I met Jim Sparks through my involvement with the Saint Lucia Naturalists Society (SLNS) in the mid-1980s, an NGO dedicated to the research and conservation of the ecology of St. Lucia. In those days I accompanied Jim and fellow ‘greens’ of the SLNS including the likes of Marie-Louise Felix, Crispin d’Auvergne, Donald Anthony, Lyndon John, Anslem Gittens, Lenita Joseph and others on many turtle watches on Grande Anse assisting and tagging leatherbacks. I always admired Jim for his perseverance and his staunch convictions in protecting St. Lucia’s environment and was amused by his wit and fascinated by his never-ending pursuit of the ‘next best thing’ whether he was talking about bucky-balls or development of world-changing software applications. He passed away on 25th February 2010. He was 66 years old.
I put together this piece with assistance and contributions from Maria Grech, former partner and close friend of Jim, who is best known for authoring the BushTalk Voice newspaper supplement during the 1980s for the Forestry Department. Maria recalls Jim building a large wind turbine on Dennery Beach to generate power many years ago; she also recalls his hang-gliding exploits off the slopes above Donkey Beach on the island’s northeast Atlantic coast. She remembers on one occasion Jim crash landing, going right through a huge stand of organ pipe cactus. “He had so many spines in him his helmet was pinned to his head and we were taking them out with pliers. Lots of laughs…” A reflection of Jim’s indomitable spirit. (click on the photos contributed by Martina and Keffie Sparks and Maria Grech for larger views)
James R. “Jim” Sparks came to St. Lucia from his native USA in 1976 where he helped run the family business, the now closed Mayfair garment factory at Bisee, Castries. He helped form the St. Lucia Manufacturers Association and the National Appropriate Technology and Energy Council.
He became involved with the Saint Lucia Naturalists Society (established in 1978, presently in hiatus) where he was an active member, and was best known for championing the protection of the magnificent leatherback turtle, the world’s largest marine turtle that nests mainly on beaches along St. Lucia’s rugged Atlantic coast. Due to his work with the leatherbacks, Jim became affectionately known as ‘Papa Kawet’ (Papa Turtle). He spearheaded turtle monitoring activities at Grande Anse Beach from 1985 with the Saint Lucia Naturalists Society where over the years he tagged scores of female leatherback turtles as they returned to Grande Anse Beach annually to lay their eggs. His work greatly assisted the Fisheries Department to amass records on nesting and contributed to marine turtle conservation in the wider Caribbean. He also trained several young community members in the nearby Desbarras community who would eventually become organized, with the assistance of Dr. Marie-Louise Felix, then employed by the Fisheries Department, to organize into a fledgling ecotourism association engaged with turtle watching tours to Grande Anse Beach.
He fought tirelessly to put and end to the destructive practice of sand mining from Grande Anse Beach and remained at the forefront of efforts to protect the wider Grande Anse Estate, a biodiversity hotspot on the island that is also home to several rare and endangered species of animals and plants. Jim served as Chairman of the Saint Lucia National Trust during 2000 and remained active with the organization serving on various sub-committees until his untimely death in February 2010.
Jim was an avid inventor, designer and innovator, who kept busy designing and building wind generators, solar panels, geodesic domes, and a hovercraft, amongst other things. During the 1980s he actively promoted the adoption of alternative technologies (ATs) on the island, having had a significant hand in the organization of Atech ’82 that was hosted in the village of Anse la Raye for a whole week, where the site became a show place for every type of AT device. Experts in various fields of ATs came from all over the Caribbean to build and demonstrate useful alternative technological devices. In recent years, his professional career was devoted to designing and writing software applications specializing in hotel inventory control systems and online gaming applications. His software companies included Computer Power Ltd, Tropical Software and Quantic Service Group Ltd.
Jim was a close friend of the late Gabriel ‘Coco’ Charles, a giant in environmental conservation circles in the Caribbean, known locally as ‘the father of forestry’ in St. Lucia, and Paul Butler, renowned globally for his pioneering work in environmental conservation through education also having his professional career beginnings in St. Lucia in the mid-1970s.
While Jim’s legacy on the environmental conservation landscape in St. Lucia remains, challenges persist as the beaches that the mighty leatherbacks nest on, including Grande Anse Beach, are still threatened by wanton sand mining and at times brutal slaughter of these endangered creatures for harvest of eggs and meat.
Jim is survived by his sister Patti, wife Martina and daughter Keffie, and son, Rusty from a previous marriage.
Share your memories of Jim by posting on my blog below.
I stumbled on this today, 3 years after my brother’s death. I just wanted to thank you for this wonderful tribute to Jimmy (as I called him). He went to St. Lucia in the 70’s and I rarely saw him after that. He and I were always very close as children. My only comfort is that I just picture him walking the beaches of St. Lucia and watching over the turtles he so dearly fought for. I know his spirit is still there. Thank you for a wonderful article, I truly enjoyed it.
I wanted to take a moment to say thank you. Jim was my father, and though we had lost contact for several years, the last four years of his life we had made efforts to bridge a long gap. But time never allowed us to finish that. He and I talked about much, but he never really got to tell me about everything he had gotten involved in during his time in the islands. It was nice to read about all that he was involved in. I really think he would have enjoyed what you wrote. Thank you again.
I’m really sorry to hear of Jim’s passing. I’m a Trinidadian and member of the Field Naturalists Club of Trinidad and Tobago. Naturally when I went to work in St. Lucia in 1991, I sought out kindred spirits in the St. Lucia Naturalists Society, where I met Jim. For the next seven years, until I left St Lucia, we enjoyed many “nature” activities together, especially turtle watches on Grand Anse beach. I would always brag about the leather-back nestings in Trinidad, which far surpassed that on St. Lucia, especially on Grande Riviere beach, and Jim always took it in good spirit. We were the more “senior” persons on most of the trips (I was a couple years older) so we had a lot in common. May he rest in peace.
It is really great to hear from you after all these years. I recall you at the St Lucia Naturalists Society meetings and doing a couple field trips in the south…I used to lead the birdwatching group at the time. Yes, Jim’s loss was hard for many in the local environmental conservation circle and we all know that his efforts contributed to greater awareness of these magnificent creatures in St. Lucia. Sadly though there are still those *@#%&… who engage in slaughter of the turtles and sandmining on the Grande Anse beach is still a problem. We need to continue our efforts and lead the example laid by Jim and others.
Hope we can catch up again some day soon,
It’s really a coincidence reading your reply since I haven’t been on this site since I posted my tribute to Jim. I remember you and Donald had helped with a couple tours when the Trinidad Club had visited in the early 90’s. I’m hoping to come across for the Easter weekend with my second son who was born in Vieux Fort to show him a bit of the land of his birth before he heads out for university later this year. Not sure if we’ll get a chance to connect in the limited time but all the best. P.S. I’m still very much involved in the Field Naturalists Club.
I never knew my cousin Jimmy had done all of this, I was a little girl when he left here. it is very cool to find out so much about him, I will add a copy of it to the family folder I started with our family tree in it. Thank you for telling us about all the wonderful things he did while there.
Hello Leigh Anne,
Great that you came across the post and glad to be able to share this on my website.
Howdy would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re using?
I’m looking to start my own blog soon but I’m having a difficult time choosing between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs
and I’m looking for something unique.
P.S Sorry for getting off-topic but I had to ask!
I use WordPress for now but thinking of upgrading to a more suitable platform to showcase my artwork more like a gallery and to have an online shopping feature.
Nice piece on Jim Sparks, he was my neighbour in 1976 in Rodney Bay. At that time the area was in pristine condition, very few houses. Jim always had us involved in something dealing with science, he was always building something cool.
Time flies. We grow older and wiser. It has been over five years since Jim left us. I have great memories of turtle watches at Grande Anse with Jim and the Naturalists Society crew. Looking forward to doing a turtle watch next year (2016).
Well it’s 2017 and I just accidently came across this post about Jimmy Sparks. I knew Jim’s Mom and Dad. Jimmie’s Dad Sparky was a member of the Carifta Trade Association and had been awarded a contract to build a knitting mill in Castries to manufacture Haines Underwear. The agreement was that the City would provide the building for the knitting mill and Sparky would only employ and train local people from St Lucia. Jim’s parent’s Zel and Sparky had tried first to do this in Trinidad but failed due to much political unrest. After a professional survey it was determined in the early 70’s that St Lucia was the most stable government in the Windward Islands. Castries was just finishing building a new facility for the local police and decided instead to give that building to Zel and Sparky to start the knitting mill. I had worked for Jimmies Mom up in Montgomeryville Pa. and we had become friends. They both sort of adopted me along with their kids Penny, Patti and Jimmy. I would fly down to visit on my vacations and loved the beautiful undeveloped friendly island and the warm people I met there. My favorite memory was Jim’s Mom shipping her old little red Javlin car down from the States and we decided to drive from their house in Castries all the way up to Vieux Fort. There were no roads back then and people normally went there by boat. But not Zeloma Sparks. She was determined to blaze a trail thru the jungle. Which we did but it was quite an adventure that I still remember all these years later. The first time I met Jimmie he came down to visit and you could see he was crazy about the place almost immediately. I think he married a pretty little Indian young woman and bought a house near an old restaurant called “Rain” after a few visits he came back to stay and I didn’t realize Jimmy had never left. Reading this article it sounds like he had an amazing life. From the pictures it looks like every square inch of St Lucia is now developed. From what I remember of Jimmy that couldn’t have made him to happy. Jimmies parent died years ago and I think Penny also passed and only Patti survives from the family I knew. I’ll have to dig out my old pictures of the amazing house they had with the crazy moat around it to keep out the land toads. I’m 7 years to late, but Thanks for reminding me of great memories and great people.
Must say thanks for your great post here…am quite late in responding as I do site maintenance occasionally. You too have great memories of the island; I was a little boy in the early 70s growing up there and yes much has changed. Jim was a great guy and many Lucians have fond memories of him. Make a return visit to the island someday!
Cheers for a great 2019!
I worked for him and maria at their house in trouya. I went on a turtle watch. I appreciate his and Maria’s contributions to st.lucia.
When I was a naive 19-year-old teacher, Jim was good enough to give an entire weekend and the use of his vehicle and skills to help me lead some Ranger Guides from the Vide Biteiile Secondary School on a camping expedition. He hurt his knee, but uncomplainingly continued to help us identify wildlife, pitch tents and stay safe over days on the Atlantic beach where I’d brought maybe ten teenagers to earn some badges. Madness! I’ll never forget how much we learned and how calm and kind Jim was.
I was going through an old “address book”, saw Jim’s name and phone number and decided to look him up on the internet when I found this site. We were not close friends as I only spent part of one evening with him (many years ago) in a fascinating conversation, and then met him for breakfast the following morning before I flew back to the States. I just wanted the people who were close to him to know this: However briefly my contact with him was, he made a long lasting impression, not the least of it being our shared passion for the natural world. Though sad to hear about his passing, I’m also grateful to learn more about what he did in his life. It is also deeply satisfying to know that somehow we do actually intuitively “know” our kindred spirits.