It took just a few hours for the lush greens, towering coconut trees and vibrant hues of hibiscus flowers to be wiped away from the British Virgin Islands landscape. Category 5 Hurricane Irma made a direct hit to the island bringing with it wind gusts of 240 mph. 85% of all structures in the country suffered some sort of damage.
‘The week after the storm, everything that was once green turned brown,’ said Director of Tourism in the British Virgin Islands, Sharon Flax Brutus. ‘You woke up on the morning of September 6 and eight hours later, our landscape and our lives were changed.’ While other parts of the government focus on rebuilding homes and other structures, the Seeds of Love program is working towards bringing beauty back the British Virgin Islands.
Working alongside the Department of Agriculture and National Parks Trust, Seeds of Love wants to replant the country’s indigenous plants and vegetation. The program got a quick show of support from neighboring St. Vincent and the Grenadines which donated 3000 fruit trees. ‘I think it speaks to the nature of Caribbean people in general,’ Brutus said. ‘We are always friendly, but since the storms, we’ve really seen across the region, an outpouring of love and support for each other.’ Puerto Rico was among the first countries to send aid to the British Virgin Islands, a gesture that hasn’t been forgotten. ‘It was so heartbreaking (after Maria hit them),” Brutus said. “We weren’t in the position to help Puerto Rico after the second storm hit.’
Seeds of Love has had two shipments of plants and are anticipating another shipment in the coming weeks. Donations can be made through Pledgeling, with the funds going towards purchasing coconut palms, white cedars and mangrove seedlings. Donors have the option to receive a Seeds of Love packet that will provide the exact coordinates of the newly-planted tree. But a new system could be on the way. ‘I have a team who is (also) looking into geotagging and how we can make it a personal experience for people,’ Brutus said. ‘That’s also what the British Virgin Islands is about, creating memories and personal experiences for our guests.’
British Virgin Island residents, including its youth, have headed up the planting process throughout the island. ‘They are actually trying to protect their future and our island,’ said Brutus about the participation of youngsters. ‘I think education comes in many forms. … It’s important not only for our adults to do the planting, but (for) kids to do the planting (so they) understand why they are planting. For me, it’s rewarding to see the kids want to take part in the program.”
Visitors to the island interested in taking part in planting can reach out their respective hotels or villas. The Seeds of Love program not only focuses on planting seedlings, but also teaching residents how to nurture the plants. There are care instructions on the organization’s website and ideas of educational programs in the future.
‘Sometimes nature needs a helping hand and Seeds of Love helps us do that,’ Brutus said. ‘Our environment is very important. … It’s a way of giving back to the British Virgin Islands in a very tangible and meaningful way. Once the trees are planted and it stops soil erosion, the British Virgin Islands (will be) beautiful again.’