Preserving the Fragile Archipelago

Contributor Krista Schlyer and CW managing editor Elaine Lembo share tips for environmentally wise bareboating

Preserving the Fragile Archipelago

Elaine Lembo

Waking up on deck off Jost Van Dyke, in the British Virgin Islands, a mild sea breeze pulls my sleepy attention to a vague, lavender horizon, a hazy band where sea and sky blend. My early-morning thoughts wander. What would it feel like to be here as a liveaboard helping to look after the natural marine resources of this territory, the beautiful tropical landfall of many offshore passagemakers and thousands of charter-boat sailors?

In a place as stunning as the B.V.I., it's a huge challenge to protect the environment while still attracting growth. Over the last decade, the B.V.I. has experienced a fast-paced expansion in tourism; in residential, commercial, and waterfront development; and in the cruise-ship, megayacht, and charter industries. Each sector has grown, and so has awareness that all have a stake in protecting this fragile archipelago.

When I returned home-long removed from that morning reverie-I realized that during my weeklong bareboat charter, our crew made some classic mistakes that are bad for the environment. With a little guidance and forethought, we could have done a better job.

I came up with a list of pointers for environmentally responsible cruising and chartering with help from some local experts who spend much of their time in and on the waters there. Pointers came from skipper Trish Baily of Serendipity, the eco-sail charter sloop; marine biologist Shannon Gore, who conducts coral-reef monitoring and turtle tagging for the B.V.I. Department of Conservation and Fisheries; and the Marine Association of the British Virgin Islands.

Some tips:
• Use your bareboat's holding tank, and don't discharge raw sewage within 1,000 yards of shore.
• Pack dish and boat soaps and toiletries that don't contain harsh ingredients for use aboard. (See "A Stick-to-It Solution for the Cruising
Chef," New Products section, Cruising World magazine, August 2006)
• If the boat's equipped with real dishes, cups, glasses, and cutlery, use those instead of paper, Styrofoam, or plastic disposable items.
• Don't touch coral or anchor on it.
• Respect the boundaries of any marine-protected areas.
• Remove dried clothes and towels from the lifelines.

"I find so many towels, bottles, cans, and plates on the sea floor," said Gore, of Conservation and Fisheries. "You name it, I've found it. Wallets, too." Towels, Gore said, smother sea grass.

Such booty is what Gore typically finds when she's diving to conduct coral monitoring. Among the findings of the project, now in its second year, is that roughly a third of the coral at her research project's seven monitoring sites is dead or diseased. "This is a serious problem that we need to address," she said. A plan to create marine-protected boundaries is near completion, she added.

The next time you set sail aboard a bareboat, treat your vacation paradise as a beloved home. When your charter company briefs you about all the gorgeous beaches and hottest bars, ask for information about environmentally wise practices.

Keep your eyes open while you're sailing; if you see something that's cause for concern, speak up. Tourism is the lifeblood of the Caribbean, and what you say, or don't say, matters a great deal.


For a list of bareboat-charter companies and brokers, turn to "Charter Address Book" (coming soon to