protesters waited outside the Judith’s Fancy entrance on Thursday evening until the sky opened up with torrential rain.

Britney Knight

ST. CROIX – U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was a no-show at a planned tour at Salt River on Thursday, but residents who organized a protest a day earlier to bring awareness to adverse environmental impact at nearby Bio Bay were out in force.

Jewell was due to tour the Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve at 5 p.m. as part of her tour of the island, but was delayed while visiting Buck Island National Park.

Protesters had gathered as early as 4:30 p.m. by land and sea. A group of kayakers, who normally take residents and visitors on paid tours of Bio Bay, filled them instead with peaceful protesters who held signs expressing concerns about a planned National Park Service marine research and education center near bioluminescent bay at Salt River. Organizers said it is one of about 10 bio bays left in the world.

About 20 protesters waited outside the Judith’s Fancy entrance on Thursday evening for Jewell until the sky opened up with torrential rain. Environmentalists and residents joined forces to protest in efforts to keep the historic site pristine for future generations. Many held signs calling for a stop to the construction of the $64 million research and education complex planned on NPS land at Salt River.

Their efforts were supported by motorists who waved and honked horns as they drove by. Others memorialized the event via videos or took pictures of protesters holding their makeshift signs that read:

“The NPS should stop ruining the environment:” “Respect our park:” and “Secretary Jewell SAVE OUR Jewel!”

Jill Updyke, one of the protestors, said she makes her living giving visitors and locals alike tours of the bay as owner of Virgin Kayak Tours. She had another reason for showing up on Thursday.

“It’s an environmental thing first off.” She said.

Updyke, like many of those opposed to the development, said the bay should be protected and questioned the NPS’ choice for its planned research site. She recommended the existing NPS Visitor Center located in the vicinity of the bay as an alternative.

“That is a historically and culturally significant piece of property.” She said.

History notes that on Nov. 14, 1493, Christopher Columbus sailed into Salt River Bay on St. Croix – the only documented landing in the Caribbean during his second voyage to the New World. There, he encountered the Taino’s whose artifacts have made the site historically significant.

On Thursday, Updyke also zeroed in on the economic importance of the day, noting that upwards of 80 visitors can tour the location on kayaks at a time, generating not only revenue for tour guides but other hospitality driven businesses.

She said people from St. Thomas come to St. Croix to visit the bay, spending money on hotels, transportation, food and airfare. She said she is concerned that development will harm the environment and diminish the attraction and pointed to the installation of parking lights at the location as just one example of proposed development that would reduce the natural resource.

Updyke, like many of the protesters, said she isn’t against the research center.

“It’s a great idea.” She said. “It’s the wrong location.”

NPS Superintendent Joel Tutein, who was scheduled to lead Jewell on Thursday’s tour, said during a Senate hearing in February that NPS Visitor Center was included as an alternate site in an environmental assessment, but ruled that out to have the research center closer to the coastline.

Organizers on Thursday said the VI Department of Planning and Natural Resources can stop the development at Bio Bay as it jointly oversees VI national parks. They said the current location was originally rejected in the 2008 environmental assessment for the research center “due to significant, adverse impact to the environment.”

Tutein did not return calls as of press time seeking comment on the protest as well as an update on the Bio Bay construction.