“It was beautiful, it was decorated, the children were excited, the teachers were excited and I was excited to start a new stage in my life,” Harvey remembers.
“And then we heard during the day that Hurricane Ivan was on his way.”
Instead of enjoying a full first school day, Ann spent the afternoon packing up and securing the small schoolhouse in preparation for the Category 3 hurricane. But being so close to the water’s edge, Ann didn’t know what would become of the wooden structure.
“We knew we weren’t safe,” Ann said.
Ann and her niece spent the storm keeping an eye on the school from a corner of their front porch.
“We were so scared we would lose the roof because all around us roofs were flying off,” Ann said. “But I kept looking at this patch of mangroves behind the school and I saw that it was taking the brunt of the wind from the building. I was thinking that maybe the mangrove might be able to do something for us.”
Ann was able to breathe a sigh of relief after the winds died down. The mangroves had indeed protected her school from the high winds and waves. It had been kept completely safe.
“From that day I fell in love with the mangroves, and I’ve been a champion of the mangroves ever since,” Ann said.
Importance of Mangroves
Ann took her role as a champion of the mangroves very seriously.
“You can see that around the school we have a lot of new mangrove trees growing up because anytime I see someone going in there I stop them and tell them that they can’t cut the mangroves because they are important to us,” Ann said.
And mangroves don’t just offer protection from storms. They are also a spawning ground for fish, which is an important part of the local economy and provide livelihoods to many residents.
“In a lot of places where you have infrastructure that’s threatened, the first response is an engineering response,” says Ruth Blyther, the Conservancy’s Eastern Caribbean program director. “Your beach, your mangroves, your seagrass, your coral reefs, which are also capable of protecting you from the ocean, they provide with a lot of other services. They provide you with fish, sand to build your beaches, tourism and recreation.”
At the Water’s Edge
Ann is now working hard to protect not just the mangroves, but the whole environment of Union Island. In late 2011, Ann joined a Conservancy-sponsored program called At the Water’s Edge. This program brings together government and community leaders from Grenada to St. Vincent and the Grenadines to find natural solutions to address increasing coastal risks.
“At the Water’s Edge has provided us with a network so that we can work together, share ideas and do positive work to keep our environment safe.”
Ann plans to continue to be a leader in natural resource protection in her community.
“I plan to do much more work, starting with the young people of Union Island,” Ann said. “And I hope that our future is brighter with all these young people walking behind me and doing something to make our island a better island.”