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NEW DIRECTOR MARKS EARTH DAY WITH SEA EVENTS

April 24, 2004 – Megan Weaver Shoenfelt's official start date as executive director of the St. Croix Environmental Agency was Monday, but she's already been getting her feet wet on environmental issues throughout the territory. SEA launched several activities for the month of April as the nation celebrates Earth Day.
"SEA has some very interesting issues facing it right now," Shoenfelt said. "The organization's master plan for the next five years will include a heavy push towards public awareness. We want to be actively involved."
Shoenfelt's previous assignment was with the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda, where she managed a grant from the United Nations Global Environmental Fund, designed a Biodiversity Discovery Gallery and served on the board of directors of the Historical and Archeological Society of Antigua.
Other job assignments include environmental director for a county commissioner's office in Ohio, mining and reclamation specialist in both Ohio and Tennessee, and a landscape designer.
She holds a bachelor of science degree in agricultural economics and has done postgraduate work in horticulture and nursery management. An avid diver, she has accepted the role as president of the St. Croix Archeological Society.
Sewage and solid waste have always been a big issue throughout the territory, Shoenfelt pointed out, and SEA's governing board is outlining a specific direction to address longstanding concerns.
Southgate Pond Preserve beach cleanup
"This is a good warm-up for me. My interest is so focused towards the marine environment and our coral life," she said at a beach cleanup at the Southgate Pond Nature Preserve on the northeast coast of St. Croix last Sunday.
At that event volunteers and students donned gloves and scoured through sand and thorny shrubbery. While volunteers sought out debris left behind by beachgoers, which can be potential hazards to marine life and area nesting birds, Zandy Hillis, chief of resource management with the National Park Service, stopped along the way to offer insight on life forms and their habitats.
"Though we are an enforcement agency," Hillis said, "our first role is educating the community on conservation regulations and practices that harm the environment. Our environment is our heritage."
Marcia Taylor of the V.I. Marine Advisory Service at the University of the Virgin Islands said her agency supports SEA's efforts to preserve the marine habitats around the island. "We are an outreach organization on marine issues," she said.
As volunteers braved the torrential early morning rainfall, some temporarily draped their green trash bags over their clothes.
"We have eager volunteers that support our efforts," Shoenfelt said. Five-year-old Blaize Lowe in his yellow Sponge Bob T-shirt, with sea sponge in hand, joined the gathering around Hillis, who spoke about the finger coral found on the shore.
Karen Zimmerman and her daughter, a student at Good Hope School, said her daughter came out to perform community service. She said cleanups are good after long weekends like the Easter holiday.
Carol Kramer-Burke, program coordinator for the Southgate Preserve, said she interviewed campers over the long weekend to find out the traditional uses for the area and meet the families that enjoy the camping tradition.
"We would like to involve the community in outlining uses for the preserve," Kramer-Burke said. "We want people to feel welcome. This is everyone's resource. We want to balance what belongs to us and what belongs to nature."
Kramer-Burke took some volunteers for a brief tour of the wetlands which are a part of the preserve. Nesting birds could be seen across the waterway with binoculars. She said during the dry season the marsh has become a favorite spot for daredevil drivers who speed across the dry pond.
The Southgate Preserve is home to native and migratory birds like pelicans, which nest on adjacent Green Cay, Bahama ducks, coot, barn swallows, heron, egret and whistling ducks. Kramer-Burke said some of the Caribbean and American species of birds have interbred. (For more on the bird population and research conducted by longtime resident Betsy Gladfelter, see an earlier Source article, Southgate Pond: A Haven for Birds.)
Some of the areas that will be considered for the preserve, Kramer-Burke said, are mangrove management, species management and use of the beach area. Studies are being done for the feasibility of a parking lot and a boardwalk.

Other SEA April initiatives
Earlier in the week, SEA hosted more than a thousand elementary and middle school students at their 11th annual Eco Fair at St. George Botanical Garden.
On Saturday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., SEA volunteers were to join National Park Service personnel at Columbus Landing at Salt River for a community event.
Also Saturday, history enthusiasts were to hike to Maroon Ridge at Hams Bluff, Frederiksted.
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