Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum of Ja­maica pre­serv­ing our nat­u­ral her­itage

Jamaica Gleaner - - ARTS&EDUCATION -

JA­MAICA HAS a long and colour­ful so­cial and po­lit­i­cal his­tory that is doc­u­mented in di­verse places. But the his­tory of the is­land’s flora (plants) and fauna (an­i­mals), some of which are en­demic, is much longer. And one in­sti­tu­tion that is pre­serv­ing that his­tory is the Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum of Ja­maica, a di­vi­sion of the In­sti­tute of Ja­maica, lo­cated at 10-16 East Street, down­town Kingston.

It is the na­tional herbar­ium that houses the na­tional col­lec­tion and doc­u­ments the is­land’s bio­di­ver­sity, ac­cord­ing to botanist Keron Camp­bell. It has four ma­jor de­part­ments: botan­i­cal col­lec­tions, zoo­log­i­cal col­lec­tions, a sci­ence li­brary, and the ed­u­ca­tion and out­reach de­part­ment. The di­vi­sion is an im­por­tant source of ref­er­ence for lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional re­searchers and schol­ars.

The main ob­jec­tive of the botan­i­cal de­part­ment is to pre­serve and man­age the herbar­ium’s col­lec­tion of more than 130,000 spec­i­mens of flow­er­ing plants, al­gae, fungi, lichens, mosses, and ferns. It also houses wood sam­ples, seeds, and fruits. It is im­por­tant to note that not all the spec­i­mens are from Ja­maica. Some are from other Caribbean is­lands, Cen­tral and South Amer­ica. The old­est spec­i­men in the col­lec­tion is the Pri­nos dioicus, col­lected in 1778 in Montser­rat by John Ryan.

The ma­jor­ity of the spec­i­mens were A sec­tion of the sci­ence li­brary at the Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum of Ja­maica lo­cated at 10-16 East Street, down­town Kingston.

col­lected by world-renown botanist George Proc­tor. Hans Sloane, for whom some species are named, is one of the ear­li­est col­lec­tors whose spec­i­mens are housed in the mu­seum. Some of the spec­i­mens, such as the Myr­cia Skeldingi (Ma­son River myr­tle), col­lected

at Ma­son River in Claren­don in 1957, and named for Univer­sity Col­lege of the West Indies’ Pro­fes­sor A.D. Skeld­ing, are re­garded as ex­tinct.

In­sects col­lected in Ja­maica and the rest of the Caribbean are pre­served in the zoo­log­i­cal de­part­ment. These The seeds and leaves of the Pri­nos dioicus are the old­est spec­i­mens in the col­lec­tions of the botany de­part­ment at the Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum of Ja­maica. They were col­lected in Montser­rat in 1778 by John Ryan.

in­sects form the largest group in the zoo­log­i­cal col­lec­tions of 110,000 spec­i­mens, which in­clude mol­luscs, rep­tiles, am­phib­ians, and birds. It is said that the old­est in­sect therein is the en­demic sat­urniid moth called Sloane Ura­nia. It is now ex­tinct. The mu­seum said the col­lec­tions “sup­port the di­vi­sion’s ed­u­ca­tional ac­tiv­i­ties by pro­vid­ing spec­i­mens for dis­play to the gen­eral pub­lic”.

The mu­seum’s spe­cial sci­ence li­brary A sec­tion of the ceil­ing of the Nat­u­ral His­tory Ex­hi­bi­tion Gallery, now un­der con­struc­tion, show­ing sta­lac­tites.

has a ref­er­ence col­lec­tion of more than 10,000 sources, in­clud­ing rare col­lec­tions. It also has maps, draw­ings, paint­ings, and au­dio­vi­sual ma­te­ri­als. The ed­u­ca­tion and out­reach de­part­ment of­fers pro­grammes and ac­tiv­i­ties that fos­ter aware­ness of Ja­maica’s bio­di­ver­sity. This out­reach is to be sig­nif­i­cantly ex­tended when the new nat­u­ral his­tory gallery, now un­der con­struc­tion, is opened.

PHO­TOS BY PAUL H. WIL­LIAMS

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