Hurricanes Irma and Maria, in September 2017, did great damage to trees and plants in the USVI. Our islands are often described as lush, green, and beautiful. In the aftermath, it was quite different; most trees were twisted in place, torn out completely, or standing tall but devoid of any leaves. In the days and weeks that followed, new leaf growth was a welcomed sign of hope. While the islands don’t have four seasons, a reasonable comparison can be made by imagining the bleakness of winter and the new birth of spring. Months after the storms, the hillsides were green once more. There are, however, areas where tree loss was great and regrowth is slow; environmental organizations hope to help. For updates on St. Croix we check in with the St. Croix Environmental Association (SEA).
SEA is preparing for a Plant Native Trees project at Southgate Coastal Reserve. They are also working on a project to reestablish endemic agaves, and monitoring turtles and birds. If you can help with these environmental projects, reach out to SEA.
Help Plant Trees on St. Croix
In the coming months, we will need a lot of volunteer help towards our goal of planting 100 native trees at the Southgate Coastal Reserve. Planting native trees is one of the best ways to help with the ongoing recovery of the island’s natural resources from the hurricanes of last year. Native trees can provide habitat for fauna that was hit hard, such as hummingbirds and bats; trees store carbon, and thus help reduce climate change; and tree roots hold soil in place so it does not wash downhill and into the ocean when it rains (hopefully we will see some rain soon!). If you would like to help plant trees, contact us at [email protected] or (340) 773-1989. We will not start work until we get a little more rain, but we want to be ready to go once this dry weather ends. Support for this project is provided by the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, with funding from Cruzan’s® Island Spirit Fund.
SEA is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to increase the population of the beautiful endemic and endangered St. Croix Agave (aka Eggers Agave, Agave eggersiana). This species is unique to St. Croix and is extremely rare in the wild, but frequently seen in landscaping and on private property. We are working to increase the wild populations of Agaves by establishing additional self-sustaining populations within the historical range of the species. We currently have several hundred Agaves growing in the greenhouse and will soon be identifying private landowners that are willing to dedicate some space on their land to the recovery of this endemic species. To further work towards the recovery of this species, we are bushwhacking around the South Shore, doing an updated population count of the wild plants, and examining potential threats to these remaining plants.
We are actively patrolling Southgate for sea turtle activity. Early this summer, we recorded three leatherback nests on Southgate Beach. Green and Hawksbill sea turtles have been spotted mating in the water and nesting on beaches throughout St. Croix. Big thanks to the Denver School for Science and Technology for helping re-establish our stake line after our stakes were washed away in the storms last year. This greatly helps our dedicated turtle patrol volunteers monitor the progress of turtle nests throughout the season.
Birds at Southgate
Southgate Pond is alive with birds! The bird diversity at the Coastal Reserve this season has delighted us “bird nerds” and made our regular monitoring work so much fun. One of the highlights was the arrival of a Little Egret (Egretta garzetta), a bird that closely resembles a snowy egret. This is only the second time that this bird has ever been recorded on St. Croix!
Southgate Bird Blind
We have not been able to work on the Southgate Bird Blind since the hurricanes in September of last year because the water level in the pond has been too high. However, just this past weekend, we dug the mud out and prepped the site to resume the work that we started last year. We will be looking for volunteer help with this project in the near future, so if you have a little time to give, please contact us at [email protected] or (340) 773-1989.
Learn More about SEA at: www.stxenvironmental.org.