Diane Phillips Leads Earth Week Presentation as Part of The Canopy Project
Children dressed in every shade of green from lime to forest and chartreuse assembled in the schoolyard of Windsor Preparatory School at Old Fort in Nassau on Wednesday, ears tuned and eyes bright with anticipation as they gathered for a tree-planting ceremony as part of the school’s Earth Week festivities.
“What’s happening today? Why is everybody dressed in green?” the school’s founder Lisa McCartney asked, warming the group up for the morning’s presentation by Diane Phillips.
“It’s Earth Day!” a chorus of young voices sang in response as students ranging in age from Kindergarten to 8th grade streamed in, vying for the best view.
Phillips, a member of the non-profit environmental conservation and education group Save the Bays, was on hand to plant a Lignum Vitae tree in honor of The Canopy Project, an initiative launched by the Earth Day Network in 2011 which works with local communities to conserve, repair, and restore tree cover. To date, the project has been responsible for planting 3.2 million trees worldwide.
Phillips opened the day’s presentation by asking students for their own definition of the environment.
“It’s the air we breathe, the water we drink, the sea we swim in….what else is it?” Phillips said, prompting the youngsters.
“It’s life!” a young girl answered enthusiastically.
“And why are trees important to life?” Phillips asked, kneeling down to make eye contact with her young audience.
Hands shot up into the air as students competed to be the first to be called upon.
“They give oxygen,” one boy offered.
“It gives a home to animals,” said a young girl.
“They make paper,” answered another.
“They use carbon dioxide,” an older student called out.
“You are absolutely right!” Phillips said, standing up to circulate. “Trees absorb carbon dioxide, which is bad, and give off oxygen, which is good. In fact, did you know, if it weren’t for trees, there probably wouldn’t be human life? Next to water, greenery is the most important thing in the universe.” Students had been prepped for the tree-planting and could answer nearly all the questions about the value of trees from being sources of food and medicine to providing shade, limiting soil erosion and serving as a buffer against noise.
Phillips added that while The Bahamas has been ahead of the conservation curve when it comes to enacting legislation to protect marine life citing shark and sea turtle bans and closed seasons for Nassau grouper and crawfish, the country remains about 40 years behind the U.S. when it comes to preserving the environment given the lack of an Environmental Protection Act.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, 51.5 percent of The Bahamas is forested. Safeguarding the country’s tree population is critical to maintaining the integrity of its fragile ecosystem, particularly in the face of global warming. With the reality of increasingly unpredictable weather patterns and more frequent and violent storms and floods, increasing tree cover to prevent devastating soil erosion especially in low-lying areas is a top priority.
The Nassau tree planting was just one of several activities by Save The Bays marking Earth Day, In Grand Bahama, Joe Darville, chairman of the organization with nearly 20,000 Facebook friends, planted a series of Lignum Vitae trees while Earthcare Eco-kids under the leadership of Save The Bays member Gail Woon did a beach clean-up. And well-known ecologist and attorney Romi Ferreira, a Save The Bays director, personally sponsored an Earth Day competition. Nine schools submitted projects for the day-long exhibition and judging held at the Paul Farquharson Conference Centre at Police headquarters.
And private citizens did their part, including Elaine Pinder and team who dedicated five acres of wetlands at Sapodilla Estate in western New Providence, an oasis populated by ducks, turtles and birds and filled with beauty.
Darville and Phillips said they selected the Lignum Vitae because it was not only the national tree of The Bahamas, but literally translates as “tree of life.”
“We have to do a lot more to protect our environment,” Phillips said. “We’re just at the start. I am not a scientist; I am not even an environmentalist—I wish I were. I am just someone like you—someone who cares about the environment.”