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ST. CROIX NATURE RESERVE ON THE WAY

Nov. 6, 2003 — The St. Croix Environmental Association met Wednesday evening for a dinner, awards ceremony and its annual plenary session at the Tamarind Reef Hotel. About 50 people heard special consultant Dr. Arthur Gaines report on the progress and plans for the group's newly acquired Southgate Coastal Reserve, which was the prime focus and highlight of the evening.
Outgoing board chairman Joseph San Martin spoke first in introduction of his successor, James Meany. "When I took over the chair three years ago, my primary goal was SEA's survival," he said. Now, he said, the association should begin to "reach out to the community."
Sixty percent of Crucians are living in poverty, he said. "Let's think about how we can help them." He pointed out that some 2 million gallons of sewage is pumped into the sea from St. Croix every day, and only 1,200 to 1,500 acres of good tillable land is still available to the farmers. Helping our human neighbors, he said, was as vital as helping our other neighbors, "the birds, the turtles and the fish."
Treasurer Carlos Tesitor reported the association was in solid fiscal shape. "It has been a banner year for contributions," he said. SEA received some $183,000 in cash gifts this year, he said, to bring its total income to $366,000. The balance sheet shows assets of more than $2.2 million, with $400,000 of that in the bank as cash. Net revenues were more than $87,000.
The lion's share of that $2.2 million reflects the value of the Southgate Coastal Reserve, a 100-acre tract that surrounds Southgate Pond just east of Green Cay Marina. The pond — a round saline puddle of varying levels, sometimes bone dry — plays a critical role in the survival of the fauna and flora in the area and in the health of the nearby sea.
The reserve is bordered on the north by Chenay Bay, a reef-calmed niche of the Caribbean that feeds seawater into the pond through the sandy beach on the north of the narrow isthmus between Southgate Pond and the sea. Fresh water finds the pond via East Gut, which runs down from Seven Hills, and from storm runoff from the surrounding watershed.
The land was given to SEA by an anonymous donor. About half of the muddy, mangrove-wreathed bottomland alongside the pond is still in private hands, but the association is hoping to someday bring those remaining hundreds of acres into the embrace of the reserve.
Gaines, with help of a slide presentation, described the vitality of the area and the dangers it still faces. A professor emeritus of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, where he spent some 20 years, Gaines was engaged by SEA to lead a study of the preserve a year ago. He and his team of student interns and associates are in the final stages of preparing reports on the hydrology, biology, geology and history of the pond and its immediate environs, including the adjoining Caribbean with its complex marine life.
Gaines worked also with Drs. Bill and Betsy Gladfelter, St. Croix residents and members of the SEA.
The project's goal is to make the property into a nature reserve "where we all may enjoy walking trails and bird-watching," according to Sylvia Brady, SEA director of development. "In the near future we envision learning platforms where visitors would see helpful information and identification of birds, plants and animals."
Gaines said there were, for example, 113 species of birds and more than 100 species of mollusks within the ambit of the reserve and neighboring bay, which is now part of the St. Croix East End Marine Park. Adjacent Green Cay is a National Wildlife Refuge.
The pond is also a hatchery for a species of tern, whose dozens of egg-laden nests yielded not a single chick last season. Gaines said a combination of mongooses, feral dogs and the recreational excesses of human visitors did the colony in.
Gaines is urging SEA to erect a resident manager's quarters on the property to monitor wildlife and keep people who would harm the environment there at bay. Some roads and other access points to the property will be closed in order to control visitors and especially to keep out litterers, Gaines said.
The association gave several awards during the evening, including recognitions for environmental awareness in business, education, media and community as well as an award for environmental action, which went to Virdin Brown. Member and well-know activist Emy Thomas was named Environmentalist of the Year.
Other honorees were:
Pat and Mary Ann Mahony and Myron Allick of the St. Croix Renaissance Group; Bruce and Matilde Wilson for their work in developing Mt. Victory Camp in the Frederiksted rain forest; Caren Martin, a Country Day School teacher who stresses environmental issues with her students; Megan Weary for her creation of a Schoolyard Habitat at Good Hope School; Marty Schladen of the Daily News and Shaun Pennington of the Virgin Islands Source for excellence in media coverage; Julie San Martin for her work in trying to rescue an old baobab tree in a Christiansted parking lot; Claudia Lombard for her work on nesting Least Terns; Nina Cook for her work in membership recruitment; and the James River Capital Corp. for corporate responsibility.

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