United States Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs Carmen G. Cantor visited the US Virgin Islands (USVI) and Puerto Rico to highlight the Department’s efforts to bolster coastal and climate resilience in the US territories, and opportunities to tell a more complete story of America.
Throughout the visit, they met with elected leaders and community partners, visited National Park Service (NPS) and US Fish and Wildlife Service-managed areas, and toured sites that help tell the story of enslaved people in the USVI. The trip highlighted how significant investments from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act will help ensure the US territories have the resources they need to withstand the impacts of extreme weather events and the climate crisis.
In St. Thomas, Secretary Haaland, Assistant Secretary Cantor, Governor Albert Bryan (D), and Lt. Governor Tregenza Roach (D) honored our nation’s veterans and military families at a Veterans Day parade and ceremony. Secretary Haaland and Assistant Secretary Cantor toured Fort Christian, a designated US National Historic Landmark, and met with local high school student leaders from the Close-Up Organization and Junior Statesman of America.
In St. John, the Interior leaders visited Lind Point in the Virgin Islands National Park, which is rebuilding several infrastructure projects following the impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. They explored the Annaberg Sugar Plantation, where the NPS is working to integrate the story of the enslaved people who were integral to the history of the site. They hiked through Reef Bay and viewed area wildlife, petroglyphs, and landscapes, where they heard about ongoing efforts to increase soil stabilization, prevent erosion on the park’s beaches, and protect the biodiversity of the island.
In St. Croix, Secretary Haaland and Assistant Secretary Cantor visited The Nature Conservancy (TNC) Coral Innovation Lab to learn about how it is advancing coral science and techniques to help reefs recover on a larger scale. The NPS has invested $1.1 million in a coral restoration partnership with TNC, which has provided support for the first land-based nursery on St. Croix, increasing the opportunity for long-term restoration efforts. This model of collaborative conservation is at the heart of the Biden-Harris administration’s America the Beautiful initiative.
They were joined by FWS staff and scientists at Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge, to learn about their work to advance sea turtle management and recovery at the refuge. The visit culminated in the incredible experience of releasing newborn turtles who had hatched that morning but had not made it out of their nest. They traveled to the Christiansted National Historical Site where the NPS is educating visitors about the tragic history of the site, which includes public auctions of and brutality against enslaved people. The trip to St. Croix also included site visits to Point Udall and Buck Island Reef National Monument.
The visit highlighted the significant resources that have been directed to USVI through Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs (OIA), including nearly $3 million in Technical and Maintenance Assistance program grants; $3.4 million under the Energizing Insular Communities program; $571,306 in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding; and $378,339 under the Coral Reef and Natural Resources Initiative. OIA also provides support to the USVI through the Executive Leadership Development Program and the Island Government Finance Officers Association managed under the Pacific and Virgin Islands Training Initiatives.
Secretary Haaland and Assistant Secretary Cantor then traveled to Puerto Rico, where they met with Governor Pedro Pierluisi (NPP, D) and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (NPP, R) to discuss the Biden-Harris administration’s ongoing support for the island. They visited the San Juan National Historic Site (NHS) and toured the Castillo San Felipe del Morro, where they saw ongoing projects aimed at mitigating coastal erosion and climate impacts on the historic masonry structures of the area. They also visited Castillo San Cristobal, an 18th-century military fortress also part of the NHS, which now captures and uses harvested rainwater to enable the park to be more sustainable, efficient, cost-conscious, and less burdensome to municipal water systems.
The Biden-Harris administration is committed to helping support the island’s economic development and Hurricane Fiona response and recovery efforts through a comprehensive and holistic approach that sets the island on a course for prosperity. Key to this commitment is President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which is investing millions of dollars in Puerto Rico to bolster resilience against pressing challenges like impacts of climate change and extreme weather events. The Interior Department has also announced that a total of $15 million in funding for climate change technical assistance has been made available under the Inflation Reduction Act for the US territories, to include Puerto Rico.