Why does the Botanical Ark exist? Sometimes people who haven’t met us ask this question, and the answer is quite simple.
The Botanical Ark exists because one man, a prominent botanist and scientist by the name of Dr. Peter Raven, gave a speech back in the 1980’s in southern Australia, and he commented that in the next 25 years we could possibly lose 20% of all life on earth. Dr. Raven was then the Director of the Missouri Botanic Garden, one of the world’s leading botanical research institutions.
Suzi and I read the report in the newspapers, and listed to commentary on the radio, and thought if his estimations were remotely possible, the world would be losing something very important. We were determined to do what we could to help raise awareness of this impending loss- a loss that rivals the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Lacking the financial means and the political influence to have an immediate impact, we decided to use our land and garden to raise awareness in the value of biodiversity, especially to humans. Of course we thought about our children, and what they might not be able to see or appreciate, but ultimately having a healthy biodiversity will enrich all future generations.
We are not distinguished scientists with degrees of wisdom, just a family that cares about the future. And we decided to do something about it.
We finally met Peter Raven, both in Missouri, and here at The Botanical Ark and are convinced we made the correct choice in what to do with our lives.
We commenced our project more than 24 years ago, first a subsistence farm, and more recently (1990) as a private ethno-botanical gardens. We travel the tropical regions of the world and specialise in plants that indigenous rainforest cultures have and still use for their foods, spices, shelter, medicine, cosmetics, fibres, oils, dyes - in fact for all their everyday needs.
When we first acquired our land in 1982 it was virtually treeless. We purchased it from cattle farmers who burned the land each year to keep the shrubs and trees from growing back. What we inherited was lots of grass, weeds, erosion gullies and an immense amount of work.
The land was originally surveyed in 1928, and shortly thereafter turned into a sugar cane farm. In those early days, the forest was felled by hand, and the cane was planted on the hills, and the dissected and terraced creek banks. With time, mechanical harvesting developed and as much of the land was hills, the sugar industry moved towards the flatter coastal plain. Our land was then turned to cattle grazing.
Our first priority was to implement soil conservation measures. Days of picking up rocks turned to weeks, then to months, and now after many years their numbers are dwindling. We constructed an elaborate drainage system and began employing millions of earthworms to try and replenish the topsoil.
Next came the trees! Permanent plantings to hold the soil, sequester carbon, provide oxygen and fruit and nuts for generations to come.