By Will Pagano
On March 24th of this year, the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve celebrated its Grand Opening in Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera. The 25-acre Preserve, founded jointly by the Leon Levy Foundation and the Bahamas National Trust, is the first National Park on Eleuthera and will showcase the island’s historic variety of indigenous medicinal plants. The Preserve was designed by renowned landscape architect Raymond Jungles in conjunction with subtropical plant expert Dr. Ethan Freid.
The Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve was first envisioned by Leon Levy’s widow, Shelby White. Ms. White, a longtime homeowner on Eleuthera, first dreamt of a public botanical plant preserve to honor the legacy of her late husband, Mr. Levy. Six years later, the result is the stunningly beautiful Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve. The Preserve is home to more than 34 species of birds, 171 species of indigenous plants, and over 100 varieties of medicinal plants.
In honor of Mr. Levy, the principal mission of the Preserve is to promote education, interdisciplinary conservation, preservation, and research in order to preserve, progress, and better understand the rich ethno-botanical history and heritage of Eleuthera. Mr. Levy feared that the medicinal knowledge and use of the island’s various indigenous plants were drastically diminishing, and he sought to preserve this important, potent cultural legacy. To this end, the National Park’s programs focus on the preservation and conservation of Eleuthera’s rich biodiversity and the various medicinal uses of the island’s native plants.
The Nature Conservancy is also involved in migratory bird research on the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve. The Kirtland’s Warbler Training and Research Project, which is funded primarily by the Nature Conservancy Migratory Bird Program through a grant from the USDA Forest Service International Program, operates collaboratively with the Bahamas National Trust. The Project keenly examines the winter habitat requirements of Bahamian birds, specifically the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler—North America’s rarest songbird, in order to better preserve the endangered species.
The Project also provides valuable field experience and training for future Bahamian biologists. Since its inception in 2002, the Project has provided in-depth training—including two field seasons in the Bahamas, one field season in Michigan, and funding to complete a Bachelors of Science (B.S.) degree in the United States—to seven College of Bahamas students and future leaders in conservation. The Leon Levy Foundation understands and values the importance of creating the next generation of conservation leaders in the Bahamas. Indeed, the Foundation is currently funding a B.S. degree at St. Mary’s College of Maryland for Scott Johnson, the most recent member of the Kirtland’s Warbler Training and Research Project. Scott is a deeply passionate and dedicated student, and he has already decided to pursue a Ph.D. in vertebrate zoology. He plans on returning to the Bahamas after his studies and dedicating his life to helping “ensure that [his] islands and its wonders remain intact for generations to come.” Not only has the Kirtland’s Warbler Training and Research Project already greatly increased conservation capacity in the Bahamas, but it has also paved the way for a new, passionate, and highly educated generation of Bahamian conservationists.
The Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve could prove to have a tremendously beneficial, long-lasting impact on Eleuthera. Not just a plant preserve or a bird sanctuary, not just a living, breathing classroom or an ethno-botanical museum, the Preserve had already injected more than $2 million into the local economy before its grand opening. The Preserve has indeed rapidly become a hallmark of Eleuthera. In years to come, the symbiotic relationship between island and preserve can only grow more profound, and the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve can have a phenomenal, perennial influence on the island of Eleuthera, and beyond.July 05, 2011
Born and raised in Manhattan, Will Pagano attended the Collegiate School from K - 12. In 8th Grade, he and a few classmates founded RelightNY -- a non-profit organization designed to donate and install CFLs in low-income housing communities. To date, RelightNY has donated 117,223 CFLs, eliminating 22,975,708 lbs of CO2 emissions and saving residents $5,790,816.20 in electricity bills. In 11th Grade, he and three other classmates decided to build a roof garden and host a farmers market at Collegiate. In under a year, the roof garden/farmers market--united under student-led group, Urban Growth--nearly doubled its initial investment, allowing Urban Growth to double-down its monetary commitment. The roof garden and farmers market are now permanent fixtures at Collegiate, and they continue to grow. This past year, Will spent 16 weeks volunteering at three different animal rehabilitation centers in Namibia and South Africa. He is currently a marketing intern at The Nature Conservancy.