Monday, December 5, 2022 — Anita James graduated from the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, a minor in Biology, and a passion for environmental conservation. From 1983 to 1984, she was the Chemistry tutor at the Division of Arts, Science and General Studies of Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, SALCC. From 1984 to 1990, she served as a Chemistry and Biology teacher at the Soufriere Comprehensive Secondary School, where she headed the Science Department and prepared students to sit the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) exams. In this role, she encouraged students to learn about local medicinal herbs and worked with researcher and ethnobotanist, Mr. Laurent Jn. Pierre. Together, they developed a list of local medicinal herbs and a medicinal herb garden was produced on the school compound.
In 1990, Anita joined Saint Lucia’s Forestry Department as the Environmental Education Officer and led the consolidation of the conservation education campaign for the Jacquot, Saint Lucia’s National Bird, and the forests. She used a similar methodology to educate citizens on the conservation of the Saint Lucia Whiptail – an endemic lizard – and other reptiles. During her stint as an Environmental Education Officer, Anita played an integral role in the development and establishment of 11 trails in Saint Lucia’s Forest Reserve, which was developed to encourage forest conservation and appreciation by locals, school children and visitors.
Anita was instrumental in the preparation of Saint Lucia’s National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs), Annual Reports, and the National Biosafety Laws and regulations. She served on the National Climate Change Committee for several years and helped develop Saint Lucia’s National Adaptation Policy. She worked on the Sustainable Energy Plan for the country, and helped in the development and establishment of a sustainable financing mechanism for biodiversity conservation locally, and the National Conservation Trust Fund. She also served on the local World Heritage Site Committee that submitted Saint Lucia’s request for World Heritage Site status in 2004 and got it!
On the regional scene, Anita contributed to the development of several regional strategies and plans, including the OECS Invasive Species Strategy and the Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) Policy and legislation. She represented Saint Lucia at international negotiations on Biodiversity and supported the attendance of many persons at the Trondheim Conference on Biodiversity, which was held annually since 1993 to create an arena for dialogue about the biodiversity agenda. She was well respected by the staff of the Secretariat to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD) with whom she interacted.
Anita was a true visionary, and all those who crossed paths with her knew how much she was a champion for biodiversity and the environment. She was also a champion of people. She loved people, she loved life, and she loved God. Anita saw the potential of the region’s genetic resources as a means of assisting people out of poverty, to live more fulfilling lives. When GMOs were just becoming a buzzword, she had already envisioned how they could be regulated to play a part in the conservation of natural resources. Similarly, she never tired of working for the adoption of ABS protocols as she was rightly convinced that these genetic resources had the potential to revolutionize the economies of our small island states.
After her retirement from the Government of Saint Lucia, Anita served as one of the Saint Lucia National Committee Members to the GEF Small Grants Programme. There, she contributed to the review and development of several community projects, which impacted the lives of ordinary citizens and helped improve their quality of life. She ensured that she went on field trips to see the work on the ground and interact with the grantees.
Anita had an innate ability to draw connections between the environment and all aspects of life. Her work transcended environmental conservation and management and veered into green entrepreneurship and creating socio-economic opportunities for the wider society from our biodiversity. She never failed to take the opportunity to build the capacity of those around her as she was a born educator, a true mentor, and a cheerleader to many young persons entering the field of environment.
In many ways, in addition to being a champion for the environment, she made champions of other people. She had a special appreciation for young people, which served to inspire her and seemed to provide her with an endless, renewable supply of energy to keep her going. She made it her duty to encourage students and work colleagues to plod on and apply themselves in various fields of science and applauded and endorsed them like they were her own children. Anita ensured that the youth were invited to share their thoughts at national and international meetings and were welcomed to the discussion table on issues that impacted their futures. Her ability to identify the hidden potential has led many to rise in the environmental field throughout the region. Her mentees include Former Chief Forest Officer Adams Toussaint, Dr. Donatian Gustave, Ms. Amanda Faye Clarke, Mr. Terrence Gillard, Mr. Marnus Cherry, Ms. Jannel Gabriel, Mrs. Norma Cherry-Fevrier, and many more.
Anita was a person of strong convictions and unwaveringly pursued what she perceived to be right. In so doing she was never afraid to speak her mind and did not hesitate to “speak truth to power.” Anita’s philosophy in life is embodied in the following:
No man is an island
No man stands alone
Each man’s joy is joy to me
Each man’s grief is my own
Similarly, the Bible’s “ No man liveth to himself and no man dieth to himself” also comes to mind – "Very truly I tell you unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds," John 12:24 (NIV).
We have lost a stalwart, a champion and a colossal voice for Biodiversity and the Environment in Saint Lucia and the Caribbean Region. Truly, Anita James would have planted seeds in the minds and experiences of many Caribbean Biodiversity champions and citizens. Her legacy will live on through their fruit and the seed they too plant."
The OECS Commission joins with the entire biodiversity and forestry family in Saint Lucia and the rest of the Caribbean in expressing sincere condolences to the friends and colleagues of Ms. Anita Vergille James.