We face the tragic, rapid and avoidable loss of biodiversity and natural habitats in almost every country, so much so that it is often hard to remain optimistic about the future. From time to time, however, new projects, led by visionaries, come along that lift our spirits, achieve magnificence and restore our optimism. The establishment and development of the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve (LLNPP) is one such special project. I first visited the Preserve in 2018, and have been a fan ever since! Its development is a real physical recognition that preserving and nurturing plants and their habitats is an essential part of securing our collective futures.
In 2006, Shelby White, widow of Wall Street financier Leon Levy, decided to fund a memorial to him in Eleuthera – the island they both loved for its beautiful landscape and simple living. Knowing Leon’s deep appreciation for the natural environment and plants of Eleuthera, Shelby asked The Bahamas National Trust (BNT) to partner in creating a facility that would become both an educational center for the community and a tourist attraction showcasing the wonderful native plant species of The Bahamas.
With the BNT on board, BNT’s Eric Carey sought assistance from Dr. Ethan Freid, former lecturer at the University of The Bahamas and then a professor at the University of Tampa. With Dr. Freid’s help, the location for Shelby’s vision was carefully scouted and assessed to find just the right place to bring this vision to life. The property that was chosen out of this mindful process boasted a great deal of botanical diversity and actually supported a mangrove wetland. Work at the site officially began in January 2009. Preparation and construction lasted a little over two years and involved removing invasive species, rubble, and trash, and carefully excavating the wetland area – all done manually, with no heavy equipment, so as to preserve the integrity of the environment.
Located in Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera, the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve is a living part of Bahamian history. Operated by the BNT, it is the first national park on Eleuthera and serves as a botanical garden, an environmental educational centre, and a facility for the propagation and conservation of native plants.
At the 30-acre garden, Bahamians and visitors alike can walk miles of trails through native habitat, view beautiful endemic plants, and learn about the food, medicinal, and hardwood plants that have played an important role in the history of The Bahamas. There are many experiences and activities that entire families can enjoy while visiting The Preserve.
In 2019, The Preserve became the first institution in The Bahamas to be designated an accredited botanic garden by Botanic Gardens Conservation International. This accreditation recognizes institutions for their achievements in plant conservation, and to receive this distinguished designation, a botanic garden must have documented collections, public access, an education program, research capacity, and a long-term strategic plan, among other things.