Amdeep and Gumption CVM, BVI. Peter Richardson

Listening to the voices of the Virgin Islands

3 minute read

Dr Peter Richardson

Dr Peter Richardson, Head of Ocean Recovery

7 Apr 2022

After months of lockdown delays, COVID contractions and cancellations, I was delighted to head out to the Virgin Islands in March with Amdeep Sanghera, our UK Overseas Territories Conservation Officer.

We were visiting the Virgin Islands for more Community Voice Method field work on another ground-breaking Caribbean turtle conservation project.

Amdeep and Peter, CVM, British Virgin Islands. Peter Richardson.

Dr Peter Richardson and Amdeep Sanghera conducting Community Voice Method interviews

Credit: Peter Richardson

Virgin Islands communities have been consuming turtles for centuries, but in recent years it has become a highly sensitive and controversial issue. Some sections of the community passionately argue for continued turtle hunting, and others vociferously calling for a ban. Perhaps because of this tension, very little is known about the extent and nature of the current turtle fishery, nor its economic or cultural value. Our Darwin Plus-funded Sustaining Turtles, Environment, Economies and Livelihoods (STEEL) project is reaching deep into the Island’s communities, giving us an unprecedented insight into this fascinating issue.

While local project co-lead Dr Shannon Gore of ARK and Government partners are spearheading the biological research such as turtle tagging, nesting monitoring and habitat surveys, we are leading the stakeholder engagement with the Community Voice Method (CVM).

We interviewed students, fishermen and women, dive and tour operators, local restaurateurs, chefs, sport anglers, conservationists, media professionals, government officers and others; capturing on film their views, values, opinions, and perspectives about how they want turtles to feature in the future of the Virgin Islands.

Everyone we met was warm, friendly, and welcoming. They were happy to chat about their life in - and love of - the Virgin Islands, their views and concerns about local fishery management, and particularly their views on turtle fishing, consumption and conservation.

Amdeep and I travelled throughout the archipelago, making sure that we spoke to a wide range of people with a diversity of views from the different communities around the islands.

The interviews will be transcribed, coded, and analysed by our excellent social science team. Guided by the analysis, they will use the footage to produce an engaging, locally-led documentary film that represents the range of views held by our interviewees. In October we’ll take the film back to the Virgin Islands and screen it throughout the archipelago communities to as wide an audience as possible.

At some of the screenings we’ll hold special workshops to generate debate and discussion to inform our turtle conservation recommendations (see how we have used CVM elsewhere).

I was last in the Virgin Islands almost 20 years ago, working with Shannon on a turtle satellite tracking project when she was in the VI Government’s Conservation and Fisheries Department. While waiting on dark, deserted beaches for nocturnal nesting leatherbacks, we hatched the outline of this project plan. It took us a long, long time to secure the necessary funding, so it’s very satisfying to see what we discussed all those years ago finally start falling into place.

A lot has changed in the Virgin Islands since then. The country has experienced rapid development, with some parts now unrecognizable. This economic growth was halted by the catastrophic 2017 hurricanes and the blight of the recent COVID pandemic. Despite these tragedies, the people we met were hopeful and resourceful, and are working hard to get their livelihoods and economy back on track. I can’t wait to get back out there later this year and work with them to support their visions, and develop conservation solutions for a brighter future for their turtles and the precious habitats they depend on.