Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Nevis needs more Nuts!

Most of you non-tropical mainlanders may be unaware that our iconic symbol of Caribbean islands is in deep crisis.  The symbol I'm referring too is our beloved Coconut Palm or Cocos nucifera a palm featured so many times on the pages of travel magazines, has been disappearing from our beaches at an alarming rate.

So what has happened?  Simply put, these palms face the same crisis as Bananas, too many of the same genetic types with little diversity.  These mono-culture's of nearly identical types can't resist diseases when outbreaks occur.  Although the main disease I'm referring too is 'Lethal Yellowing Disease', two other pathogens, 'Bud Rot' and 'Red Palm Mite' have run rampant through the population.  In a future post I will get into the details of all three issues, but collectively they have been termed 'Coconut palm complex' as they can all be found at the same time on declining trees.


Pinney's Beach before Lethal Yellow Disease
When I first came to Nevis a longtime ago, the beaches were lined as far as you could see with Coconut palms that stretch deep into the interior of the island.  Locals will tell stories of never taking any supplies with them to the beach as natures bounty was ripe for harvest.  Jelly water (a local term for coconut water) was drunk to refresh the body and Coconut flesh was eaten to fill your bellies.  Nowadays, there's not even enough palms to meet the needs of everyone as over 70% of coconut palms were estimated to of died, although the number is mostly likely higher.

Effects of Lethal Yellowing Disease
This week I was sent on a mission to find some jelly waters for guest staying at the place where I work.  It should of been a simple walk along the beach, but every stand of palms I found was devoid of their nuts.  Instead, the ground was littered with opened husks left behind from harvesting.  So rare now is it to find jelly waters, entrepreneurial people have seen a market willing to pay good prices for what was once ample.

Fortunately, efforts are being made to replant these iconic symbols of Tropic islands. Various government ministries have committed themselves in a scheme to replant resistant coconut strains across both islands of St Kitts and Nevis, but is this enough?  No one really knows the true amount of coconut palms lost to this 'complex' but its impact is evident.  Although bring in resistant types would in the long run help, its those trees that survived that leave me to ponder why?  Do these survivors have a natural ability to fend off attack.  If they do in fact come from better genetic stock, then the constant harvesting for jellies is only adding to the complex of coconut decline.

Nut grabber in action
Maybe a better approach to re-nutting Nevis is through educating the nut collectors in sustainable harvesting.   After all, they are the benefactors of the harvest and profit from what remains, so its in their best interest to secure their chosen crop for future profits.  If for every two nuts they collect, one is planted in gratitude, we can reclaim the bounty that Nevis once relied on.  Because at the end of the day Nevis wouldn't be Nevis without its Nuts!