Friday, January 11, 2008

Sustainability And Coral Reef Encounters

Starting today, my KU Biodiversity Law students will be offering their daily observations about their experiences learning about biodiversity law in the Virgin Islands. Here is their first installment:

We started our morning by taking the ferry from St. Thomas to St. John. The island of St. John is mainly a National Park; however, a small portion of its land is developed for condos and amenities for tourists. Upon arrival in the developed portion of the island, we drove into the National Park and hiked throughout the seasonal rainforest. The trail on which we hiked is called Reef Bay Trail. As we hiked, we noticed a substantial change in biodiversity between the developed and preserved portions of the island. For instance, the developed portion contained many elements consistent with any other city or town, such as heat radiating off the pavement, honking cars, and a substantial population of buildings. In the heart of the seasonal rainforest, the sight of lizards, sounds of birds, and abundance of insects dominated our surroundings. In addition, we observed that various species of trees blocked a significant amount of sunlight from reaching the ground, each tree competing against its neighbors for limited resources.

After visiting the rainforest, we drove to the Virgin Islands Environmental Research Station (VIERS) where we were fortunate to get a tour of its facilities. VIERS is in the process of becoming completely self-sustainable through the use of solar panels for power and heated water, various compost technologies for waste, cisterns that collect rain-water for showers and drinking, and a modest garden of vegetables.

After visiting VIERS, we snorkeled throughout Lameshur Bay on the south-central part of St. John. At one point, several of us jumped out of the water after seeing a five-and-half-foot barracuda! However, we continued to swim around the Bay in pursuit of witnessing its other inhabitants, which afforded us the opportunity to observe a sea turtle. There were also numerous tropical fish and coral. A unique aspect of Lameshur Bay is its degree of biodiversity compared to other bays around the island. For instance, Trunk Bay Underwater Trail (unsurprisingly, an underwater snorkling trail through the remnants of a coral reef, complete with underwater plaques containing information about the taxa seen along the trail), one of the Virgin Islands National Park's most popular attractions, contains significantly less biodiversity than Lameshur Bay because it has, in effect, been loved to death by tourists. We learned that preservation of biodiversity requires more than good intentions. Visiting St. John was a great experience, and we cannot wait to return.

Tune in for more on biodiversity law in the Virgin Islands tomorrow.


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