If boaters want one of 16 spaces on the Benner Bay hurricane mooring chain, they must sign up on June 4. The Fish and Wildlife Division of the Planning and Natural Resources Department will hold a drawing for the spaces starting at 9 a.m., but boaters can put their names in the pool beginning at 8 a.m. The drawing will be held at the Fish and Wildlife office in Red Hook.
“It saves the mangroves, and this is the largest remaining intact mangrove area in the territory,” January Murray, a fisheries biologist at Fish and Wildlife, said of the hurricane mooring system.
Those mangroves serve as nurseries for juvenile fish, and Murray said that if they are destroyed, the territory’s fisheries will suffer.
She said that using the hurricane chain provides holding power equal to that of tying up to the mangroves.
To participate in the drawing, boat owners will fill out a card with their name and boat name and place it in the box. Bring boat information, including registration or documentation number. Cards will be drawn from the box, and the boat owner called up to select any available spots on the storm refuge chain system.
While January recommended that all vessel owners be present for the drawing, a vessel owner who is unable to attend the registration due to a conflict may select another person as proxy to register their vessel. Written permission must be provided during registration and must specify the owner, vessel and proxy names.
Registration or documentation numbers for the vessel must also be provided for the application. Persons registering vessels as proxy will be processed in the same fashion as other registrants. Vessel owners must realize that a proxy is making a decision on placement of their boat for a storm event and must accept the location selected by the proxy.
Boaters are advised to review the “Bovoni Cay Storm Refuge Use and Guidelines” booklet available at the Fish and Wildlife office.
The hurricane mooring system is designed for vessels less than 65 feet long. Vessels larger than 65 feet may continue to use Bovoni Cay outside of the mooring field area with their own gear. Vessels may also use areas without a storm chain.
According to Murray, boaters must be present in U.S. and British Virgin Islands waters for at least 50 percent of the hurricane season to secure a berth in the drawing. This means they must spend at least 90 days in either territory during the June 1 to Nov. 30 hurricane season.
If a resident gets a berth and is found to be out of the territory for more than half the season without notifying Fish and Wildlife, the boater will permanently forfeit the berth. If the vessel has a berth and the owner must leave the territory, he or she may notify Fish and Wildlife in writing and the boater will be allowed to participate in future berth drawings.
The establishment of a storm refuge system in Benner Bay enables the continued use of this area as a safe haven for vessels during storm events while protecting the mangroves and other natural resources for which this area was established, January said.
The Bovoni Cay storm refuge mooring system is located in the St. Thomas East End Reserve, which is an Area of Particular Concern and a Marine and Wildlife Sanctuary.
All boaters are reminded that tying to mangrove trees, roots and other mangrove parts is prohibited under territorial law. The proposed extreme weather hurricane safe mooring system should help minimize damage to mangroves, vessels, property, and in addition create easier and more orderly access to secure mooring sites.
For more information, contact Murray or Fish and Wildlife employees Stephen Hale, Judy Pierce and Renata Platenberg at 775-6762. Reach Murray at [email protected].