Government officials from the British Virgin Islands (BVI) have visited the University of Southampton to formalise a commitment for a growing collaboration around research and educational activities that will help tackle environmental and societal challenges and raise local capacities in the BVI.
A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed at the University following a previous in-person visit from the BVI Government in 2018 and a series of engagements and virtual workshops with the Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute (SMMI), the wider University and Public Policy Southampton (PPS) where policy priorities were matched with research expertise at the University of Southampton.
The collaboration will also provide a vital opportunity for the UK Government to deliver on its climate and biodiversity targets, which are already supported by existing programmes such as The Blue Belt Programme.
Dr Wassim Dbouk, Marine and Maritime Policy Research Fellow at the UoS explains: “The Blue Belt Programme is the UK Government’s flagship international marine conservation Programme. It works closely with UK Overseas Territories to assist them in creating and maintaining healthy and productive marine ecosystems.
“Around 90 per cent of the UK’s biodiversity can be found in UK Overseas Territories and the BVI are strongly considered as one of the world’s biodiversity “hotspots”, with a vast range of unique and endangered species calling the islands their home – some of which can not be found anywhere else on earth.”
He continued: “Recent scientific reports reflect a growing recognition of the role which ocean-based action, particularly around coastal habitats, can play in mitigating the negative consequences of climate change and increasing resilience to them. The understanding that climate action would not be efficient without addressing the global crisis of biodiversity loss has also been reflected in the preamble to the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan at COP27, making it ever more vital for the University to strengthen its efforts in supporting the BVI Government at this crucial time.”
The MoU, which provides a non-legally binding statement of intent from both parties, was signed by Professor Mark E. Smith, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Southampton The Premier Dr. the Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley of the BVI.
The ceremony was attended by the University’s leadership team, represented by Professor Mark Spearing, Vice President of Research and Enterprise, and Professor Jane Falkingham, Vice-President International and Engagement, along with Professor Damon Teagle, Director of the SMMI and the head of PPS, Gareth Giles, as well as several colleagues from across the University’s faculties.
The Premier Dr. the Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley Minister of Finance was presented with gifts on the day followed by short speeches from himself and the Vice President.
Premier Wheatley explained that he is: “…truly excited about this new partnership with the University of Southampton, which will mean shared education and research opportunities as well as exchanges.” He said that “the Government of the Virgin Islands is proud to be connected with such a prestigious world-renowned institution that is so highly regarded for its ground breaking marine and environmental work.” He is especially looking forward to working with the university on the mapping of the Territory’s environmental assets.
Professor Mark Spearing said: “The University of Southampton is proud to formalise its collaboration with the Government of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) through signing this Memorandum of Understanding. Partnering with the BVI Government is a clear example of putting the University’s Triple Helix approach into action to deliver solutions for pressing challenges, notably those caused by climate change.
“Through engaging in collaborative Research, Education and Knowledge Exchange activities, our intent is to help generate the knowledge-base to inform decision-making by the BVI Government and contribute to developing local capacity for its people.”