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People With Respiratory Problems Urged To Avoid Sahara Dust

CHARLOTTE AMALIE Commissioner Jean-Pierre L. Oriol of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources is informing the public of an air pollution alert for dust from the Sahara Desert in Africa.

The dust causes the skies around the Virgin Islands to be hazy, which reduces the visibility and results in poor air quality. This results in dust storms and a rise in warm air.

These sandy dust particles are transported from the North African desert westward over the Atlantic Ocean across the Caribbean.

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service in San Juan, Puerto Rico have confirmed that the bulk of the current dust episodes are decreasing and will continue to clear through tomorrow, and that the territory should see the tail end of the storm by Wednesday.

People With Respiratory Problems Urged To Avoid Sahara Dust

There will be another dust episode of similar intensity passing through the territory during the weekend.

While this haze may not be an immediate threat, persons with allergies or respiratory ailments should remain indoors when possible and consult their physicians or healthcare professional for further guidance.

Sahara dust storms pass through the region several times a year, but mainly in the spring and throughout the summer months.

For more information contact the Division of Environmental Protection at 340-773-1082 or go to
www.nasa.gov or http://weather.noaa.gov/weather/current/TIST.html.

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Senate Committee Gets Updates On Disaster Repairs

CHARLOTTE AMALIE Members of the Committee on Disaster Recovery and Infrastructure, led by Senator Janelle Sarauw met at the Earle B Ottley Legislative Hall on Friday.

The Committee received testimony from the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources related to all disaster related projects, including marine and historic efforts in the Territory, their respective contracts, inclusive of professional service and task order contracts, both anticipated and underway.

Testimony was delivered by Jean-Pierre Oriol, the Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. Oriol provided updates on the status of various disaster related projects in the territory. The Department received $411,900 from the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) to provide stimulus funds to artists in the territory.

Senate Committee Gets Updates On Disaster Repairs
DPNR Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol testifies before the committee on Friday.

The program ran in two phases and provided a maximum of $50,400 to individuals and $361,900 to arts organizations. 100% of these funds have been dispersed to artists in the territory. The Department also applied for and received $3.96 Million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to provide stimulus funds to the commercial, recreational, charter for hire and fisher related businesses in the Virgin Islands. Eligible applicants must demonstrate a minimum of 35% loss of revenue between March 2020 and December 2020 to qualify. The Department partnered with the USVI Economic Development Authority to administer the program.

The Hurricane Fisheries Disaster Relief Program was launched in June 2020 and as of May 31, 2022, 438 applications were processed and $6,094,896 in funds were dispersed. Also, disaster recovery funds in the amount of $145,683 to receive emergency vessel kits for all commercial fishers that were affected by the hurricanes. These kits were distributed in May 2022. The Department is also responsible for the VI Historic Recovery Program, which was launched in November of 2020, and the eligibility phase ended on March 31, 2021. 223 Applications for this program were received and 105 of the applications were deemed ineligible.  Of 128 eligible applications received, 106 Phase II applications and their external panel reviewed and scored 70 applications, with the remaining to be scored by the end of June 2022.  Approximately $1.5 million in projects are awaiting review by the National Park Service, and an additional $1 million in projects to be reviewed by the end of June 2022. Site visits are expected to be conducted by the end of June 2022, with subgrant awards and funding to be awarded by July 2022.  Two government projects have received funding under this program, the renovation of Government House on St. Thomas, which is about 95% complete, and the restoration of the former naval barracks in SubBase, St Thomas, which will house the Department of Planning and Natural Resources in the future.

The Department is also responsible for several major infrastructure repair programs in the territory.  These include the Charles W. Turnbull Library, the Enid M. Baa Library, the Fort Christian Museum, on the island of St. Thomas, the Brugal Facility, Fort Frederick, the Florence Williams and Athalie Petersen libraries on St. Croix, and the Sprauve Library and the STJ Office Building on St. John.  Several mitigation projects are also underway.  The Department received 4 different awards in response to the 2017 hurricanes, which included $4.2 million from NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, $7.3 Million from FEMA Hazard Mitigation for Code Enforcement, $960,000 from FEMA flood mitigation for the updating of flood regulations, and $800,000 from FEMA hazard mitigation for the completion of storm water management plans.

Senator Sarauw voiced concern about Fort Christian, mentioning its compromised structure when it was closed for repairs, citing recent seismic events. Oriol stated that Fort Christian, being constructed from molasses and sand, needs consistent maintenance.

The NOAA Marine Debris award, which contains three tasks, is being utilized to remove derelict vessels in Krum Bay. St. Thomas, removal of derelict vessels through the territory which are not mitigated by the US Coast Guard, as well as promoting community cleans up to remove debris that was not previously removed after the 2017 hurricanes. The FEMA Flood Mitigation grant was provided so that territorial laws and regulations may be updated to be in line with national standards. Territorial Water Shed plans are currently being developed for watersheds throughout the territory with the funds that were received.  The Department also received funding for the acquisition of Parcel No. 6-3-111 Estate Carolina, St. John, which is currently occupied by a home that was compromised by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The intent is to remove the property and to redevelop it to serve as drainage and green space to assist the Department of Public Works with stormwater that comes off Centerline Road.

Senator Sarauw voiced concern over inflation that has been plaguing the territory, particularly as it relates to the status of infrastructure projects with FEMA. The Director of the Department of Disaster Recovery, Adrienne Williams-Octalien, stated that the conversation is going on consistently, stating that cost factors are evaluated on a quarterly basis.  Director Oriol mentioned that one of the major problems that has plagued him was increased costs, stating that the Department encounters things that were not seen upon initial inspections. Oriol also voiced concern about keeping projects within budget. In addition, Senator Sarauw also voiced concern over the restoration of the Turnbull Library, voicing concern about student accessibility and incompatible operating hours.

Senators present at today’s committee hearing included Janelle K. Sarauw, Kurt A. Vialet, Marvin A. Blyden, Samuel Carrión, Franklin D. Johnson, Carla J. Joseph, and Genevieve R. Whitaker.

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Queen Conch Season Over Until November

Commissioner Jean-Pierre L. Oriol of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources said that the annual queen conch seasonal closure begins today for the St. Croix and St. Thomas/St. John Districts, as established by regulation effective July 1, 2008.

Harvesting of queen conch is prohibited from June 1, 2022, through October 31, 2022.

Possession of queen conch is prohibited from June 15, 2022, through October 31, 2022.

Seasonal harvest closures conserve fished populations and help sustain and improve the fisheries of the Virgin Islands. The conch season will reopen on November 1, 2022, and will remain open until midnight, May 31, 2023, or until the 50,000 lb. quota per district is reached, whichever comes first.

Commissioner Oriol also reminds the public that harvesting and/or possession of Mutton and Lane Snapper are prohibited territory-wide from April 1 to June 30, 2022.

The commissioner asks for everyone’s cooperation to protect Virgin Islands resources for the present and future benefit of the people of the Virgin Islands.

For more information about queen conch or other fishing regulations, please contact the Division of Fish and Wildlife at 340-773-1082 in St. Croix and 340-775-6762 in St. Thomas or the Division of Environmental Enforcement at 340-773-5774 in St. Croix and 340-774-3320 in St. Thomas.

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DPNR To Celebrate Exotic Pet Amnesty Week

FREDERIKSTED — Commissioner Jean-Pierre L. Oriol of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) announces that Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) will celebrate Exotic Pet Amnesty Week from May 28 to June 4, 2022, to bring attention to the impact of invasive species on the Virgin Islands natural environment.  

Residents are invited to bring in their rare, non-native animal species from birds to snakes for a free permit without penalty, to the Division of Fish & Wildlife. The list does not include livestock such as chickens, ducks, and other farm animals which are permitted through the Department of Agriculture. 

This year’s observance will kick off at the 50th Virgin Islands Agriculture and Food Fair on St. Croix at the DPNR tent. “We’re excited to offer this opportunity at the reopening of the Ag Fair to allow residents and visitors to register their exotic animals free of charge and legally possess them in a responsible manner,” Commissioner Oriol said. “The following week, the public can visit other permitting stations on St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John,” continued Oriol. 

Permitting stations will be staffed by the DFW staff on St. Croix from May 28th to May 30th from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the DPNR tent at the Ag Fair or throughout the week at the Mars Hill office from May 31st to June 3rd from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. On St. Thomas and St. John, from June 1st to 3rd, from 4 -7 p.m. at the Coral World Parking Lot and on June 4th, from 12- 3 p.m., at the National Park Visitors Station. Pets must be brought in a secure carrier, otherwise photos should be brought instead. Live animals will be microchipped and or photographed. 

The initiative is funded through a grant from the Department of Interior. For more information, call the office at 340-773-1082 or visit www.dpnr.gov.vi/fish-and-wildlife

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Concerned Scientists Probe Sea Urchin Deaths In Caribbean

SAN JUAN (AP) — Sea urchins are dying across the Caribbean at a pace scientists say could rival a mass die-off that last occurred in 1983, alarming many who warn the trend could further decimate already frail coral reefs in the region.

Dive shops first began reporting the deaths in February, perplexing scientists and worrying government officials who are receiving a growing number of reports about dying sea urchins from islands including Antigua, St. Lucia, Dominica, Jamaica, St. Vincent, Saba and the U.S. Virgin Islands as well as Cozumel in Mexico.

“It’s very concerning, particularly because it’s happening so quickly,” said Patricia Kramer, a marine biologist and program director of the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment, a scientific collaboration to improve reef conditions in the region.

Concerned Scientists Probe Sea Urchin Deaths In Caribbean

At first, the mortality event was linked only to black sea urchins — Diadema antillarum — which are recognizable by their extremely long, skinny spines. But two other species have since been affected, including the rock boring sea urchin and the West Indian sea egg.

The deaths worry Kramer and other scientists including Dana Wusinich-Mendez, Atlantic-Caribbean team lead for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s coral reef conservation program: “Losing our sea urchins would be really devastating.”

The deaths are of concern because sea urchins are herbivores known for being efficient grazers that remove macro algae from coral reefs and clear space for baby sea corals to attach themselves, the two scientists said.

“They’re kind of the unsung heroes of the reefs because they do so many good things,” Kramer said.

While macro algae are an important source of food and shelter for some fish, too many of them can degrade coral reefs that are under stress by warmer-than-average ocean temperatures and a disease known as stony coral tissue loss.

Overfishing across the Caribbean already had led to a greater abundance of macro algae, which was kept in check by sea urchins that are now dying, said Shamal Connell, an officer with St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Fisheries Service who oversees research.

“It’s very urgent that we find a solution,” he said.

The Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment recently helped create a network to investigate the deaths, analyze tissue samples and find solutions. It includes the Florida-based Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute and nearly two dozen groups in the Caribbean and U.S.

Kramer noted that very few black sea urchin populations recovered from the 1983 event that began in the Atlantic Ocean near the Panama Canal and spread northward and then eastward over the next 13 months.

During that time, only the black sea urchin was affected, with 90% or more of the population dying, though at a much slower rate than the current event, she said.

“Just when we’re getting to the point where they’re recovering, they’re dying,” Kramer said.

The U.S. Virgin Island of St. Thomas was the first to report the newest round of deaths in February, although it’s unclear whether that’s where the event started.

“The territory is experiencing an unusual die-off event of long-spined sea urchins,” Friends of the St. Croix East End Marine Park said on February 23. “This is particularly concerning because in the early 1980’s over 90 percent of the natural populations of these urchins were killed by a disease and researchers are worried that this could be a new emergence of disease.”

In mid-March, the Dutch Caribbean island of Saba reported similar deaths, noting that 50 percent of the sea urchin population in its harbor was dead a week later. Officials in Saba said they have around 200 sea urchins in a nursery and are gathering information about the new mortality event, adding that they are treating some with antibiotics that might cure them or prevent them from getting sick.

Meanwhile, Monique Calderon, a fisheries biologist with the government of Saint Lucia, said scientists on the eastern Caribbean island are considering launching their own survey to get more details about where the sea urchins are dying and why.

“When the last die-off occurred in the 1980s, the sampling done wasn’t robust enough to determine what the issue was exactly, what might have caused it,” Calderon said, adding that she hopes to find an explanation with improved technology.

She said dive shops in St. Lucia and other Caribbean islands have reported ocean floors littered with sea urchin spines or sea urchins floating in the water when they are normally anchored to a reef via hydraulic structures known as tube feet. Divers also have found dying sea urchins with droopy spines or with their white skeletons poking through their bodies.

The loss of sea urchins comes amid coral bleaching events resulting from high ocean temperatures and the presence of a disease known as stony coral tissue loss that has affected more than 30 coral species in nearly two dozen countries and territories in the Caribbean, according to the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment program.

“These urchins are vital to the health of our coral reefs because they eat the algae that try and smother coral reef colonies,” Friends of the St. Croix East End Marine Park said. “DPNR needs the help from the public to report any dying/dead urchins around the territory.”

Coral reefs also provide protection from rising seas and storm surges generated by hurricanes that have grown more powerful with global warming, and they are a key attraction for a region that relies heavily on tourism.

“We worry that a real crisis is developing in the Caribbean,” the Diadema Response Network stated in a recent report on the loss of sea urchins.

By DÁNICA COTO/Associated Press

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EPA To Begin Inspecting Underground Storage Tanks At Gas Stations On St. Croix Today

FREDERIKSTED — Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) advises all Gas Station owners and/or operators of underground storage tanks that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Region 2, will be conducting underground storage tank (UST) Inspections in the St. Croix District on or about the week of April 11, 2022. 

EPA has authority to conduct UST inspection(s) and to enforce federal UST regulations in accordance with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments of 1984 (“HSWA”), 42 U.S.C. § 6901 et seq. (collectively referred to as “RCRA” or the “Act”). Mandated by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, EPA or DPNR is required to inspect all federally regulated UST systems every three years. 

EPA To Begin Inspecting Underground Storage Tanks At Gas Stations On St. Croix Today
Underground storage tank for gasoline

Before the inspections occur, EPA encourages owners and operators of UST systems to review compliance with the Federal UST regulations. This includes ensuring all required documentation is completed and available for review during the inspections. If areas of concern are identified, they must be rectified immediately. EPA’s enforcement staff will review the information gathered during the inspection(s) and, if violations are found, will determine what enforcement actions are necessary.  

Please note that violations of federal UST regulations may result in enforcement actions with penalties of up to $24,730 per UST system per day of violation. Therefore, DPNR and EPA encourages owners and operators of UST systems to take immediate steps to ensure compliance with the federal UST regulations which may be found at 40 C.F.R. Part 280.  

Interested persons may also visit https://www.epa.gov/ust/musts-usts for EPA’s guidance document “Musts for USTs”.  

For more information or questions and concerns, contact Austin Callwood, Director of the Division of Environmental Protection at (340) 774-3320 or by email at austin.callwood@dpnr.vi.gov

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DPNR’s Building Permits Division To Discard Old Building Plans

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — The Department of Planning and Natural Resources said that the Division of Permits will be discarding files received between 2011 and 2017, according to DPNR Commissioner Jean -Pierre Oriol.

As stipulated in the International Residential Code and International Building Code, the Division of Permits may hold construction plans for up to six months after the Occupancy Permit has been issued; DPNR is not obligated to retain the files for any longer.

As such, the Department is advising all applicants in the St. Croix district that have obtained an Occupancy Permit from 2011 to 2017 that they may come to the DPNR Mars Hill office and pick up their construction plans.  Files will be available to the public until Tuesday, May 31, 2022, after which time they will be discarded. 

DPNR's Building Permits Division To Discard Old Building Plans

Also, the Department advises all applicants Territory-wide with approved plans from 2016-2021 that have not been picked up, must come in to DPNR, pay the necessary review fees and retrieve their building plans.  Plans that have been reviewed and approved but have not been retrieved for over one year will be discarded after May 31, 2022. 

For more information call (340) 773-1082 on St. Croix and (340) 774-3320 on St. Thomas. 

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Injured Rare Loggerhead Turtle Being Treated By Coral World Ocean and Reef Initiative

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — An injured loggerhead sea turtle was rescued by volunteers from the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rescue (STAR) network in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Fish and Wildlife of the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and Coral World Ocean and Reef Initiative (CWORI). The turtle was first spotted at the Frederiksted Pier on St Croix in late February.

Experts from the Animal Welfare Center on St. Croix, who were monitoring her recovery, determined
after four weeks that she was not progressing as well as hoped. On March 25, QE4 Ferry Service transported her to St Thomas where STAR volunteers drove her to Coral World Ocean Park.

Injured Rare Loggerhead Turtle Being Treated By Coral World Ocean and Reef Initiative

There CWORI Rehabilitation Manager Erica Palmer took charge.

“We gave this young female turtle antibiotics, pain medications, anti-inflammatories as well as fluid therapy,” Palmer said. “Based on x-rays and ultrasound images we determined that the injuries were caused by a shark attack.”

The turtle, which weighs 93 pounds, is receiving medical grade honey therapy in addition to normal
wound care. Palmer went on to say, “her blood values are positive, and she is already eating. All very
positive signs and even though she is missing 80 percent of her right front flipper, she will still be releasable if she continues to do well and heals appropriately.”

Injured Rare Loggerhead Turtle Being Treated By Coral World Ocean and Reef Initiative

Claudia Lombard of STAR, noted “Like all sea turtle species, Loggerhead sea turtles, like all other sea
turtles, are protected by the Endangered Species Act. By-catch in commercial fisheries, loss of nesting
habitat due to coastal development, and historical harvest of sea turtle meat and eggs have all played a part in the decline of this species.”

All sea turtles are designated as either threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973. Violations can result in up to one year in prison, up to a $100,000 fine, and the confiscation of any equipment used during the criminal act.

Injured Rare Loggerhead Turtle Being Treated By Coral World Ocean and Reef Initiative

“STAR relies on many community volunteers, local veterinarians, and other donated resources like those offered by Coral World Ocean Park, but the most important participant in STAR is you!” Palmer said. “Please report any entrapped, disoriented, sick, injured, or dead sea turtle by calling the rescue hotline at (340) 690-0474. You can find out more about STAR at STAR-Sea Turtle Assistance and Rescue.”

Coral World Ocean Park is the only approved Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Facility in the Virgin Islands. Rescue and rehabilitation is now conducted and funded through Coral World Ocean and Reef Initiative. Donations are welcome.

Injured Rare Loggerhead Turtle Being Treated By Coral World Ocean and Reef Initiative
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Find Out What Beach You Should Avoid This Weekend: DPNR Beach Advisory

CHRISTIANSTED — One beach in St. Croix failed to meet established standards for water quality and should be avoided this weekend, according to the latest DPNR Beach Advisory.

The Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) announces that the Beach Water
Quality Monitoring Program, which evaluates weekly water quality at popular swimming
beaches throughout the territory by sampling for Enterococci, Bacteria and Turbidity, which
is a measure of water clarity, advises the public of the following:

DPNR performed water quality analysis at 28 designated beaches throughout the Territory
during the week of March 21 – March 25, 2022. The following beaches meet water quality
standards and are considered safe for swimming and fishing:

Find Out What Beach You Should Avoid This Weekend: DPNR Beach Advisory

The following beach does not meet water quality standards because it exceeds the
established Enterococci Bacteria threshold and therefore is not considered safe for
swimming or fishing:

• Princess (Condo Row) on St. Croix

Please note: Samples were not collected at the following beaches on St. Croix:
• Stony Ground
• Dorsch Beach
• Frederiksted Public Beach
• Rainbow Beach
• Cane Bay
• Gentle Winds
• Pelican Cove (Comorant)
Therefore, the water quality at these beaches is unknown.

All persons should be aware that storm water runoff may also contain contaminants or
pollutants harmful to human health and therefore, should avoid areas of storm water
runoff (i.e., guts, puddles, and drainage basins) or any area that appears discolored or has
foul odors. DPNR will continue to monitor impacted areas and waters.

For additional information regarding water quality call the Division of Environmental
Protection at 773-1082 in St. Croix or 774-3320 in St. Thomas

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Talk Today On Dietary History, Cultural Food Traditions of Ancestral Native Virgin Islanders

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — The DPNR Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums, as part of its V.I. Cultural Month Series, will host a presentation and follow-up discussion on the Dietary History and Cultural Food Traditions of Ancestral Native Virgin Islanders by Gail Shulterbrandt-Rivera, on Wednesday, March 23rd, 5:30 – 7:30pm at the historic Lutheran Chapel in the courtyard at Fort Christian Museum on St. Thomas. 

Gail Shulterbrandt-Rivera, L.D., a retired Director of Nutrition, licensed dietitian, historian and author will lead the discussion on how the ancestral Creole native food traditions of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John were formed due to the historic influence of Africa, Europe, Scandinavia, Taino-Carib and Amerindia.  

Talk Today On Dietary History, Cultural Food Traditions of Ancestral Native Virgin Islanders

This presentation will provide an opportunity for the public and visitors to learn of untold local cultural history, traditions, their origin, and other contributing factors and sources. The focus will be on select native Virgin Islands’ dietary food customs. 

“The forum will also allow the public and visitors to come together to discover Virgin Islands history that ties us to those countries that once occupied this territory, along with the influence of others,” said Amy Parker DeSorbo, Director of the Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums. 

Fort Christian Museum is open from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM, Monday through Friday.

For more information, please contact Monica Marin DLAM Chief Territorial Curator at monica.marin@dpnr.vi.gov or DLAM Director Amy Parker DeSorbo at amy.desorbo@dpnr.vi.com