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Preserving paradise

Farah Mukhida (BSc’95) is passionate about preserving paradise for future generations.

When Mukhida, executive director of Anguilla’s National Trust, started her studies at Dalhousie, she thought that she was headed to a career in medicine. The teachers and courses that she was exposed to at Dalhousie changed that, leading her to a life in the Caribbean, preserving fragile ecosystems in the most beautiful of settings.

While studying biology, Mukhida took courses in International Development Studies, and connected with a professor who she says changed her life. John Kirk, in the Department of Spanish and Latin American Studies, supervised her honours thesis and in her third year set her up to do a semester in Cuba that integrated development work with environmental conservation. “From there I was sold,” Mukhida says, “and knew what I wanted to focus on.”

After graduating with a degree in Biology and International Development Studies, Mukhida interned at the Department of Marine Resources and Fisheries in Trinidad and Tobago. “Most of the work focused on management of the Buccoo Reef Marine Park, as well as environmental education,” she explains.

After getting her masters in Environmental Studies (Coastal Zone Management) at York University, she worked in the Philippines and then took a position with the Anguilla National Trust. Within two years, Mukhida took over as executive director of the Trust in 2007.

The Trust’s mandate is to protect the culture, heritage and environment of the island. Anguilla is home to two important Amerindian sites, including one underground cave with a 1,400 to 1,600 year old carved stone god that wouldn’t be out of place in an Indiana Jones movie, and a grotto where the Amerindians carved faces into the rocks to symbolize important births and deaths.

Mukhida describes seeing these artifacts as a surreal experience. “People find artifacts when hiking, or in the sands. It’s crazy to think that somebody actually made this 1,600 years ago and put so much importance on this, and then you think, what are we leaving behind?”

The Trust’s work is wide-ranging: it organizes tours and educates visitors about the Amerindian sites while also tackling projects such as the removal of rats from Dog Island, a small island off the coast important to nesting populations of seabirds. Rats arrived on the island 100 years ago, when it was home to a plantation, and were threatening the seabird population as well as the reptile and sea turtle populations– and even the island’s vegetation.

“We got rid of the rats in 2012, and since have seen continuous improvements in terms of the ecosystem and biodiversity,” Mukhida says. “People call Dog Island the Galapagos of the Caribbean, because over 200,000 birds are there over the nesting period.”

Despite gaps in funding in a country where tourism dollars often take priority over preserving the very environment that draws tourists in the first place, Mukhida and her staff—many of whom started as interns with the Trust when in the Environmental Club at the island’s only high school—are striving to protect Anguilla for future generations.

“Because we work on a small island, we’re able to see the positive impacts of what we do—whether it’s sparking an interest about wildlife and wild spaces amongst children, or helping to save a species or restore habitats,” she says. “We know that some things will take time, but we believe in what we’re doing and this reassures us.”

Editor’s note: Anguilla was hit hard by hurricanes in 2017. If you would like to help further the work that Mukhida is doing, especially in the aftermath of those devastating storms, email the Trust at kg.axatrust@gmail.com.