Human impact on the environment and ways to alleviate our green footprint are essential conversations in the mainland US, and particularly critical in the USVI. The territory’s unique location, natural resources, and diverse wildlife make it well-positioned to explore opportunities in renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and the blue economy. The RTPark’s Sustainability Fellows, Bryan Redden, and Mengqing Kan join us in writing this blog, which showcases why the USVI is an excellent locale to support sustainability efforts and highlight what the territory has done thus far in this arena.
First, the USVI is poised to increase its use of renewable energy sources. Globally, installed renewable energy is increasing. Renewable energy comprised 26.2 percent of global electricity in 2018 and is projected to comprise 40 percent of electricity generation by the year 2040. The USVI has all of the resources necessary to increase its renewable energy generation and take advantage of the global momentum in this area. According to a report by the University of the US Virgin Islands, the territory depends entirely on imported fossil fuels. This dependence can leave us susceptible to external factors that can impact our supply. Drawing more energy generation from renewable sources can mitigate our extensive electricity rates and risk as a result of dependence on outside sources. To reduce our reliance on fossil fuel energy, in 2010, Gov. John P. de Jongh Jr. announced a goal to decrease the territory’s dependency on fossil fuel by 60 percent by 2025. With good policy and program support, the territory has a lot of potential to grow its solar and wind resources. For instance, the territory’s tropical climate and intense sunlight make it a good source of photovoltaic energy. Additionally, our abundance of sunlight leads to high agricultural yields too.
Second, the USVI’s growing agriculture industry can make the territory a leading food producer in the region. The USVI has an ideal climate for year-round food production, an abundance of arable land, and a high demand for fresh produce, making it the perfect locale to develop agricultural products further. Moreover, the agricultural sector has vast potential to become a leading producer and attraction for people from around the world and a partner to develop innovative agricultural technologies. St. Croix hosts an annual agriculture and food fair each February called ‘Agrifest.’ According to the Agrifest website, they are the largest agricultural exposition in the territory that displays products, crafts, and cuisine from local agricultural producers. In 2007, the fair drew an estimated 35,000 visitors (10,000-15,000 per day).
Supporting agriculture also provides support for the territory’s GDP and job opportunities. Projects like the Impact Traits project, which grows disease-free cassava lines in the U.S. Virgin Islands, will hire approximately 100 farmers. By supporting programs like the Impact Traits project, we support vertical integration of cassava production and processing and job opportunities in the USVI. Through this project, the hope is to develop about 40-60 tons of this crop staple per hectare, with a disease-free variety in mind. The cassava project would contribute significantly to the growth of the Territory’s GDP and allow for fair compensation for local farmers.
Finally, the ocean and marine technology industries, also known as the “blue economy,” are very important both in the United States and globally. The blue economy is uniquely vital to the USVI not only because of its location in the Caribbean but because businesses in this industry support nine times more jobs in the USVI than in the mainland US. In May, Governor Bryan signed a bill authorizing federal and territory agencies to create a plan to develop a sustainable blue economy in the USVI. In addition to the territory’s policy support for this industry and its ideal location, the USVI also has a depth of experience and expertise in this area. The University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) has multiple centers and programs focused on marine and environmental research. Organizations like the Nature Conservancy play an essential role in providing scientific technology support, connecting an interdisciplinary network of experts, and advancing their work. In 2019 on St. Croix, TNC applied the structure-from-motion method to assess coral survival rates and impacts from disease, which helped predict climate-related threats and evaluate the USVI’s coral reef management plan.
Ultimately, the USVI’s agricultural sector, blue economy, and energy industry have the potential to improve the environment, provide more resources for the territory, and become a leading partner in these efforts. For more information on these topics, please join us on August 11th-14th at 1 pm for the RTPark’s first-ever Sustainability Webinar Series; find more details here.