BRATTLEBORO—Rep. Sarah Edwards’ cell-phone signal crackles as she walks from the House floor through the Statehouse hallways.
The Brattleboro Progressive/Democrat talks about nuclear power, Belize, listening to voters, and her decision to not seek re-election to a sixth term in the Legislature.
After 10 years in Montpelier, Edwards will leave the Legislature to devote all her time to the Lighthouse Reef Conservation Institute (LRCI), her family’s foundation.
Edwards will manage the nonprofit side of the foundation, based on Long Caye, one of five islands in the Lighthouse Atoll off Belize’s coast. Long Caye came into Edwards’ family via her father (a rocket scientist and a sailor) in the late 1960s.
She aims to evolve LRCI into a world-class research and education consortium that works with universities.
The foundation advocates strict ecological guidelines for the entire Long Caye and reef to protect the area from environmental harm. Edwards says that she hopes in time to create “the Lighthouse model of resiliency and sustainability.”
The foundation, although independent, is under the umbrella of the Ocean Foundation, which helps with management aspects like taxes and grants.
Edwards, who began her legislative career in 2003, served two years on the House Committee on Government Operations and eight on the House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, said scientists found two new species of fish near the reef last year.
According to Edwards, Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today show interviewed her husband, Blake Ross, for a segment highlighting the Lighthouse Atoll as one of four marine areas worth preserving.
The reef has remained relatively healthy because it’s not exposed to continental runoff, Edwards explained. The foundation wants the reef to stay that way, so it engages in heavy environmental monitoring. The measurements will serve to set a baseline data for the marine area.
This new professional direction will draw on Edward’s Master’s of Science degree from Antioch University in organizational behavior and management, her experience building consensus on bills in the legislative process, and her undergraduate degree in biology.
“We can’t do conservation without commerce,” adds Edwards, adding that the other half of the foundation’s mission is supporting sustainable development.
Science is commingled with development at Long Caye, said Edwards. The environmental data will help the humans living there to adapt their activity and their policies to maintain the area’s environmental quality.
LRCI wants to find a way to collaborate with the fishers — as fishermen are known in the atoll area — in protecting the environment rather than dictate where they can and cannot fish.
“That’s enforcement,” she says. “We’re not interested in enforcement; we’re interested in commitment.”
The foundation is working with a developer from Chicago who has agreed to meet LRCI’s strict development standards.
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