Natural Resources and Environmental Management

UVI-CES Natural Resources & Environmental Management Program

One of the biggest challenges facing the Virgin Islands' government and community is preserving the islands' unique natural resources and reducingthe threat of environmental degradation. To address this challenge, the University of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension Service (UVI-CES) Natural Resources and Environmental Management Program (NREM) promotes the development of a holistic environmental management ethic in the Virgin Islands. This ethic incorporates the use of beneficial land-use and conservation practices.

UVI-CES collaborates with local and federal government agencies and non-governmental organizations to demonstrate the immediate and long-term impacts of poor land-use planning, development and waste disposal practices. Through interaction with community groups, local leaders, homeowners, students, and local and federal agencies, it is our goal to help empower the community with the belief that each individual can have a positive impact on their surrounding environment.

NREM Target Areas

Native Plant Identification & Ecosystem Awareness

Over 500 indigenous or naturalized plant species grow in the Virgin Islands, some unique to this area. At least 50 plant and 27 animal species are currently listed as locally endangeed. Two (2) plant and eight (8) animal species are included on the Federal Endangered Species list. Construction along ridge lines and in guts (intermittent streams) is rapidly depleting moist forest habitat, opening areas to exotic species invasion, and resulting in microclimate change (many areas have become much hotter and drier as a result of extensive clearing). Dry forest habitat destruction is also significantly altering the fragile ecological balance of the islands.
To help residents identify and preserve native plant species, UVI-CES and the Virgin Islands Division of Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) created a series of laminated fact sheets of Important Native Plant Species of the Virgin Islands. Three groups of plants are featured in sets of 25 fact sheets each: Coastal Flora, Native Ornamental Flora, and Endangered Flora. Each sheet includes either a dried plant specimen or photograph, with information about each plant provided on the back. These fact sheets are available to the public on a loan basis at the St. Thomas (340-693-1084) and St. Croix (340-778-9491) UVI-CES offices, as well as the DPNR Division of Fish and Wildlife (340-775-6762).

UVI-CES is working with UVI's Conservation Data Center (CDC) and the Nature Conservancy to complete a Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) of the Virgin Islands. UVI-CES has helped develop a classification system for VI Vegetation Zones. These vegetation zones are then delineated (outlined) on aerial photographs of the islands. The delineations and classifications are digitized, and computer maps are generated. The mapping of St. Croix's vegetation zones is nearly completed. Maps will be available to government agencies, architects, builders, and the general public through the UVI-CDC office on St. Thomas (contact: Dayle Barry, CDC Coordinator, [340] 693-1030).

Magens Bay Tree Restoration - Environmental Conservation

Magens Bay beach area on St. Thomas is the site of a UVI-CES pilot project for native plant habitat conservation and resource planning. UVI-CES has been working closely with the Magens Bay Authority (MBA) since 1974 to provide technical assistance and to develop and implement resource conservation programs for this recreation area.

The project began with the labeling of rare trees in the five acre arboretum behind the beach. The arboretum was planted the 1920's under the direction of Arthur Fairchild who deeded Magens Bay to the people of the Virgin Islands in 1947. We assisted MBA and the Charlotte Amalie Rotary Club with a three-year effort to clear aggressive weeds and hurricane debris from the arboretum after Hurricane Hugo.

Unfortunately, only three months after the restored arboretum was introduced to the public in June 1995, Hurricane Marilyn ripped through the area and destroyed most of the beautiful rare trees. After Hurricane Marilyn, CES helped MBA to obtain a $59,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to restore damaged mangroves, beachfront vegetation and the arboretum. In October 1997, under CES' direction, 160 trees were purchased and planted at Magens Bay. Several of these trees are extremely rare native species, such as the small tree, Solanum conocarpum, known from only one location in the dry forest of St. John. Other acquisitions are rare or unusual exotic trees, such as the five varieties of "frangipani" from the Honolulu Botanical Gardens.

Through efforts initiated by CES, an Urban and Community Forestry Assistance Program (UCFAP) grant was awarded to Magens Bay in July 1997 to maintain and label newly planted trees. UVI-CES, MBA, Senator Donastorg's Save Magens Bay volunteers, and the V.I. Resource Conservation and Development Council, Inc. (VIRC&D) are collaborating in implementing this Magens Bay Tree Restoration Project.

Magens Bay is the primary UVI-CES tour destination on St. Thomas due to its easy accessibility and variety of natural habitats. Tours along Magens Bay's beach and coastal rocks featuring the special ways that plants have adapted to these challenging habitats can be arranged by contacting Toni Thomas, CES Natural Resources Agent, at 693-1084.

VI Natural Beauty Begins With The Home

CES supports the belief that each individual's actions can have a positive impact on the environment by providing the community with information about practices and methods to improve and preserve the natural environment around our homes. Some of these practices and methods include:

· Follow good land-use and land clearing practices as outlined in the Virgin Islands Environmental Protection Handbook, 1995.
· Incorporate existing native trees and other native vegetation into the home landscape.
· Preserve natural buffer zones of native vegetation (native forest remnants) around home sites for protection from wind storms and as wildlife habitats.
· Use non-porous paving materials (gravel, concrete pavers) for driveways and walkways.
· Recycle yard wastes by mulching and composting.
· Cultivate more food in less space by planting smaller "intensive" box gardens for growing produce and dwarf fruit trees. This allows you to preserve more of the native vegetation on your property.
· Learn about how you can control soil erosion by installing mulch matting (especially during earth change operations), planting grass or ground covers, and terracing with cellular confinement systems or gabion baskets..
· Develop renewable and conservative energy sources (solar power, passive solar cooling rather than air conditioning, fluorescent light bulbs, rechargeable batteries).
· Use Least Toxic Household Products like vinegar, alcohol or baking soda for cleaning and chlorine alternatives for swimming pools.
· Set goals for adoption of better ways to dispose household waste: reduce garbage by buying less packaged products; compost residues of fruits, vegetables and yard waste; mulch yard wastes; use "paper-free" internet for getting news, catalog and other information; cut down on use of disposable styrofoam plastic plates and utensils.
· Schedule a UVI-CES home site visit to help make the transition to a healthier home natural environment.

UVI-CES Demo Sites

Demonstration plots at the St. Thomas UVI-CES office feature drought-tolerant native plants that can be easily grown and used for ground covers. Another plot displays straw/ coconut fiber mulch matting and shows how it can be used to protect slopes from erosion and promote plant growth.

GO NATIVE !! ...

Spider lily, talinum and inch plant are native plants that are excellent "ground covers". They grow well on local soils and rocky slopes, are drought-resistant and easy to grow and maintain.

Herbarium Database

The Herbarium at the St. Thomas CES office houses collections of preserved plant specimens from the USVI, collected primarily by scientists from the Smithsonian Institute and the New York Botanical Garden. The National Park Service Biosphere on St. John houses similar collections. Additional collections by local botanists are stored in the St. Croix CES office. Plant specimens are dried, mounted and labeled on 100% non-acid rag paper that does not deteriorate like wood pulp paper. These Herbaria contain collections of extremely rare and endangered plants that could be devastated by land clearing during construction activities or by hurricanes or droughts. Herbarium information about the status of these rare plants, including where they were collected can help scientists monitor this rapidly changing Caribbean region and can also help home owners and land-use planners avoid the destruction of important rare plants and their habitats.

UVI-CES, with the help of students and volunteers, is in the process of computerizing information relating to over 2,500 plant specimens in the St. Thomas Herbarium to enable data to be readily accessible to Internet users.

Documentation of Traditionally Useful VI Plants

UVI-CES has also developed a database of over 200 plants that have a history of medicinal use in the USVI. CES staff and UVI students have conducted interviews with native Virgin Islanders who are knowledgeable about medicinal and other uses of these plants. The focus of this investigation has been to document how plants were traditionally used on St Thomas, St. Croix and St. John. All interviewees could trace their family history back for several generations in the Virgin Islands. Transcripts of these interviews are part of a reference collection at UVI, and medicinal plant specimens collected by staff, students and interviewees have been added to the herbarium at CES on St. Thomas.

This research is also featured in a UVI-CES illustrated field guide, Traditional Medicinal Plants of St. Croix, St. Thomas And St. John, a Selection of 68 Plants, that provides basic information about the selected plants including both popular usage and research results. This publication is available at the UVI bookstores on St. Thomas and St. Croix. Virgin Islanders who wish to participate in this on-going documentation of traditional plant use should contact CES at 693-1084.