Group Title: Olasee Davis articles
Title: Humans depleting V.I. resources
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Title: Humans depleting V.I. resources
Physical Description: Archival
Language: English
Creator: Davis, Olasee
Publication Date: October 4, 1996
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Bibliographic ID: CA01300919
Volume ID: VID00128
Source Institution: University of the Virgin Islands
Holding Location: University of the Virgin Islands
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

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20 The Dally News, Friday, October4,1996 Environment

Humans depleting V.I. resources

In my last column, I talked about
the geological make up of the Vir-
gin Islands and how cultural forces
affect our environment. This week,
I will focus on the impact humans
have on our natural resources.
Like so many other Caribbean
islands, the Virgin Islands has been
viewed as a place to be exploited
for a short-term economic gain.
Historically, this exploitation
began when settlers first established
themselves on the islands. Early
settlers abused the natural resources
without taking into account the con-
sequences they might have on the
In 1651, the French reported that
St. Croix had three rivers and 16
brooks. By the beginning of this
century, sugar cane cultivation cov-
ered about 35 percent of St. Croix;
as late as 1914, several streams and
rivers were reported to have flowed
year-round. In 1966, sugar cane cul-
tivation on St. Croix was phased
out and all the streams dried out.
What was left was a few trickles of
water flowing at higher elevations.
The impact of man on the Virgin
Islands environment was devastat-
ing from the beginning of the first
European settlement.
While the Spanish were among
the first to come to the Virgin
Islands, they were mainly interested
in gold. So the colonization of the
Virgin Islands was left to other
European countries, notably the
French, English, Dutch, and Dan-
St. Croix was the first island to
be colonized, all while the English
and French fought over the island.
In about 1651, the French won St.
Croix from the English, but they
paid a heavy price for it. Two-thirds
of the French died of an illness
thought to have come from the


"jungle forests" of St Croix.
The French also burned some of
the forests down for plantation agri-
culture. In addition, the forest
burned naturally in the dry season.
Deliberate burning of the land
was also done during the sugar cane
era, where fields were burned
before the planting of cane.
During the time of the French
occupation of St. Croix, the Danes
occupied St. Thomas. St. Thomas
then was the major slave-trade cen-
ter in the Caribbean. However,
because of the demand for labor
and other political reasons, the city
of Charlotte Amalie with its deep
natural harbor became known as
one of the wildest city in the
Caribbean. Clientele of this major
economic boost on St. Thomas
included pirates such as Black-
beard, Bluebeard, and Captain
As the government became more
stable on St. Thomas, the Danes
turned more to agriculture. As a
result, most of the mountains and
flat land were deforested. In 1717,
Denmark sent a small group to col-
onize St John. Like St. Thomas, St.
John's forests were also destroyed
to make way for sugar cane, tobac-
co and other agricultural cops.
For the past 25 years or more,
human activity in the Virgin Islands
has most seriously affected the
groundwater, undeveloped land and
coastal environments.
Groundwater is being depleted

because of poor management.
if you notice, large amounts of
water run off the land into the ocean
because of the "concrete jungle,"
the lack of cultivation, and contin-
ued deforestation. Perhaps the most
striking change in the Virgin
Islands in the past 25 years has been
the construction of new roads.
housing developments, and indus-
trial facilities.
The carelessness of land clearing
has accelerated the erosion of soil,
especially after heavy rain. This
affects the reef environment, which
the Virgin Islands economy
depends on. As the demand for fish,
conch, lobsters and other seafood
steadily increases with the rising
population and tourist trade, few
adult fish will remain in our coastal
In addition, the impact of solid
waste is a major problem for the
environment and the people of these
islands. Until 1974, solid wastes
were pushed into the sea to solve
our trash problems. Industrial
wastes, municipal wastes, dredging,
and quarries also are destroying the
Believe me, if the upward trend
of population and industrial growth
continues and resource-manage-
ment has not been Implemented,
some of the finite resources of the
Virgin Islands will soon be deplet-
While politicians fight and peo-
ple argue over issues like who is a
native, the whole territory's envi-
ronment is being destroyed by our
inability to manage our impact on
our fragile ecosystems.
Olasee Davis, who holds a mas-
ter of science degree in range man-
agement and forestry ecology, is a
St. Croix ecologist, activist and

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