Participants posed with large homemade dots meant to represent their contribution to the connect the dots project, which encourages people to recognize the impact of climate change and to highlight the need for climate education.
Aside from environmental projects, the group collected beer bottles, electronic waste and even a car transmission. Afterwards, they gathered to plant a tree.
“This is one of the last real wild places on St. Thomas,” said member Sharon Hupprich. “We’ve had so much taken away from us.”
Participant Karl Callwood noted that the salt pond was like a natural filtration system for the surrounding water, and he enjoyed filming videos of the underwater community. He expressed deep concern for his aquatic friends as he pointed out bait fish and eels.
The natural salt pond is also a major concern for the Friends as they battle to preserve wildlife and balance the ecosystem. It’s a popular spot for locals and fishermen, although fishermen pose yet another threat as their nets often catch on reefs and wildlife become trapped.
Jason Budsan, president of the Virgin Islands Conservation Society and the Environmental Association St.Thomas and St. John (EAST)., said 56 out of 82 coral species may well become extinct by the end of the century. Budsan noted that the Virgin Islands has seen the effects of climate change firsthand and he hoped that more locals will want to learn about how everything from reefs to diseases evolves due to climate change.
Residents have tried to keep the Mandahl area clean for two decades, fighting to maintain its natural beauty. Five years ago, the Friends of Mandahl Bay formed to take matters into their own hands. The group, along with other organizations, picks up trash once a month and members remain active in fighting plans to develop the area.
The Friends aren’t worried about those who want to build homes near the beach and salt pond, but they are concerned about the 87-slot marina and cookie cutter condominiums that were proposed in development plans. At present, the Board of Land Use Appeals is reviewing an appeal by a developer interested in the area.
Budsan noted that getting political leaders involved was a key goal for the Friends as they try to keep developers away and promote local interest in Mandahl Bay.
“No one in the V.I. doesn’t have a stake in our environment. Your livelihood depends on it,” noted Sen. Craig Barshinger as he helped pick up trash.
Barshinger remembered when he first moved to St. John in 1979 and saw a park ranger throw trash out of his car window. When questioned, the ranger said he was giving people jobs by littering. Barshinger and Budson worried that things haven’t changed much in 30 years.
The Friends faced their biggest challenge two years ago when Mandahl was a junkyard of old waste. The team spent the entire day cleaning up dozens of air conditioning units, old tents, car parts, pieces of homes, and more.
Member Fred Hupprich believes that people dumped waste at Mandahl Bay after hurricanes when trash bins were overflowing and the ground was littered with glass and nails.
In June, local environmental groups are helping to plant 60 trees at the entrance to Smith Bay Park, and they are always looking to add
more recycling bins to public areas and businesses. For every can collected, the money generated from it goes back into buying more bins for the community. The group collected 2,150 pounds of cans last year. Visit the EAST website for more information.