The Daily News February 20. 1998
St. Croix's wetlands play
important role in wildlife
At the agriculture fair on St. and offshore areas continue today to
Croix last weekend, my display was provide valuable habitat, including
"Wetlands of St. Croix 150 years Olasee mangroves, sea grass beds, and an
ago." This display commemorated Davis offshore dredge spoil islet, which
the celebration of the 150 years of o has become refuge for wildlife.
emancipation of slavery in the Vir- Pond Bush wetland once was
gin Islands. home to a variety of organisms
St. Croix was an island of natu- especially crabs. This marsh swamp
ral beauty where rivers flowed from land was also a haven to birds. Like
the north, south and west. During bird species found on the island an other wetlands on the island, this
slavery, sugarcane grew on the bor- dependent on wetlands for their swamp land was altered tremen-
der of both towns of St. Croix. food, shelter and/or nesting habitat dously. Harden Out about three
Even in the 1930s, Frederikated still Furthermore, 71 percent of the bird miles cast run into Pond Bush
had sugarcane growing at its bor- species now extinct or extirpated swamp land was a famous stream
der: In fact, there were 23,971 acres from St. Croix were wetland depen- where women of Frederiksted town
of sugarcane just before the 1848 dent, while 91 percent of the bird washed their clothes. Today, the
emancipation. When the French species considered threatened or Queen Louise H8me for the chil-
occupied St. Croix in the 1600s, endangered in the Virgin Islands am dren is where Harden Out streams
they mentioned three major rivers wetland dependent. used to run year around.
and 16 brooks. Looking at it from another There are so many wetlands to
In 1776, Philip Freneau started, angle, 34 percent of all wetland talk about on St. Croix. but I will
"The Beauties of Santa Cruz dependent species found on St. this, the old folks of today can
Betwixt old Cancer and the midway Croix are considered threatened or say thisell you he oldw Santa Cruz used to
line. In happiest climate lies this endangered in the Virgin Islands In tellook years ago. What has become of
envied isle, trees boom throughout 1956 and the 1960s, Southgate wet- look years ndYou see, whenever I
the year, streams ever flow, and fra- land was altered tremendously this island? You these islands my henever I
grant flora wears a lasting smile." destroying dense stands of man- fills wit tears. Sometimes I say to
Columbus was also in search of grove forest. Today, Grecn Cay fills with tears. Somix feetimes I say t
fresh water when his men landed at Marina is built on the western basin myelf, I'd rather be six feet in the
Salt River Bay in 1493. No wonder of the pond. people don't care about their envi-
historicaUy, St. Croix was called the Nonetheless, this wetland sup- ronmental heritage.
"Garden of the West Indies" ports one of the highest known
because of its flowing streams and species diversity of birds of any sin- And you see, no one listens to
bountiful sugarcane crops. Wet- gle habitat in the Virgin Islands. A what nature has to say. Those who
lands also played an important role total of 96 species has been record- have gone before us, die for these
during and after slavery on St. ed there, of which 26 are considered islands not only for their freedom.
Croix. The slaves depended on threatened or endangered. The but the wild things of the land. We
these marsh lands for many marine Krauses Lagoon or the Anguilla live in a world that has gone mad
animals for food such as fish, wetland was the largest wetland in and unable or unwilling to rectify
kallaloo crabs, lobster, etc. the Virgin Islands covering over what we have done eto mother earth.
Since 150 years ago, over 64 per- 600 acres of marsh habitat. A world of hate where man lives in
cent of SLt. Croix's original wetlands This wetland was the only true cns ofnfnoorrow holds g
have been destroyed, and 90 percent Everglade in the Virgin Islands, o what tomorrow holds.
of those remaining have been which was an important nursery for What can I say? And if I had the
stressed through water course chan- a diversity of aquatic and wildlife power to bring back free and unfree
nelization, pollution, upland vegeta- species. The destruction of this wet- slaves, they will probably say,
tion removal and through construe- land in the 1960s by the building of "wetlands are treasures to protect
tion of recreational activities. The Hess Oil Refinery and the Alumina for eternity."
importance of wetlands to wildlife Corporation brought irreversible Olasee Davis, who has a master
cannot be over-emphasized. environmental change, as well as ofscience degree in range manage-
On St. Croix, over 50 percent of the demise of local fisheries pro- ment and forestry ecology, is a St.
the resident and regular migrant ductivity. However, several coastal Croix ecologist, activist and writer.