18 The DaIly News. Friday. June 2, 1995
Help UVI protect its wetland
Throughout much of modern
history in the Virgin Islands, wet-
lands have been altered or
destroyed by man.
On St. Croix. more than 64 per-
cent of the original wetlands habitat
have been destroyed. They are
drained, filled, channeled, polluted,
built on. and used as dump sites.
To many people, wetlands mean
nothing. But that is like telling God,
"What you created wet lands for?"
In 1956, the Southgate wetland
mangrove forest covered one-third
of the pond that was sold to a real
estate company. Bulldozers were
put in and in short order the area
was drained and stripped of its
mangrove forest. One of the best
wetlands on St. Croix was
destroyed practically overnight.
What many people do not real-
ize is that half the fish that we eat
live in wetlands areas when they
are young in such places as
Southgate pond. So nearly all the
fish and shellfish harvested com-
mercially in the Virgin Islands
depend on wetlands for food. pro-
tection and habitat during part of
their life cycle.
Like giant sponges, wetlands
help purify water by processing
nutrients and suspended materials
that runoff from the land.
Do you know that wetlands help
control flood waters by absorbing
waters during heavy rainfall?
Because wetlands are often located
between bodies of water and high
grounds, wetlands buffer shorelines
against erosion. Wetlands plants
bind the soil together with their
roots and help absorb the impact of
wave action. Many endangered
species lives in wetlands, as do
birds and mammals of all sizes
from the great egret to the black-
crowned night heron.
These are some of the lessons
when I take schoolchildren on hikes
to visit wetlands habitats on St.
Croix. If you ask a person on the
street how a wetlands ecosystem
functions, that person could not
give you the correct answer, but the
children I taught can. No wonder
we say, "Our youth are our future."
This week, the University of the
Virgin Islands "Wetlands Reserve
Management Plan" for Cane Gar-
den Bay area was discussed at a
public meeting in the theater on the
St. Croix campus. Some time ago,
the University of the Virgin Islands
was given a generous gift of some
300 acres of land by a company.
The land is east of Hess Oil Refin-
ery. We all know that land given to
the university was sold to Hess Oil
Refinery. From the 300 acres, the
university retained 52 acres as wet-
lands.-Hess promised to donate
funds for five years to maintain the
site as a wildlife preserve and to
assist the university in using it as a
The Eastern Caribbean Center,
which is part of the university sys-
tem, has the task of develop the
management for the site, locally
called Billy French Pond. The UVI
Wetlands was once a part of the
Krause Lagoon, the largest man-
grove forest wetland in the Virgin
Islands. We all know what hap-
pened to that island treasure.
In 1960s, Hess Oil Refinery and
Harvey Aluminum Corp. built on
the wetland by drainage filling and
channelling the re, totally altering
the once-pristine area forever. It
was once home to thousands of
white-crowned pigeon. Today, they
are on the endangered species list
The purpose of the UVI Wetland
Management Plan is to (1) "Main-
tain, protect, and enhance the quali-
ty and integrity of the wetlands bio-
logical and aesthetic resource. (2)
Enhance local awareness of the sig-
nificance of the natural resources.
(3) Increase compatible public use
in a way that provides the greatest
education and research benefits.(4)
Encourage scientific research with-
in the UVI wetlands."
In the 1920s. this wetland was
once a wealth of birdlife particular-
ly ducks and wading birds. During
the 1960s and 1970s there wasex-
tensive clearing of vegetation. It is
interesting to note the vegetation
remaining around the ponds sup-
ported a diverse species of birdlife.
Ducks, herons, pelicans, osprey
or other species of birds can be
found feeding, roosting, or nesting
in the area. This wetland is also
known for such endangered species
as the hawksbill and leatherback
sea turtles. The ponds also inhabit-
ed a large fish population of tilapia.
tarpon and mosquito fish. Crabs,
insects, mollusks, and other organ-
isms are also in an abundance.
I support the UVI Wetland, what
Call UVI-ECC at 778-1112.
Olasee Davis, who holds a mas-
ter ofscience degree in range man-
agement and forestry ecology, is a
St. Croix ecologist. activist and