Thu | Jul 18, 2019

Preserving Jamaica's Natural History

Published:Saturday | April 16, 2016 | 11:04 PM
Photo by Amitabh Sharma Charting Jamaica's natural history - a shell is preserved and showcased at Natural History Museum of Jamaica (NHMJ)
Photo by Amitabh Sharma A showcase of Orchids in Jamaica at Natural History Museum of Jamaica (NHMJ)
Photo by Amitabh Sharma A showcase of Orchids in Jamaica at Natural History Museum of Jamaica (NHMJ)
Photo by Amitabh Sharma Charting the history of Orchids in Jamaica, handpainted by H Q Levy in 1930s
Photo by Amitabh Sharma Tools of the trade - botanical instruments, used to collect plant specimens, dry and preserve them on display at Jamaica at Natural History Museum of Jamaica (NHMJ)
Photo by Amitabh Sharma A showcase of the varieties of Orchids in Jamaica at Natural History Museum of Jamaica (NHMJ)
Photo by Amitabh Sharma A shell on display at Natural History Museum of Jamaica (NHMJ)
Photo by Amitabh Sharma Artwork done by school students on the door of Jamaica at Natural History Museum of Jamaica (NHMJ)
Photo by Amitabh Sharma Artwork done by school students on the door of Jamaica at Natural History Museum of Jamaica (NHMJ)
Photo by Amitabh Sharma Relief Map of Jamaica, made in 1926 at Jamaica at Natural History Museum of Jamaica (NHMJ)
Amitabh Sharma
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Natural History, which Jamaica possesses in abundance - the rich diversity of flora and fauna - that is a fabric of the country's history and heritage. The Natural History Museum of Jamaica (NHMJ) documents and preserves that richness, and since it opened its doors in 1945, the museum has been the focal point of providing an insight into this diversity.

The focus for this month is the Orchid, the plant which is colourful, known oft for its resilience but is fragile at the same time.

"In Jamaica, there are 220 species of orchids," informed Keron Campbell, botanist and curator at NHMJ. "Thirty per cent of the orchids in the island are endemic."

The journey of orchids is Jamaica is charted from the 1930s to the present.

"The diversity of orchids is primarily due to the variety of environmental habitats found here," Campbell said. "Orchids are usually epiphytes (found on trees), there are some that may be terrestrial or lithophytic (found on rocks).

"We should be aware, though, orchids adapt to the conditions where they grow," he said. Some species are found in the mountain regions, where they adapt to the shade and moisture and others are acclimatised to drier, sunny and coastal areas.

"It is not a 'one size fits all'," he said. "If you happen to get a plant from a colder hilly region like Clarendon or Manchester, and try to plant it in Kingston, it might not grow because the conditions here are not conducive."

The journey of this diversity is showcased in one room, which is currently the space where NHMJ is housed, the permanent exhibition space having been closed for renovations since 2007.

"We are in the process of renovating the space and converting it into a state-of-the art exhibition space," said Durant Pate, director development and public relations at Institute of Jamaica. "Given our rich natural history, it is important that we highlight and showcase it to a wide section of the audience."

SPECIALEFFECTS

The plans are ambitious, the vision is to incorporate special effects, multimedia interactive technology, 3D imagery and nature sounds to the mix.

"Six main exhibits in the form of dioramas, will allow visitors to walk through unique island ecosystems," Pate informed.

"Each journey," he added. "Will begin at Jamaica's geological history, then on to the depths of the bejewelled coral reef, then unto pristine wetlands, followed by the dry limestone forest, then venture through a mysterious forest understorey and finally settle at the tranquil peaks of a tropical canopy."

These plans, according to him, would be realised faster with support of the wider populace. "The pace of the progress, though steady, is slow," Pate said. "An external impetus would definitely be a boost, and we can put our plans from paper to reality in a short time."

The exhibits, in the interim, are being preserved in storage, waiting to see the light of day ... and the NHMJ's journey, like the showcase of the orchids, glorious, deep rooted, striking, resilient, yet fragile, waits for the next chapter in its life to open.

amitabh.sharma@hotmail.com