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Gitana - ARC planting project with St.Lucia Rotary

Welcome to the tropics
I knew that by sailing into the tropics we would be shifting climates and ecosystems!, Sunshine, still a good risk of the rain we're used to at home (rainy season runs May-December), but much higher chance of it being warm when it does. St.Lucia fits the bill beautifully.

Diverse geography
Its geography is so rich, from its rainforests and history to its physical form and position.  Money wise, it's quite different - as with many islands of the Caribbean, it doesn't take a long walk from places like the marina were in to see the wealth drop away and differences in lifestyle become ever more stark!

Formation 101
A tropical island forming one of the leeward Islands, it is part of the island arc that marks the edge of the Atlantic and Caribbean tectonic plates, creating a chain of volcanoes 'joining' North and South America. (Quick chance for some 'subduction' revision!) The exception to rule is Barbados, not formed by volcanoes at all, but by years of coral growth and tectonic and climate shifts.

Since our arrival we've enjoyed those warm temperatures, those torrential tropical rainfalls and the booping tree frogs that sing all evening in the trees around then marina and on Saturday (15th) we joined forces with ARC, Rotary International and 50 local school children to embark on a Reforestation project that is supporting the return of land to native conditions.

Impacts on the rainforests
We know that rainforests are at risk - remember the 'Rang-Tan' video from Iceland this year? The rainforest here is at risk from other factors, not large scale logging at the rate of the Amazon, but smaller scale removal of trees for housing and furniture, slash and burn farming in remote mountainous areas, land owners stripping back the land of native trees, marijuana cultivation and of course natural factors like hurricane and weather related damage.

Carbon offset for our diesel
Every year when the ARC arrive, it joins forces with the Rotary club to support reforestation projects on the island, the goal being to reforest steep mountain slopes with native trees and fruits to help return the rainforest to its natural self.  It also acts as a chance to offset our carbon footprint from the crossing over the Atlantic! 

The example ARC gives is:
1 litre of diesel = 2.7kg CO2
Amount of CO2 1 tree will absorb over 30years = 400kg
Cost to plant and maintain 1 tree over 30years = £10

So 9am, 15th Dec our team of ARC sailors from UK's Gitana, USA's Adagio and 2 German volunteers headed for the mountains in our open top off road land rover! (The instant irony is the land rover/diesel and the insane non-eco driving!)

On route we have an epic cloud dump which fills the open top off roader to the point we pull over and run into a shack to shelter until the tropical shower passes! Within 10mins were good to go! On route we see the business and houses and schools of the local communities, the schools with their school Moto painted onto their buildings with pride.

The last school nearest the planting site was "achievement through self-discipline" painted next to the sign that showed the school was also a designated emergency shelter for extreme events that may affect the island!

At the top of the hills here, we were met by the Rotary team and two bus loads of local school children who had volunteered to work with us on a Saturday! (They were vastly more prepared than us with their yellow rain Mac's!!).  At one point it did feel like we'd tagged along on a field trip!

Into the woods
On arrival it was explained why we were doing this venture and who everyone was, then off we went to the planting site. Nice gentle walk to start with (further than we've walked in over 3 weeks by the way!!) then off into the forest through a tiny gap, handed a young tree and off down the steep narrow 'path' precariously hanging onto the edge to avoid falling over!!

At the planting area about 10mins later, we all found our site and planted our trees! Thinking it was a bit quick and a long way to go to plant just one tree, we were delighted to see the school girls then form an enormous human chain from the main pathway at the top, to the planting site to then send down another 200+ trees for planting!!

The sun came out, the kids chattered and sang and team ARC set too on planting the swiftly arriving young trees!

300 trees later it was time to head back up and feel a great sense of achievement that we've been involved in the final stage of the Reforestation project that these guys have worked on for a number of years. Des planted the most from Gitana with over 10 trees, our American friends from Adagio managed plenty more!

Our trees are planted at:
14°00'9"N 60°54'30"W
220m aspect 098°
So we can find them and watch the area grow!!

The kamakaze drive back down to the marina was at break neck speed, flying round hair pin bends with the steep slopes falling off to the side, and the bus load of students overtaking us and flying off ahead of us!

St.Lucia is full of amazing country, green lush trees, fruits and vines on every bend and gullies running down the hillsides! The houses are spread out, some on stilts, some on the ground, some very grand, others very ramshackle! It is an island of variety alright!!

As a geographer I can't help but look at things differently, questioning why something is like that, who looks after that, what would happen if...constantly! Even down to the run down lack of wealth in an area sitting right next to a gated all inclusive 5 star resort where people by pass the local economy and stay encamped until they book their helicopter to show them the island! A world away from the economy the locals are invested in! (But that's a conversation for another day and the source of heated debate a couple of days ago!!)

But hey 'Every day's a school day' and without amazing community ventures like these ones the rotary club are running, environmental awareness and decision making wouldn't be happening and we wouldn't have had 50 local teenagers who are increasingly aware of the issues of small and large scale land use choices that will affect their future life on the island!!

A great morning out with the guys from the ARC and the local Rotarians!  At the risk of sounding like a Tesco ad - every little helps!!

Local Action, Global effects!


Photo Credit: Sophie (ARC)

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