“Island Peak to Coral Reef” The First Field Guide Dedicated to the V.I.

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“Island Peek To Coral Reef” book cover

As the pace of development threatens numerous ecosystems on St. John, both on the land and in the sea, a new book dedicated solely to the U.S. Virgin Islands is out which attempts to educate the public about the close link between the two environments.

“Island Peak to Coral Reef: A Field Guide to the Plant and Marine Communities in the Virgin Islands,” was a joint project by Dr. Barry Devine, chief scientist at the University of the Virgin Islands’ (UVI) conservation data center, and Toni Thomas, a UVI cooperative extension research agent.

Mountain to Ocean
As the title suggests, “Island Peak to Coral Reef” describes both the various vegetation, including woodlands, forests and other plant life, and marine environs, including corals, salt ponds and mangroves.

The book is chock full of color photographs and maps depicting St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix.

“When I was originally hired, about six years ago, at UVI,” said Devine, “we created maps of all of the islands based on marine and plant communities. It was a natural progression to put those maps into a field guide.”

There are many other field guides that cover Caribbean plants and marine life, but “Island Peak to Coral Reef” is the first book to deal exclusively with the U.S.V.I.

Ecosystems Explained
“There is a common problem with people who aren’t familiar with their geography, and where they are, and what the place that they live looks like,” said Devine. “A lot of people know close to nothing about the natural systems that are all around them.”

A major point of the book is to show the close connection between the land and the sea, Devine explained.

“People fail to realize that so much of what they do on the land impacts the sea,” he said. “Most often the damage to the sea is caused by what we do on shore. This book is an attempt to get people to understand that connection.”

“We have done a tremendous amount of damage, but we need to try to preserve and protect what we have,” Devine continued.

Devine worked on the book for three-and-a-half years, which afforded him the opportunity to travel extensively throughout the territory.

“This gave me a great chance to see as many places as I could,” he said. “I knew practically nothing about the Caribbean when I got down here, and working on this book was a great learning experience.”

Devine came down to St. John from his original home in Rhode Island, after a career in development.

“I was a scientist for a while, and then went into the construction and development business,” he said. “I was in environmental land development, where I mostly built small homes on large acreages, with a lot of green space.”

After spending years as a developer, Devine decided that he wanted more out of life.

“I was tired, and I asked myself ‘is this it,” he said. “I decided that it was time to go back to school, and there was no reason why not.”

Devine followed his dream, returning to school and earning his PhD in biological sciences and geographical information systems, which is basically computer mapping.

“I had vacationed here years ago and fell in love with the place,” he said. “Eventually, I decided that I was going to move here, and I did. And, luckily, I found a job.”

Now, Devine combines his construction background and his biological science education, by extolling the importance of sensitive building practices.

Green Building
“I think that green building is probably the most important thing we can do to help save our environment,” he said. “That would help us reduce some of the stress and pressure that we are causing in the marine areas.”

Development has done a lot of damage to the ecosystems in the U.S.V.I., and Devine admits that he “isn’t highly optimistic.”

“I’ve seen enough to feel that we are making some changes now that might be forever,” he said. “What we lose now will be gone forever. We need to think if we want to lose these pristine areas, because we will never get them back again.”

In addition to Devine, a number of other noted St. John scientists contributed to the book, including Eleanor Gibney, Dr. Gary Ray and Rafe Boulon. The field guide was partially funded by the V.I. Department of Agriculture.

“Island Peak to Coral Reef” is currently available at Book and Bean, in The Marketplace, but will be for sale in a number of other retail stores across St. John soon. Devine will also have a book signing in the future.

For more information about the field guide, or to request a copy, Devine can be reached at 693-1038.