This year’s observance of World Wetlands Day is on the theme of ‘Wetlands Action for People and Nature’ - a call to take action for
wetlands by investing financial, human and political capital to save the world’s wetlands from disappearing and to restore those we have degraded.
Wetland restoration efforts in St. Kitts and Nevis under the IWEco project have focused on the wetland at Nelson’s Spring on the island of Nevis. This restoration work is an example of how, from the grassroots level, a community and a local NGO can work together to bring a wetland back to its former glory.
In recent years, Nelson’s Spring has been subjected to many negative environmental pressures and neighbouring developments have cut off the natural links with other wetlands. There has also been wholesale clearing of vegetation aimed at 'cleaning up', without any attempt at replanting. The result of these disturbances has been the invasion of the whole area with non-native species. These invasives have severely reduced the open water of the pond and changed the open aspect from the road to the sea (Nevis Historical Conservation Society (NHCS), 2021).
The NHCS has teamed up with a local community group - the St. Thomas’ Improvement Group (STIG) - to restore the wetland at Nelson’s Spring by removing non-native invasive cattail reeds and scrub, thus reopening the beautiful vista to the sea. Clearing began in late November 2020 and proceeded rapidly. Cattails were cleared from the whole perimeter of the pond, and scrub was cleared in the southern section to around 50ft from the pond edge. Replanting began in December 2020.
In January 2021, community days were held and a number of species were planted. These included seagrape, coconut, white mangrove, seaside almond (Terminalia catappa), swamp fern (Acrostichum danaeifolium) and beach morning glory (Ipomoea pes-caprae). Volunteers also helped remove cattails which had already begun to grow back. Along with the replanting, there was encouraging regrowth of native species of sedge and spike reed (Eleocharis mutata).
By April 2021, the water lily (Nymphaea ampla), had re-established and has now spread through the whole pond. Water birds have been very visible during all stages of the project. In April 2021, a group of young birders on an ornithology course visited Nelson’s Spring on a field trip. The local ornithologists accompanying them identified 33 species of birds in the two-hour visit, more than at any other site they had visited in both St. Kitts and Nevis. Nowadays fish are seen jumping in the pond, and crab holes are evident. Recently lots of butterflies have been seen in the areas where native plants are re-establishing. In addition, the neighbouring beach is a nesting site for Leatherback and Hawksbill turtles.
Currently, work is focused on slowing down the regrowth of cattails by employing one or more laborers to physically remove plants and cut off flower stalks. This has been especially difficult and the cattails have returned to a large portion of the pond. Many lessons have been learnt and now efforts are being refocused to ensure a more sustainable solution.
In mid-2021, the NHCS applied for, and received, grant funding from the US National Forest Service under their Natural Infrastructure for Caribbean Resilience (NiCAR) programme to continue the restoration effort at Nelson’s Spring. This funding will be crucial to continue the restoration efforts, especially with the knowledge and lessons learnt from the pilot effort conducted under IWEco.SKN.
There is no doubt that to take action for wetlands requires a sustained collective effort. We must be willing to invest significant capital (financial, human and political) as well as our time to save these wetlands. An emerging theme from all of the restoration work undertaken in Nevis is that restoration efforts take a lot of time and we must be willing to take the plunge and invest over the long term in order to reclaim these critical ecosystems.
Submitted by Dr. Halla Sahely,
National Project Coordinator, IWEco.SKN
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