Junior Journey Leaves a Lasting Legacy

Jul 16, 2018

by Dr. Nancy Morvillo

Dr. Kristian Taylor, Assistant Professor of Marine Biology, has led Junior Journeys to the British Virgin Islands (BVIs) before, but his latest trip had an added, and lasting, impact. 

It may be odd to think that the FSC campus has something in common with the BVIs, but we do: we were both hit by hurricane Irma last year. Although Lakeland experienced some damage, the BVIs were devastated. Irma hit the Caribbean archipelago on September 6th as a category 5 storm, with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour. Four fatalities were attributed directly to the storm, which knocked out 90% of the electrical grid.

As its faculty advisor, Dr. Taylor coordinated a fundraiser with the FSC campus chapter of Rho Rho Rho, the National Marine Biology Honor Society. The group raised money to send much needed supplies to the BVIs immediately after the storm.

“I have been to the BVIs many times, both for fun and work,” Dr. Taylor said. “After so many trips you establish lasting friendships that compel you to help out however you can.”

Located about 60 miles east of Puerto Rico, the BVIs are a popular tourist destination, and have diverse terrestrial and marine ecosystems, including magnificent coral reefs, that make the islands a wonderful place for students and scientists to visit.

Dr. Taylor and students planting trees on Virgin Gorda.
Dr. Taylor and students planting trees on Virgin Gorda.

“I enjoy bringing students to the BVIs to provide them with an amazing opportunity to explore pristine marine and terrestrial habitats, as well as experience a very open and friendly island culture,” Dr. Taylor explained.

Virgin Gorda is one of the four main islands in the BVIs. In addition to the many buildings that were destroyed during the hurricane, much of the vegetation on Virgin Gorda was also damaged, including trees in important areas necessary for preventing erosion and protecting the ecosystems of the island. To help the island recover, "Seeds of Love" was established. This initiative, set up by the BVI Tourism Board, promotes the replanting of indigenous species to protect shorelines from erosion.

Thousands of seeds and saplings for fruit trees and coconut trees have been donated to or purchased by the BVIs. During the Junior Journey in May, Dr. Taylor coordinated with Shereen Flax Charles, project manager for Seeds of Love. And this is how FSC students became “voluntourists.” The group planted 10 trees along the beach of Spanish Town in Virgin Gorda.

Stacey Graham ’19, a dance major, was enthusiastic about participating in the event. “It was really humbling to see how destructive Irma was to the Virgin Islands, even months later, so I was glad that we got to help out.”

“Speaking with the locals who experienced the hurricane first-hand proved how real and painful the experience was which is why we wanted to give back,” said Kimberly Stakes ’20, a nursing major. “I was so happy Dr. Taylor coordinated a way for us to help.”

Dr. Taylor will continue offering trips to the BVIs in the future.

"I look forward to maintaining my contacts with the BVI Tourism Board in the years to come,” Dr. Taylor said. “As I continue to lead Junior Journeys to the region, I hope to continue to plant trees and check on the growth of last year’s efforts."