Liming – Settling – Nature’s Little Secrets

No place more evokes the tourist image more than the Virgin Islands.  Like Timbouctou or Outer Mongolia, they are a myth of a placename.  I doubt most people would be able to place them in the Caribbean let alone pin point where they are.  It is hardly surprising, they cover less than 25 square miles on the British side, and only a bit more on the US side.

My first ever view of BVI _ looking down on Beef Island Airport from the LIAT plane

My first ever view of BVI _ looking down on Beef Island Airport from the LIAT plane

 But it was to here I came in 2000 for the first time, about 8 years after I had first helped them create their map of the coral reefs and seagrass beds in Chatham.  I landed at the tiny Beef Island Airport and we taxied into Road Town, bump bump bump over the speed humps all through the east end.  I walked around this curious town, amazed at how over-Americanised it was with its parking lots, big square office buildings and the ubiquitous green road signs.  The northern Caribbean, being closer to the USA I suppose, was more susceptible to American trappings.  They were also generally more prosperous than the southern islands.  There were huge brightly coloured mansions on the hillsides, the ones under construction looked to be larger again, the cars were not beat up old Toyotas but expensive gleaming 4WD.  There were better facilities in the hotels, the offices and shops oozed money.  I was relieved when I saw a cockerel crossing the road in the middle of this; 

Why did the Chicken Cross the Road - because it lived in the Caribbean

Why did the Chicken Cross the Road – because it lived in the Caribbean

I was still in the Caribbean.  The backstreets still had the chattel houses and the accents were definitely Caribbean.

 The main island of Tortola was all I saw the first time around, but it was stunning.  Although the south coast is pretty rudimentary  – where the electricity is generated, the rubbish burnt and the fuel oil comes in, the north coast is a series of magnificent bays, each with their own particular view of the other 60 or so islands.  Jost van Dyke to the west and the US Virgin Islands in the distance, the Southern Cays of Norman (Reputedly Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island), Peter, Cooper, Salt, Ginger and Dead Chest (yo ho ho and a bottle of rum – we really are in the stuff of myths here).  To the east Virgin Gorda, the fat virgin lying on her side, her overdeveloped mounds covered in green forest.

Liming – On the Edge – OECS

He took me to his workplace the next morning, possibly the finest place I have ever worked in my whole life.  The Natural Resources Management Unit (NRMU) of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) has a long title for such a small place; when I first visited it probably had about twenty people working for it across the nine states and territories it had to cover.  It looked at enhancing environmental decision making in seven member states; Grenada, St Vincent and The Grenadines, St Lucia, Dominica, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, and two associated territories; Anguilla and The British Virgin Islands.  The largest state is St Lucia, with 150,000 people.  The UK territory of Montserrat, after the evacuation following the volcanic eruption, had barely 5,000.  Few of these countries would be counties in the UK, some could fit easily into a large city, the total population of the states was less than 600,000 people; Glasgow is larger.  And yet they were fiercely protective of their independent their status, and the OECS was a rather loose coalition of microstates rather than the necessary integrating factor.

 NRMU helped these states by facilitating scientific research and programmes, such as my own, or by increasing environmental education in the islands.  Above all it tried to unify the theories and practice of environmental management throughout the nine states, although it often was thwarted by national politicians who had their own agendas.  I found their approach and enthusiasm amazing, an organisation who was trying to help their fellow kin from within rather than waiting for outside help.  Of course they were heavily funded by the Brits, Canadians and Americans, but in most of their projects they were making executive decisions about how the money was spent, and that was a step forward in the aid business.

 The offices sat a few feet below the peak of Morne Fortune, the massive hill on the south side of Castries Harbour.  From here the whole city lay before us, and beyond to Choc Bay and the north west side of the island and in the distance, on a clear day, the outline of Martinique was visible.  A few palms kept the worst of the sunlight off the building and the persistent winds would keep the air fresh up here.  I tried to concentrate in our meetings up there but I kept saying to myself, I could live here.

Keith was incredibly accommodating over that week.  We worked hard, he tried to show me how things worked in St Lucia.  I met a guy, Chris Cox, who had used GIS in watershed mapping, and was amazed by the care he had taken to create a map of the forests of St Lucia.  I talked with Elizabeth Charles, the strong willed head of GIS in the Planning department who was not impressed by my consultant’s spiel but was willing to hear my arguments.  He took me out for dinner several nights; the best time was to a friend’s house, an old fisherman, near Rodney Bay.  A whole group of people turned up, Chris was there, a bunch of Canadians doing a marine survey off the north east coast, and I tasted my first dolphin, not the mammal but the ugly looking fish that can be made into the most delicious steaks.  There is nothing like having a plate of fish that you know was freshly caught that day.  We played Dominoes and I was encouraged to join in, I even won a couple of games and was getting quite adept at slamming down the tiles.

Banana Boat At Kingstown

Banana Boat At Kingstown