(L to R) VINP Superintendent Mark Hardgrove, Friends of VINP president Joe Kessler, Harith Wickrema of Eco Serendib, VINP’s Rafe Boulon and Dr. Gary Ray at the VINP Visitors’ Center.
Eco Serendib Villa and Spa, a new eco-friendly, luxury retreat on island, has initiated a conservation program in partnership with the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park to save the island’s pristine beaches from the devastating impact of erosion while reducing the carbon footprint.
The Eco Serendib Beach Restoration Project will re-introduce indigenous trees and shrubs, such as sea grape, at beaches throughout the island beginning in Spring 2012. The program is funded by Eco Serendib Villa and Spa.
In addition to providing seed money to kick start the program, the Restoration Project will sponsor one tree per day of each reservation in the name of guests. Villa guests will have the opportunity to become involved hands-on with the green project should they wish and may also contribute directly to the Friends of the VINP fund.
“The St. John coastline features some of the most beautiful and pristine beaches in the world and is one of the most compelling draws of the island,” said VINP Superintendent Mark Hardgrove. “However, over time the effects of erosion can be catastrophic. Thanks to one of the island’s visionaries, native plantings will be brought back to offer protection, combat carbon emissions as well as bring welcome shade for visitors.”
“Our organization is committed to supporting our prized national resource,” said Friends of VINP president Joe Kessler.
“The Eco Serendib Beach Restoration Project is just the type of vital, privately-funded program we encourage and are proud to make a reality.”
Harith Wickrema, the visionary behind Eco Serendib Villa and Spa, fell in love with St. John upon his first visit.
“When I debuted Eco Serendib last year, it was with the commitment that I would not only offer an experience melding luxury with green elements, but also give back to this amazing island where two-thirds of the land has been preserved as a national park,” said Wickrema. “I learned from Rafe Boulon, chief of the national park’s Division of Resource Management, about the issue at area beaches. We’re honored that we can be of service and hope this project inspires others to do the same.”
Wickrema, who is also president of Harith Productions and faculty member of Temple University’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, was recognized by Lodging magazine as one of the top 10 hospitality innovators of 2011 in the area of sustainability for his efforts on-site at Eco Serendib Villa and Spa.
“We’re thrilled to have the support of Eco Serendib in preserving our beaches,” said Rafe Boulon. “Harith actively sought out a way to contribute and his commitment to social and environmental responsibility is to be admired. Maho Bay Beach will be the first beach to benefit from the Eco Serendib Beach Restoration Project, with future work planned at Cinnamon Bay, Trunk Bay, Hawksnest, Saltpond and Little Lameshur.”
Gary Ray, Ph.D., a restoration ecologist and proprietor of Virgin Forest Restorations, an eco consulting firm, has drawn up the plans and will oversee the Eco Serendib Beach Restoration Project under the guidance of the Virgin Islands National Park.
“We’ll be planting native trees such as sea grape, nothing nut, orange manjack, black torch and barbasco,” said Ray. “The idea is to restore plant species native to the Virgin Islands while discouraging invasive exotics. Vigorous natives better control erosion.”
“We will create areas of shade and new walkways to ensure foot traffic doesn’t damage dunes,” Ray said. “Guests of Eco Serendib will also be able to participate in the efforts including tours, demonstrations and even hands-on planting, cultivating and irrigation.”