I had the pleasure of working directly with Anita James since 1992 on my return to the Saint Lucia Forestry Department after studies in Canada. By that time, she had joined the Forestry Department from a teaching position at the Soufriere Comprehensive Secondary School. At Forestry she headed the environmental education programme at the time when the Department was being upgraded, with the support of the Government of Canada under a major project to help improve the management capability for effective forest resource management in the country.
Her background as a teacher lent a natural disposition to leading the environmental education work of Forestry with passion and commitment, and she approached her work in much the same way as she did as an educator of students; in this role however, she became an educator and advocate to all Lucian masses, and became a well-recognized figure with her many appearances on media, in the schools and in public. She was at the helm of the flagship environmental education programmes championed by the Forestry Department from the 1990s into the 2000s. With her capable team in the Environmental Education Unit, the ‘EE Unit’ as we called it, that included Alleyne Regis, Margaret Ishmael, Christina Pierre and Cassian Henry she oversaw continuity of the highly successful St. Lucia Parrot conservation education efforts that led to development under her leadership, of similarly-modelled programmes for conservation of our endangered St. Lucia Whiptail and St. Lucia Iguana, in collaboration with the then Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust, now the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.
One of the signature programmes that she drove was the Learning for Environmental Action Programme, known in short as ‘LEAP’, that was a packaged set of environmental education resources, tailored specifically for teachers to use in the classroom. In collaboration with the Ministry of Education, the LEAP saw island-wide application, bringing environmental conservation messages to young, curious minds. She also became involved in the continued development of the Jacquot Magazine, picking it up following the work of Charlene Easton, elevating this childrens’ conservation education publication to readership across the Eastern Caribbean, in collaboration with the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States.
From the 2000s, Anita contributed significantly to strengthening Saint Lucia’s commitment at the global level in protection of the country’s flora and fauna; its natural biodiversity. This was in her role as the National Biodiversity Coordinator in development of the country’s first National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, a statement of commitment of the country’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity under the guidance of the United Nations Environment Programme. This also included Saint Lucia becoming a member state to the Cartagena Protocol of the Convention on Biological Diversity concerning genetically and living modified organisms, that seeks to ensure safeguards are observed to protect native biodiversity. She also led national efforts toward the country becoming party to the Nagoya Protocol of the Convention on Biological Diversity that seeks to ensure that benefits, particularly financial, through the commercial use of native flora and fauna, are repatriated to the country.
In the years following her retirement, Anita remained active in many facets of life in St. Lucia, continuing to lend her wisdom, cultivated over her many years of expertise and experience, toward the formulation of projects and programmes on environmental conservation, working with local government and non-governmental organizations and community groups, and as well as with regional and global level organizations, bringing her knowledge and influence to the wider world.
The early days of our working relationship at Forestry was a memorable mission with Anita to Dominica in 1992; first time to Dominica for me, where we put heads together in a regional workshop on environmental education with the focus on widening readership of the Jacquot Magazine across the OECS region. She was among the senior educators there and admirably showed her mettle as a lead resource in the region. Over our years together at Forestry, I worked closely with her and her team in the EE Unit, developing content for environmental education literature, contributing my illustrations and helping in development and management of the environmental interpretation facilities at the Forestry Department headquarters and on the nature trails. This included support to the operation of the famous ‘Jacquot Bus’, donated to Saint Lucia by the World Parrot Trust, thanks to the efforts of Gabriel ‘Coco’ Charles, ex-Chief Forest Officer and Paul Butler, ex-Conservation Advisor to the Forestry Department.
As a teacher Anita taught me many things, but I reflect on one of those that has come full circle in my present working role. It was from Anita that I first learned about something called ‘A – B – S’. This was back in the early 2000s when she worked as the National Biodiversity Coordinator, where her office was on the 4th Floor in the Ministry of Agriculture, while I worked upstairs; by that time as Chief Agricultural Planning Officer. If you are a Samarian of St. Mary’s College, my secondary school alma mater, you think of ‘Abs’, meaning ‘Abercrombie House’, or if you are into cars, you think of ‘Automatic Braking System’; but in this case…’ABS’ stands for Access and Benefit-Sharing, that in the context of biodiversity management, as mentioned above, refers to ensuring that uses of our native plants and animals for commercial purposes, is done such that the benefits gained are equitably shared with the country. She would inform of how unscrupulous interests engage in ‘bio-piracy’ and theft of our resources unbeknownst to us, and how it is vitally important that we as custodians of natural resources, need to be aware of this possibility and the relevance of St. Lucia joining the Nagoya Protocol of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
It is from her leadership in this area in these early days, that finally in March 2022 St. Lucia joined the Nagoya Protocol. This achievement is now paving the way in development of the country’s first national ABS Project, that I have the great privilege of working as a specialist now with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), to help St Lucia, led by the Department of Sustainable Development, to access funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), in collaboration with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). So Anita…your legacy is being carried forward!!!
Anita remained full of enthusiasm and drive that was tempered with her no-nonsense approach, always freely speaking her mind. You knew she was troubled when she rolled her eyes, and while blinking rapidly, released a tongue-lashing in defense of her views. Her openness, willingness to help and contribute to the greater good will be among her endearing qualities. We know change starts at home with our youth, and Anita, while she did not mother children of her own, she was indeed mother to very many, including us in the Forestry Department. We appreciate you Anita, and you will remain with us forever!
Anita passed away on 22 November 2022 in Saint Lucia
Other tributes to Anita: The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States