Monday, January 17, 2011

Biodiversity Law In Paradise - Day Four

Every year, the students in Biodiversity Law travel with Professor Andrew W. Torrance to the Virgin Islands (U.S. and British) for an intensive week-long fieldtrip.  This is their dispatch from January 17, 2011:

Today, we drove down to Estate Botany Bay in the far westend of Saint Thomas.  There, we visited the lowlands area surrounding the former Corning family beach house, Mermaid’s Chair, and The Nature Conservancy ("TNC") property called Little Saint Thomas, which is situated where the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean (and creates the best surfing in the Virgin Islands).  We learned how TNC pioneered the use of conservation easements to conserve parcels of land without having to pay the total cost of purchasing land fee simple. A conservation easement prevents activities on a parcel of land that might endanger biodiversity. Unlike their usual legal strategy of obtaining conservation easements from property owners, TNC actually does own Little Saint Thomas fee simple, having been given the land by the Corning family as a gift. Per USVI law, public access to the beach and ocean is required so that the public can use and enjoy the land.  However, those wishing to enjoy these access rights must walk (not drive) the 3 kilometers down to the beach, and then walk back up.  Fortunately, we were guests of private owners of Botany Bay, so we were allowed to explore the entire 160 hectare property and its spectacular tropical biodiversity.
One of the most interesting features of Little Saint Thomas was the abundance of rocks that allow for the formation of transient tide pools. These tide pools serve as an area where small, often juvenile, fish can live protected from larger predator fish.  Also, we saw an abundance of Soldier Crabs (Coenobita clypeatus) making their way inland, and uphill, to mate and lay eggs, a behavior they share, at least in part, with sea turtles.  Unfortunately, roads cut into the sides of the steep hills of Estate Botany Bay can create vertical barriers impossible to pass, thus thwarting their uphill reproductive trek.
After leaving Estate Botany Bay, we drove up to Crown Mountain, which is the highest point in the USVI, and home to a dense biodiverse moist rainforest, and then down to the trailhead of another TNC property above Magen’s Bay. At both of these sites, and at Botany Bay, we systematically collected fallen leaves as part of an experiment to estimate forest diversity. We then took bags of our leaves back to our hotel, where we carefully categorized and tallied the different types of leaves we collected at each of the three experimental sites.  Tomorrow, we will use a variety of statistical formulae to estimate forest tree richness, diversity, and evenness across these sites, and will then attempt to understand any differences we find.
Stay tuned for more daily dispatches.

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