(Left to Right) Friends of VINP Executive Director Joe Kessler, Eco Serendib Villa owner Harith Wickrema, VINP Superintendent Brion FitzGerald and St. John plant ecologist Gary Ray.
As an instructor of sustainable event management at Temple University, Harith Wickrema teaches students all about the business of sustainability.
As the owner of Eco Serendib Villa in Estate Fish Bay, Wickrema is putting those lessons to actual business use and striving to make a difference on St. John.
And now, the eco-friendly luxury villa is helping to ensure that the North Shore of St. John stays just where it is.
The Eco Serendib Beach Restoration Project began with a pilot program last year when Friends of VINP, with funding from Wickrema’s Eco Serendib Villa, worked with local plant ecologist and owner of Virgin Forest Restorations Gary Ray, to plant native flora along the shoreline at Maho Bay and Cinnamon Bay beaches.
Ray, working with former VINP Chief of Resource Management Rafe Boulon, drew up plans for five beaches which will see new plantings under the Eco Serendib Beach Restoration Project.
“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,” said Ray. “Guests of Eco Serendib will also be able to participate in the efforts including tours, demonstrations and even hands-on planting, cultivating and irrigation.”
Ray planted numerous seagrape trees and other native plants at Maho Bay and Cinnamon Bay under the pilot project last year.
“We learned a lot through the pilot project,” said Ray. “We now have a better idea of what works and what we’re dealing with as far as watering and pests go. For instance, we know that white-tailed deer really like the seagrapes.”
Ray plans to protect the newly planted seagrape trees from deer by covering the plantings with mesh reaching about five feet tall, he explained.
Following up on last year’s successful pilot program, Wickrema presented a roughly $14,000 check to Friends of V.I. National Park executive director Joe Kessler last week.
This latest contribution to the Eco Serendib Beach Restoration Project will ensure that the program continues as Ray plans to plant a total of 216 plants at five North Shore beaches — Hawksnest, Trunk, Cinnamon, Maho and Francis Bays — in the next several months.
Being able to get the funding from Wickrema allows Ray to work according to the plant’s needs, not a national grant’s timeline, explained Kessler.
“There is a pretty small window as far as the right time to plant these native species,” said the Friends’ executive director. “With the funding from Eco Serendib, we can help to give the project the best possible chance of success.”
Ray plans to start putting the plants in the ground in May, he explained.
“We’ll start an initial planting in early to mid-May depending on the rain,” said Ray. “Then we’ll do the bulk of the plantings in the fall, likely October or November.”
The Eco Serendib Beach Restoration Project gives Wickrema the ability to protect the very resource which draws guests to his villa, the island’s beaches.
“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 met Rafe Boulon, former chief of the national park’s Division of Resource Management, and asked him what the number one problem is facing the park. He said it was the erosion along the shoreline and we were off and running.”
Boulon welcomed Wickrema’s support which got the beach restoration project off the ground.
“We’re thrilled to have the support of Eco Serendib in preserving our beaches,” said Boulon. “Harith actively sought out a way to contribute and his commitment to social and environmental responsibility is to be admired.”
Kessler too was excited to help ensure the program’s continued success.
“Our organization is committed to supporting our prized national resource,” he said. “The Eco Serendib Beach Restoration Project is just the type of vital, privately-funded program we encourage and are proud to make a reality.”