BVI Spring Regatta

Case Study

Reducing the environmental footprint left from hosting a week-long regatta is not a new goal for the BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival. For the last decade, they have partnered with Sailors for the Sea to bring innovation to other Caribbean regattas. Their motto has always been “recycle, reuse, repurpose.” Living in a territory of islands surrounded by some of the most beautiful waters in the world has made them more cognizant of the fragile balance between man and nature.

And since Irma and Maria devastated the BVI, creating five years of debris in two single day events, living responsibly and sustainably is more important than ever.

As pioneers aiming toward sustaining this wonderful land where they work and play, the BVI Spring Regatta has tried to up their game every year by adding new policies to extend their reach and allow them to impact their community more positively.  They understand that reaching out allows a mutual understanding of the importance of education and practices that help them set priorities.  The regatta allows them to use their international platform to educate others in ways that encourage people to become more aware of the effects lifestyle choices have on the environment and the community. By doing so, they feel it encourages them to incorporate sustainability into their daily lives to protect finite resources.

Among the measures incorporated to create a more sustainable sailing event at the BVI Spring Regatta:

Upcycle, Not Just Recycle

For many of us, when we think of “recycling”, we think of collecting bottles and cans and dropping them off at our local materials recovery center or recycling center. But what does one do if you’re on an island and there isn’t the option to dispose of the recycling in an environmentally friendly manner? Starting in 2008, the BVI Spring Regatta started collecting and recycling all the glass and plastic that was used during the regatta knowing full well that there wasn’t any recycling on-island. In 2011, regatta awards were created using this recycled glass and promoted using the tagline, “the drink you hold this year could be the award you get next year.”

A Regatta of Firsts

It’s always nice to get first in the race, or first overall in the regatta. If there was an award for 1st place, the BVI Spring Regatta would be up there for the amount of “firsts” that they have been able to accomplish through their involvement with the Clean Regattas program. Back in 2009, they were the first regatta Sailors for the Sea recognized with a Silver level certificate. Since then, they have expanded the program to include Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum.

In 2013, BVI Spring Regatta required all vendors to place food in compostable containers by banning Styrofoam from the regatta village. Heineken matched funds collected by regatta participants and donated all the proceeds to a local environmental organization, GreenVI. Funds raised in this manner allowed the regatta to purchase carbon offsets to make the BVI Spring Regatta the first carbon neutral regatta in the world.

Green and Clean Cleaning

When it comes to spreading the word about how individual boaters can become more conscientious towards the ocean, there’s no better way to maximize reach than by using the platform presented by a regatta. BVI Spring Regatta has made green and clean boating a special priority over the last 11 years. In 2009, they banned the use of plastic straws, distributed oil spill pads to all participants, and established a team of “Green Rangers” to keep the shores and water clean and to dispose of trash properly. In 2012, in addition to distributing oil spill pads, all motorized race official boats had oil spill kits on board. Another three years later, a special Biobag was given to each boat with a list of green cleaning products along with sustainable suggestions specific to sailing yachts (no discharge of black water, reduce gray water, no bottom cleaning in sensitive areas, etc.)

Responding to Crisis

It’s impossible to talk about Tortola or the BVI Spring Regatta and not mention how they were able to rebound after the hurricane season of 2017. Hurricanes Irma and Marie were a testament to how little control we have over nature’s wrath. During the 2017 edition of the BVI Spring Regatta, an initiative was launched called “How Long Till It’s Gone?”  to educate participants about the time needed to decompose popular products, thereby encouraging more responsible use.  The regatta also made sure all bar glasses were reusable or compostable.  All results were only given electronically to cut down on paper waste.

In 2018, awards were locally made and either sustainable or usable.  The awards are made from Irma debris and created by Annie MacPhail of Nutmeg Designs and Carrie Wright of VI Plastics.  BVI Marine Association continued its sponsorship of refillable water bottles as well as the solar lights used in the village to reduce the use of electricity.   A beach clean-up day was coordinated with the Wombles (a community group of volunteers) to assist with recovery. Acting as our Green Rangers, students from high school and the local college organized a full regatta village clean up.

2019 and Onward

An “eco-lounge” was added to the Regatta Village.  This is an area dedicated to education and leisure.  It includes posters teaching visitors what they can do, as individuals, to limit their environmental stress.  Youth sailing dinghies were placed strategically to act as recycling collection points for any single-use plastic bottles used by regatta participants.  With help from the local government, regatta officials also provided reusable bags made from recycled plastic (provided by Governor Jaspert) for collecting and carrying the bottles into the village.  This made recycling easier and more convenient.  The lounge was decorated with furniture made from recycled plastic here in the BVI by VI Plastics.  The BVI Spring Regatta continues to encourage the use of reusable water bottles by providing bottles in each skipper’s bag (with the bag made by Nutmeg Designs on Tortola using recycled sail and kite material) along with providing free drinking water throughout the regatta weekend.  The skippers also received a small lagniappe in their skipper’s bags and shampoo/laundry bars to help participants “bag the bottles”. Like in 2018, local talent at Nutmeg Designs and VI Plastics produced the awards.

Says Regatta Director Judy Petz, “don’t think that it takes large groups to affect environmental changes. Little acts really do add up to big change.“

“Individually,” she says, “we are one drop but together, we are an ocean.  As we all contribute and do our part, we can work together to make a big splash.”