April 18, 2009 — Two individuals and one organization in the Virgin Islands have been honored this month with the prestigious U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 2009 Environmental Quality Awards.
Each springtime the awards blossom forth from the EPA's Region 2, which incorporates New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The agency picks about 50 organizations and individuals who have made a significant contribution during the past year.
To be selected, nominees must have significantly contributed to improving environmental quality in the region during the prior year; demonstrated a high achievement level in the award category; created unique or location-specific benefits, produced results that are sustainable or reproducible, or increased public involvement in environmental action.
The sole St. Thomas winner, Sean LaPlace, is a 16-year-old Charlotte Amalie High School student, and longtime environmental activist despite his youth
EPA spokesman Chris Sebastian said over the phone from New York Friday, "Each year we receive more and more nominees. We had about 35 or 40 this year." That is just for the territory.
Explaining the criteria, Sebastian said, "It's a subjective process, but the judges know one when they see one." He said, "It's unusual for someone of 16 to be selected. It's normally well-established environmental groups." LaPlace was nominated by Jason Budsan of EAST, the Environmental Association of St. Thomas.
On St. Croix, Onaje Jackson, president and founder of SSDI, Sustainable Systems & Designs International, received the individual award, and the St. Croix International Year of the Reef Committee took the organization honors.
LaPlace took the award in stride. He was modest. "It's not really for me," he said, "it's for my home, and for future generations. I don't want them to inherit a mess."
The youngster is a familiar figure at Coastal Zone Management Committee hearings, which he attends with his mother, Chrys Petersen. See "On Island Profile: Sean LaPlace."
Jackson, who was nominated by Delegate Donna M. Christiansen, designs and builds state of the art solar and wind powered electrical systems for homes and businesses, environmentally sound water treatment alternatives and by assisting developers with environmental impact assessments and ecologically sustainable design.
He is founder of Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism (CHANT), a coalition of St. Croix residents and businesses promoting sustainable development of the St. Croix community (See: "On Island Profile: Onaje Jackson.")
"I am proud to have helped make a practical way for people to get started with sustainable development. It's a concept that has been poorly understood," Jackson said Saturday, while giving credit to colleagues Kelly Gloger and Cheleem Saldano, "who have been critical along the way."
The St. Croix International Year of the Reef Committee is actually four very determined and focused women.
Karlyn Langjahr, education and outreach coordinator for the St. Croix East End Marine Park, described the group this week. "We are basically a grassroots organization," she said. "We are all involved in the environmental field and we wanted to find a way for St. Croix to celebrate. We sought community businesses, created partnerships with organizations like the Nature Conservancy and a few local agencies. We have a free educational activity every month."
The other members of the quartet are Emily Tyner, of the University of Virgin Islands Marine Sciences department; Melanie Feltmate of St. Croix Botanical Gardens, and Kim Ishida, marine scientist.
The group, which was nominated by the V.I. Resource Conservation and Development Council, started their project last year with free snorkel clinics and beach clean-ups. "We started last January with a total of 17 different activities," Langjahn said, "including free public snorkeling excursions.
"We are trying to form exciting connections to the sea and create an environment which fosters creativity and recreation. Our beaches are healthy places for students to learn and interact with their waters, whether they are swimmers or not. Sometimes this is the closest way for kids to get to the ocean."
The International Year of the Reef is a worldwide campaign to raise awareness about the value and importance of coral reefs and threats to their sustainability.
Sebastian said there will be an Earth Day ceremony for the honorees in New York, which, as it turns out, none of the local nominees will be able to attend. But he said there will be Virgin Islands ceremony later this spring or summer, "so the attendees can be honored amongst their peers."
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