Our most heartfelt congratulations to Adrian Vernon, PCSD's Program Director, and winner of this year's James A Waight Conservation Award from the Belize Audubon Society.

The James A. Waight Award is an annual conservation award given to deserving individuals or organizations in recognition of positive work in the protection and enhancement of Belize 's environment.

The award is named after James A. Waight (1907 - 1999) the Belize Audubon Society's first President. He served in this role from the Society's inauguration in 1969, until 1986. He was born in Belize City and worked as Surveyor General of Belize. The award is presented on his birthday - February 16.

Mrs. Lydia Waight describes her husband - "He was a land surveyor in a time when there were no Land Rovers or fancy vehicles. He had to ride the mule train to traverse the country or take a river ferry for a week at a time to reach Cayo. He and another man spent time putting in the markers for the boundary between Guatemala and Belize, from Toledo to Garbutt Falls and it was during this time, when he was in the bush, that his love for nature and wildlife strengthened. He was a founding member of BAS and remained a dedicated member until he was no longer able to get out and participate."

Since its establishment in 1987, the award has been presented to many deserving people, including Julian Cho for his work as a Maya leader, Gregory Smith (AKA Turtleman) for his work in marine turtle conservation, and the Sibun Watershed Association for their work in protecting the Sibun River.

And now, Placencia's very own Adrian Vernon.

Adrian Vernon was born in Placencia Village on 30 January 1981, the baby of a family of 9 sisters and brothers, 3 half sisters and brothers, 4 cousins and an adopted sister.

No wonder Adrian learned to voice his opinion at an early age!

As a young child, he also learned to love the mangroves and his natural environment from his father, Mr. Arthur Vernon, Senior, an avid hunter/gatherer and outdoorsman. In fact, Adrian's favorite place to play as a child were the mazes formed by the roots of mangroves, where he found all sorts of interesting creatures such as frogs and snakes, seahorses and baby crocodiles - some of which he would bring home as "presents" for his ever-patient, and luckily, non-squeamish, mother, Mrs. Cherry Vernon.

As Adrian grew and up and went to school, first at St. John's Anglican Primary School, then later at Independence High School, where he majored in business management and accounting, he brought to his studies his love of the outdoors and his communication skills, becoming active in drama, sports and community activities.

In fact, while in High School, Adrian founded the first youth environmental club in Placencia - YACK, the Young Adventurer's Conservation Klub. He was also high school student body president for 3 years, class president for 4 years, and a Prefect for 3 years. In his spare time he hosted most high school events as the Master of Ceremonies, and obtained an associates degree in small business management through the International Correspondence Schools in 1999 -- just one year after he graduated from high school. He then attended Bible School from 1999-2000.

After finishing school, Adrian worked for small businesses in Placencia, including David Vernon's guide service, Toadal Adventures, where he was able to not only use his business and accounting skills in the running of the business, but was also able to conduct kayaking tours of the Placencia Lagoon and its mangrove habitat. During his tours, Adrian found that the more he was around mangroves, the more he wanted to learn and know about them. So, with David's help, Adrian began studying and learning all that he could about mangroves and the mangrove environment.

And then along came Hurricane Iris in 2001. Like everyone else on the Placencia Peninsula, Adrian's attention then became focused on recovery - of his home, his family and his community.

But, as so often happens in life, along with disasters come blessings. As part of his efforts to help his community recover from Iris, Adrian began volunteering at his old primary school, St. John's, where classes were often held outdoors because the school building had been almost completely destroyed, and the school needed every bit of help it could get.

Through his volunteer work, Adrian found that he seemed to have a special skill in dealing with youth, and teaching them about the natural environment. And, the more he taught students about nature, and conservation and the many gifts nature gives us, the more he himself learned - and the more he wanted to know, and share.

So, in 2003, when he was asked to volunteer to work with Friends of Nature on Placencia Lagoon issues, Adrian didn't have to be asked twice.

As a volunteer with Friends of Nature (now the Southern Environmental Association), Adrian worked with many experts on conservation and environmental sciences with whom he furthered his knowledge of seagrasses, mangroves, water quality issues, estuarine and marine life such as manatees, rays and fin fish, birds, reptiles, mammals, insects and algae, coastal shore dynamics and many, many other issues related to Belize's natural environment. And, it wasn't just book learning. Adrian planted mangroves, replanted mangroves, captured, tagged and tracked manatees, conducted water sampling, waded in mud and mosquitoes and the heat to gather seagrass samples - in short, furthering his knowledge and skills in every way possible.

Adrian now uses that knowledge and experience both professionally and to help local communities in wisely managing their natural resources. Adrian is the author of two books, Everything Mangrove, a general mangrove information resource, as well as a restoration and planting guide for red mangroves, and Mangrove Beautiful, which seeks to help people see the beauty of mangroves and to use them to add beauty to their own lives and properties.

He works with developers and homeowners to restore ecological balance to their properties by retaining or replanting native vegetation, with shrimp farms on mitigating waste and with local governments in assessing environmental impacts of community projects and proposed developments. He has also worked at a consultant for the World Wildlife Fund on community mangrove restoration and climate change, is currently on the Executive Board of the Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage as the representative for Peninsula Citizens for Sustainable Development, a member of the international Ecological Restoration Society, and a board member of the Placencia Humane Society.

Adrian now holds the position of full-time program coordinator for Peninsula Citizens for Sustainable Development, a community based grassroots conservation organization, where he is working to establish a tour guide training program for Placencia Lagoon tours, writing a book about the native plants of the Placencia Peninsula, contributing to PCSD's quarterly newspaper, Roots and Reef, and working with property owners to determine the cause and how to control the erosion that is plaguing many of the area's beaches.

But, the project most near and dear to Adrian's heart is assisting the Placencia and Seine Bight Village Councils and local community organizations in establishing a Placencia Lagoon reserve to protect the critical Lagoon habitats that provide, food, shelter, recreation and a livelihood for so many.

Because, you see, for Adrian, conservation is about wise stewardship of our natural environment so that it can continue to protect and nourish the people and the communities of Belize that he loves so dearly.

Peninsula Citizens for Sustainable Development