Coralita: pretty in pink or pretty out of control

Coralita: if nothing is done, biodiversity may be gone, that is the winning slogan from a contest held by the Coralita Girls during Science Cafe hosted by Ca­ribbean Netherlands Sci­ence Institute (CNSI) last week Thursday.

Botanist Elizabeth Haber and social scientist Jetske Vaas, jointly known as The Coralita Girl, presented their findings from three and half years of research into the pink vine that cov­ers large areas of both St. Eustatius and Saba. Biodiversity loss is a wide­ly held concern by Sabans and Statians alike, as Vaas’ research shows. She stud­ied people’s perceptions re­garding the value of nature and the threat of Coralita on both islands and found that people worry about The Quill volcano and Mt. Scenery pristine nature being disrupted by the vine.

Coralita Girls social scientist Jetske Vaas (left) and botanist Elizabeth Haber.

Haber has just launched a research campaign in which she tries to specify the im­pacts of the vine. Although it has spread around the world, data on Coralita’s impacts on nutrients in the soil, light availability for other plan. and effects on erosion is lacking entirely. “People always ask us: what does Coralita do? I want to find some answers to that important ques­tion.” Haber explained.

As well as holding public presentations, the research­ers working for Utrecht University organised meet­ings with the government to recommend Coralita man­agement in specific areas. In Saba, they met with the Island Council and Saba Conservation Foundation and stressed the need to remove Coralita from the upper part of the Crispeen trail and next to Reed Barns’ sheep pen and to keep the vine from creep­ing up Mt. Scenery.

To protect trees that are important for erosion prevention, they recom­mended pulling it from the Tamarind trees in Harbour gut and the Tamarind tree along Dancing Place trail. Wanting to set an exam­ple, Haber and Vaas organ­ised a successful Tamarind tree clean-up on Saba on October 27, acting on the winning Saba slogan, “Cor­alita, we’re gonna beat ya.”

In Statia the team met with St. Eustatius National Parks STENAPA, CNSI, the Department of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries LVV and Deputy Government Com­missioner Stegers, sharing ideas for management ap­proaches and priority areas. The attendees agreed that reforestation of the Coralita fields along the trail to The Quill on Upper Round Hill would be a good idea, as well as keeping a buffer zone on the lower slopes of Signal Hill.

Meeting participants showed much enthusiasm for a testing-and-research area below the cliffs near Scubaqua, to test the ef­fectiveness of mowing, cov­ering the vine with a tarp or having pigs dig for the tubers. Also, the idea of Community Nature Rang­ers was suggested, with people in different neigh­bourhoods adopting trees to keep clear of Coralita. Based on their experienc­es with a successful pilot area clearing Coralita on Saba, Haber and Vaas rec­ommended cleaning up the Deep Yard to turn it into a fruit orchard to reveal what is possible when a piece of land is cleared of Coralita.
“Most people want Corali­ta gone from their yard, but they do not know where to begin. Such a demonstra­tion area could show them it is possible and encourage them to do the same,” said Haber.

For Vaas, the research has come to an end, as she will finish her dissertation in February 2019. Haber will be on Statia until mid-De­cember, gathering data for her impact study, and re­turn to Saba to do the same in the 2019 spring season. Their proceedings can be followed via the Coralita Girls Facebook page, or by sending an e-mail to j.vaas@uu.nl.

Haber and Vaas finished their presentation at the Science Cafe by handing out seeds, encouraging people to grow vegetables. “Working your land is the easiest way to keep Coral­ita under control, and it is really rewarding to eat the fruits and vegetables you grow in your own garden,” Haber and Vaas stressed.

The Daily Herald.

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