“If you save your own backyard, then you start to save the world,” wrote the late Winston Nanon, the man who saved the Caroni Swamp and the bird that became the national bird of Trinidad—the Scarlet Ibis.
Virginia Paved Over the Nesting Site of 25,000 Migratory Seabirds
We have something in our backyard in Virginia that needs Nanan’s kind of leadership—the south island of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel. It’s been paved over to build the expansion for the tunnel. Lamentably, up to 25,000 migratory seabirds will come back this spring to their nesting ground of 40 years to the surprise that it has been paved over.
The man-made island is the nesting site for the largest Royal Tern colony in Virginia, Sandwich Terns, the threatened Gull-Billed Tern, Black Skimmers and several species of gull.
Nanan and Northam–Complete Opposites
Unlike Nanan, the Northam administration has done nothing, nothing, to prevent the impending doom for the returning birds. With proper planning and a little vision and listening to experts, this could have been prevented. Experts from Virginia Tech pleaded with the Northam administration to build another island for the birds from dredge material. In fact, the south island is man-made from dredge material. State officials blame the Trump administration for weakening the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act stating they no longer have to mitigate any damage to the nesting site. But just because the federal government says you don’t have to mitigate doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t. Indeed we must. Where is the vision, Virginia?
Virginia should have followed in the footsteps of Trinidadian Winston Nanan. If anyone ever doubts that one person can make a big difference in the world, read his story. One person CAN make a difference.
You Can Help
*Send a message to Virginia Governor Northam and his administration to put up barges now and build another nesting island for the birds.
*Sign the petition at the American Bird Conservancy.
Winston Nanan Story
Winston’s father took him out of school when he was twelve to help take people hunting and fishing in the Caroni Swamp. There he was steeped in the natural wonders of the swamp and his love for nature grew. People love to see the birds especially the Scarlet Ibis. Nanan’s article about the ibis and the swamp was published in National Geographic when he was sixteen years old. Later he started a petition to protect the swamp and the ibis. Today the Scarlet Ibis is Trinidad’s national bird and in 2015 the swamp was renamed the Winston Nanan Caroni Bird Sanctuary. Winston Nanan died in 2015. His sons carry on the vision of their father by taking people into the swamp to show them the ibises and the many wonders of the swamp.
Lester Nanon Carries on the Legacy of his Father and Grandfather
We learned about Winston Nanan and his family during our inaugural trip to the Caroni Swamp. Our tour guide was one of Winston Nanan’s sons, Lester. He showed us many birds and creatures of the swamp including an American Pygmy Kingfisher, Tropical Screech Owls, Peregrin Falcon, and of course the Scarlet Ibis. He definitely carries on in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps.
Lester Nanan wrote to me, “The Passion I have for my job comes from knowing what my grandfather and my father did for the Caroni Swamp and all that lives in there. All the struggles and battles they went through and had to put up with was not an easy thing. My grandfather gained a lot of enemies in the early days, he was beaten badly several times because he was the protector of the swamp. One day he went to the swamp and saw all his boats were all smashed up. He was beaten that day and that was the day he died at only 50 years.”
Nanan Saved the Birds, Northam Destroys Them
There are many who are fighting to protect the birds of the south island of the Hampton Road BridgeTunnel, but it’s not our governor. Clearly Nanan and Northam are at opposite ends of the spectrum in leadership.
One person can make a difference. Do your part, please.