By Esther Durand, BVI News Journalist
Local stakeholders have made renewed calls for laws that will prohibit vessels from pumping untreated human waste near beaches in the British Virgin Islands.
Presently, there are no direct laws in the territory dealing with the issue except a section of the Fisheries Act, which states that harmful and poisonous pollutants are not allowed in any fresh estuarine of fishery waters in the BVI.
Bishop John Cline and Second District Representative Melvin ‘Mitch’ Turnbull raised the issue at a tourism stakeholder’s meeting in Cane Garden Bay recently.
“These yachts are still allowed to pump raw sewerage in the harbour and this law needs to be addressed. They cannot do it in St Thomas. It is illegal and they can get fined. They should not be allowed to do it in the BVI,” Cline said.
“I have raised it since becoming elected,” the first-term legislator said; adding that the BVI Tourist Board has also joined his campaign to amend the law.
Issue not major
Meanwhile, Chairman of the Charter Yacht Society (CYS) Ruth Ross told BVI News the issue is not major.
“It is a very small amount of effluent dumped into a very large body of water. And I think there is a much greater problem from our point of view of effluent being pumped from land into the bays such as Cane Garden Bay,” Ross said.
She said only a few yachts currently utilize the bays.
With that argument, she stated: “It is just not feasible that it would cause any water quality issues.”
Ross said when the issue surfaced a few years ago, local stakeholders met with the government and formulated a response that the CYS still supports.
According to the document, sewerage discharged from yachts causes a serious ‘aesthetic’ problem in enclosed anchorage areas.
The discharge also causes health and environmental damage. But numerous studies have found this to be comparatively minimal.
Sewerage discharged from yachts in open waters, by contrast, does not cause problems any more than waste from other forms of life which exist in the sea, the document said.
According to the document: “There are no easy answers. At present, there are four ways to deal with yacht-generated sewerage: management, treatment, natural degradation, and land discharge.”
This option requires holding tanks as well as enforcing ‘no dumping’ prohibitions in enclosed anchorages and other swimmer-intensive areas. Yachts, therefore, would be required to discharge the sewerage accumulated in their holding tanks into the open sea; away from shore, where it does not cause problems.
Treatment consists of using one of the proprietary onboard treatment systems for yachts, whereby sewerage is treated to a level roughly equivalent to land treatment plants, and then immediately discharged into the ocean.
Natural degradation may be the long-term solution for both marine and land toilets.
In these systems — also known as composting toilets — urine is separated from solid waste, which undergoes the natural process of composting. Every few weeks, or perhaps once per month depending upon the frequency of use, the ash-like compost produced is either used in gardens or simply thrown in the garbage.
Land discharge involves storing waste then discharging it ashore by using pump-out stations.
A variation would be to have pump-out stations aboard barges, which would then treat the waste, bring it ashore, or dump it offshore.
Of the 900 charter boats believed to be in the territory, there are only a few on-land pump-out stations.
CYS said it feels most ‘comfortable’ in endorsing and supporting the ‘management’ solution.
“The majority of our member yachts have holding tanks already installed, and most already use them in bays and anchorages and discharge in the channel,” CYS said in the aforementioned document.
Enforcing law would be hard
According to the Department of Conservation and Fisheries, even if there were laws, actual enforcement would pose a challenge on the water.
The BVI has been widely acclaimed to be a paradise for marine lovers, with many marinas and vessels visiting on a daily basis.
However, persons could be fined up to $1,000 if evidence can be produced to support a formal complaint that boaters dispose of their waste closer to land.
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