Thursday, June 29, 2017

Lionfish: the perfect invader?


Hunting the lionfish with Fadilah Ali


Fadilah Ali is an ecologist with a specialty in invasive species biology, control and management. She has a Masters degree in Environmental Science with a focus on Biodiversity and Conservation and is currently completing her PhD in Ocean and Earth Sciences at the University of Southampton in England where she researched the lionfish invasion in the Southern Caribbean.


As it glides past with its large, ornate, feathery pectoral fins, lionfish give the impression of a harmless beauty, simply floating by peacefully. Introduced to the Caribbean region more than two decades ago, lionfish have been deemed as one of the worst marine invasive species of all time, with potential to cause harm to local ecosystems, both ecologically and economically.
 
Can you see the lionfish on reef? photo by Ron Tiah
Native to the Indo-Pacific region, lionfish are a prime commodity within the aquarium trade owing to their beautiful, ornate patterns and majestic attributes. This popularity brought them to the Caribbean as a prized pet and unfortunately resulted in their unintentional introduction to Florida via aquaria releases. Once released, lionfish established reproducing populations and their gelatinous egg masses spread via ocean currents from Florida to further along the US coast and also to Bahamas and Bermuda and eventually the rest of the Caribbean. The confirmed introduction of lionfish to Trinidad and Tobago in 2012 represented the completion of their invasion loop and lionfish are now currently established within North, South and Central America, the Gulf of Mexico and all the islands of the Caribbean.

Lionfish, like many other invasive species are generalists meaning that they can survive in a variety of habitats (coral reef, mangrove, seagrass), at a vast depth range (<1m to >300m), have exceptional thermal and salinity tolerance and consume a wide variety of prey items. Lionfish cause their impact based on how they feed, and are successful because they possess multiple feeding strategies. Renowned for being principally piscivorous (consuming only fish), crustaceans (shrimps, crabs, lobsters) and also juvenile octopus and stingrays have been found in lionfish stomachs. By consuming the juveniles of economically important species such as snappers, groupers or lobster, lionfish can have a direct impact on future economies. Furthermore, lionfish consume ecologically important species such as herbivores which help to remove excess algae (e.g. parrotfish or damselfish) and cleaner species (e.g. cleaner wrasses, shrimps or gobies) which help to keep local predators free from disease. As a result lionfish feeding behaviours can indirectly affect the health of local ecosystems.

By relying on multiple feeding strategies, lionfish can capitalise on a variety of prey, but also outcompete native predators. They can use suction feeding and ambush predation, or use their large pectoral fins to herd prey or fan sand away from burrowed prey. They were recently discovered to blow jets of water at prey to disorient them and increase the chances of head-first capture, a successful feeding method. They also have the ability to endure bouts of starvation lasting as much as three months, owing to their ability to stretch their stomachs up to thirty times its original size, allowing them to consume prey two-thirds their own body size. The voraciousness of lionfish diets and their prey preferences appear to be related to native prey assemblages as well as the health of local ecoystems. Thus healthier, less disturbed environments may be more resilient to the threat of invasive species.

Lionfish learn from every failed removal attempt and in areas where hunting is predominant, lionfish have a higher flight time. Furthermore, they are increasingly being reported at high densities at depths exceeding recreational dive limits, making complete removal very difficult. Within their invaded region, lionfish have no natural predators meaning that their populations can grow unabated. Lionfish are prolific breeders and when they reproduce they can release ~10,000 eggs and this feat can be repeated every four days. This gelatinous egg mass then lies at the mercy of ocean circulation, highlighting the real difficulty of lionfish control. Management is only as successful as its weakest point of control, therefore there needs to be a dedicated and concerted effort from all those involved. No matter how well one country may control lionfish populations, if another country’s lionfish populations grow unabated, lionfish eggs will continue to be circulated.

Armed with venomous dorsal, ventral and anal spines, there is often the misconception that lionfish are poisonous and consumption of their meat can be fatal. However important differences exist between venom and poison. Venom has to do with injection (i.e. venom is injected when spines make contact with another object), whereas poison has to do with ingestion (i.e. consumption of food or drink). Furthermore the venom of lionfish is protein based; therefore the application of heat (e.g. through cooking) will denature the protein and render it harmless. Thus, since lionfish are venomous, their meat is perfectly safe for consumption and throughout the invaded region a market is being developed for lionfish as a food fish. Once their spines are removed, lionfish meat is similar to any other fish and is delicate, taking well to seasoning and can be manipulated into various cuisines, whether filleted, eaten whole or in tiny pieces. The possibilities are endless: lionfish pizza, sushi, sausages, burgers, tacos etc. There are multiple benefits of encouraging lionfish as a food fish. Firstly, overfished local species such as groupers, snappers or lobsters are bequeathed an opportunity to replenish their stocks when lionfish are used as an alternative. Furthermore, ecologically lionfish are more sustainable because of their fast generation time and growth.
 
Lionfish sushi: E Sushi Shop, Aruba
Lionfish jewellery L-R:
Oceana.org, Kaj Expressions Belize, Frapper Jewellery


Additionally, their spines and fins have been manipulated into beautiful works of art as well as various forms of jewellery such as lionfish earrings, necklaces, pendants, rings and even cufflinks. Utilising their spines in this way helps to raise the commercial value of landed fish by as much as 61% and in many countries throughout the invaded region, locals have been able to benefit financially from lionfish.

If you happen to see lionfish, please inform the Department of Marine Resources and Fisheries in Tobago at 639-4446; 639-4354 or dial 211 for the Contact Centre. If spotted in Trinidad, then contact the Institute of Marine Affairs at 634-4291/4, Ext 2406.

Lionfish distribution: USGS





Thursday, June 22, 2017

Exploring the Deep Ocean off Tobago

There’s more sea than meets the eye off Tobago. Enter the depths with Diva Amon, a deep-sea biologist who has explored the deep ocean in Antarctica, the Atlantic and the Pacific. She has experience in chemosynthetic habitats and anthropogenic impacts on the deep sea. You can find out more via her Twitter (hyperlink: https://twitter.com/DivaAmon) and her website (hyperlink: https://divaamon.com/). This feature was first published in the Tobago Newsday on June 22, 2017
                   
When you imagine Tobago, you see turquoise waters on the shores of beautiful white-sand beaches or glimpses of coral reefs teeming with colourful fishes. Few people ever give thought to what exists further out to sea from Tobago’s coast, where the sea turns from turquoise to deep blue. This is surprising given that most of the ocean surrounding our twin-island state is actually far below the reach of scuba divers; it extends to depths of nearly four kilometres. Our deep ocean is out of sight and out of mind but it is a place where weird and wonderful animals thrive in freezing temperatures, crushing pressures and in the absence of any sunlight. And just like on land, there are mountains, valleys, plains and coral gardens.
Diva Amon on board a research ship

Very little is known about the deep ocean around Trinidad and Tobago. To date it has not been mapped in its entirety! Apart from oil and gas companies, there have been only a handful of deep-sea research expeditions, with two having actually imaged the deep seafloor with Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) or Human Operated Vehicles (HOVs or submersibles). The first of the two research expeditions was in the 1980s, led by a team of French scientists, and their findings were extraordinary. They discovered cold seeps southeast of Tobago, a type of deep-sea habitat that no one knew existed before 1983 when they were first discovered in the Gulf of Mexico. There were huge patches of 20-cm long Bathymodiolus mussels with 3-foot long tubeworms and ghost-like shrimp dotted between them. At the time of this discovery, nearly all of the species encountered were new to science and many were endemic to these cold-seep habitats.

The majority of life on the planet is part of a food web that is reliant on plants using light energy to create food (photosynthesis). There is no light or plants in the deep sea, so most deep-sea animals rely on food in the form of marine snow, dead plants, animals and fecal matter, that must drift thousands of metres from the sea surface to the seafloor. But at some deep-sea habitats such as cold seeps and hydrothermal vents, there is another way to get food: chemosynthesis! Bacteria use chemical energy from hydrocarbon fluids seeping from the seafloor to make food. These bacteria can be found inside or on the surfaces of animals, or growing in thick mats on the seafloor and are the basis of the food chain at cold seeps, like plants are on land and in shallow waters. Cold seeps are unique because they have a plentiful food source (bacteria) so animals living there can grow to large sizes rapidly and reproduce quickly, unlike in the rest of the deep sea which is very food limited. As a result, cold seeps are oases of life, patchy areas of huge abundances of unique endemic animals.
Thousands of deep-sea Bathymodiolus mussels and many Lamellibranchia tubeworms are seen at one of the cold seeps visited by the EV Nautilus in 2014. Photo credit: Ocean Exploration Trust.
An octopus surrounded by many sponges on the outskirts of one of the seeps. Both the octopus and sponge are thought to be new species. Photo credit: Ocean Exploration Trust.

There was no further exploration off Trinidad and Tobago until 2014, when Dr. Judith Gobin (University of the West Indies) and I ventured out on the EV Nautilus with other scientists from the Ocean Exploration Trust. We visited four sites with the ROV Hercules, two previously visited in the 1980s and two that had never been explored before. It was a humbling experience to have the privilege of seeing parts of not only Trinidad and Tobago but also the planet for the first time. At over 1.5 kilometres depth, we found fields of Bathymodiolus mussels and shrimp that stretched as far as the eye could see, as well as thickets of tubeworms. But there were other remarkable discoveries including several tentative new species such as a large species of sponge that fringed the mussel beds. There were also eel-like white fish that live among the mussels, since named Pachycara caribbaeum as they are only known from two small sites in the Caribbean. Several adorable purple octopuses were also spotted, so new to science that they do not even have a name! There were bizarre Hydrolagus ghost sharks, orange crabs, white squat lobsters and tree-like pink and purple corals. In total, there were at least 44 species observed in this small area, with over 20 being new records for our waters and many new to science.

Three of the main inhabitants of the deep-sea seeps southeast of Tobago, Bathymodiolus mussels, Alvinocaris shrimp and the eel-like fish, Pachycara caribbaeum.

Unfortunately, these newly discovered areas are already under threat. The economy of Trinidad and Tobago currently relies on oil and gas, and our reserves on land and in shallow waters are running low. As a result, we are being forced to explore deeper waters for new reserves, with exploitation expected to begin later this year. These cold seeps are Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) that will likely be irreparably damaged by drilling. This is especially tragic as science is struggling to catch up and we may lose species and habitats before we can study them. 95% of the deep ocean around Trinidad and Tobago has not been explored and we cannot know how best to protect the animals living there until we understand what exactly exists in the depths.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Islands in an Ocean at risk

The ocean is the source of food and recreation for the coastal populations of the world. Photo courtesy Pat Ganase

On Tobago, few people live further than walking distance from a coast. A majority of the population derives its livelihood from the sea: whether it is indirectly through tourism, or directly from an occupation on the sea. People are also heavily dependent on transportation and supplies by sea – ferries from Trinidad – and energy sources – oil, gas, electricity – conveyed to the island by boat or undersea cable or pipeline.

The west coast of Tobago is washed by the Caribbean Sea; the east coast by the Atlantic Ocean. The island is bathed by the Guiana current bringing seasonal outflow from South America’s mighty Orinoco river.  This week, we look at some of the changes in the state of the ocean, and the likely effects on Tobago and its people. We also consider some of the things that communities might do to stop the decline. The principal source is the overview of the first World Ocean Assessment (WOA) report compiled and published by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) in 2016.

What are the significant findings of the first World Ocean Assessment report?

“The findings indicate that the oceans’ carrying capacity (its ability to sustain human activities and their impacts) is near or at its limit and urgent action on a global scale is needed to protect what remains.” (WOA Introduction)

The authors of the report compiled information from more than 600 scientists nominated by UN member states. “Though the report is not a policy document, it provides the scientific basis for action by governments, inter-governmental processes, policy-makers and others involved in ocean affairs. This first WOA offers a baseline for gauging the effectiveness of management and policy decisions and provides guidance in developing strategies and technologies to solve problems.” (WOA Preface)


What are the main drivers of changes in the oceans?

According to the scientists, humans – population seven billion - have developed as a species at the expense of the environment, and we are reaching the limit of what the oceans are able to bear.
“Human activity is causing widespread changes to the oceans’ physical, chemical and biological systems. The major driving forces of change in the ocean are to be found outside the marine environment. Just as most of the major drivers of anthropogenic climate change are land-based, the main drivers of increased pressures on marine biodiversity and marine environmental quality also
come from activities on the land.” (WOA Drivers, Forces of Change)

The main drivers are:
•    Population growth
•    Growth of coastal urban areas: the majority of the world’s population lives on low-lying coasts
•    Rising individual consumption


What pressures are being inflicted on the ocean?
Multiple pressures, and the compounded effects of different pressures acting upon each other, create impacts in different parts of the ocean. These are some of the products that have ended up in the ocean:
•    Nuclear waste
•    Industrial waste
•    Sewerage
•    Medical waste
•    Spills
•    Biological and organic matter
•    Chemicals
•    Heavy metals
•    Infectious microbes and other pathogens
•    Agricultural runoff


What are some of the widespread symptoms arising in the state of the oceans?

“The waters are warming and becoming dangerously more acidic; commercial fish species have been in decline for decades; and coastal waters are experiencing increased pollution from both land based activities and from marine industries like aquaculture.
“”As an example, this year, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef experienced its worst recorded episode of bleaching. … The damage to coral reefs can have wide ranging impact on not only the ecology but also on society and the economy.” (WOA)

In Trinidad and Tobago, dead fish washing ashore may be indicators of undersea pollution: hydrocarbon leaks, heavy metals, seismic activity.

What are some of the ways we can address threats to the ocean?
These are examples of strategies adopted by governments and through inter-governmental agreements. Many of these apply to Tobago and Trinidad, and should be instituted, and enforced with penalties for infringements.
•    Reduce inputs of hazardous substances; and institute measures in case of accidents
•    Prevent maritime disasters such as collision, sinking of ships, hydrocarbon leaks; and implement and enforce agreements governing adverse impacts
•    Improve fishery management
•    Control tourism development to minimise adverse impacts
•    Control solid waste disposal that can reach and affect the marine environment
•    Improve control of offshore hydrocarbon industries and offshore mining
•    Establish and maintain marine protected areas


What can we do to reverse any of the trends?

Coral bleaching, ocean acidification and migration of fish species are some of the significant negative impacts. None of these is easily reversed. While the solution does not lie with single persons or actions, individuals acting together can make a difference. However, it will require massive commitment, with education at every level of society, from enlightened and determined leaders. There is need to organize communities, share knowledge, find out what’s happening in coastal communities, get feedback, and agitate for change.

What are some of the activities that communities might undertake?

•    Cooperative action is essential to any or all of the following:
•    Reduce consumption, reduce waste, re-use and avoid single use (especially plastics), and recycle as a final solution
•    Use renewable energy: solar applications are becoming more affordable, especially in multi-user communities
•    Consume less of everything
•    Secure waste disposal systems; know where your waste goes
•    Install sewerage treatment plants
•    Seek out information; discuss the state of the ocean
•    Agitate local and national government for the changes and legislation that will make a difference, such as management of marine protected areas, enforcement of polluter rules, reduction and disposal systems for plastic.

 The seas are interconnected everywhere; and to reverse the human effects requires collective action. Communities need to be awakened, passions ignited, to be aware of what's happening in the deep ocean, and to save the seas.  It is the only way to save human life as we know it. We are not too small, either in Tobago, or Trinidad, to take conscious steps to heal the ocean.


For more information on the World Ocean Assessment report:

https://uneplive.unep.org/media/docs/assessments/WOA_screen.pdf




Healthy oceans are important for human life as we know it.







Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Change of Heart

Many dive operators are hunters, capturing trophy or food fish.  After more than 25 years diving, Ron Tiah, operating Dive TnT, has turned himself into an ocean protector. Today, he shoots lionfish to save the coral reefs. And he shoots with his camera so that we can see what’s alive in the ocean, the good and the bad. This feature was first published in the Tobago Newsday on June 8, World Oceans Day. All photos courtesy Ron Tiah

Another world, underwater at Brothers rock, Caribbean Sea, off Tobago

Who is Ron Tiah?
I grew up in Pointe-a- Pierre; my dad Robert Tiah was Rexformer Superintendent at the Texaco Refinery. I would say he was my mentor and hero. I inherited my love for the sea, the land and conservation from him. He cultivated one of the most successful citrus plantations in Trinidad, still operating today. He was also an academic, who insisted on further studies for me at Albert College and York University in Canada. I also wanted to learn to scuba dive.

In those days, late 70s, you signed up and had to be “accepted” to the scuba course. There were not many SCUBA instructors around; at the time, most were tough ex-military. The safety equipment we use today was still being developed, so to qualify for the course, you had to demonstrate strong swimming skills and overall strength.

Since we did not wear BCD’s to stay afloat (these look like life jackets), you had to be able to tread water and swim with all gear and weights in open water. Our gear included thick wet suits, heavy weights, heavy steel tanks. We would swim two
laps in the pool with gear, then tread water with weights and then do at least ten push-ups.

They had to make sure that you had the stamina to get to the surface and stay afloat after a dive. My first certification courses were NAUI ones.

I returned to Trinidad in the early 80s and went to work for the Royal Bank, in Pointe-a- Pierre. After nine years, I traded in the business suit for SCUBA diving suits. I became a PADI Instructor in 1986, and have been teaching diving ever since, sharing my love and passion for the sea and her marine life, with over 2000 certified divers. I estimate that in total hours, I have spent the equivalent of three years underwater, and to this day when I take a vacation, it is always to a destination where I can dive.

Ron Tiah with his camera

Where were you diving?

I dived all around Trinidad: around the rigs in Point Fortin; off Toco and along the north coast. I was mostly spear-fishing for food fish. Over time, I have seen many changes in the ocean environment; I knew what fish were disappearing. Today, our fisheries are depleted. Fishermen are not catching the same fish, of the same size, or quantum, as before. The fish are just not there.  Add to that the pollution that we inflict on the seas with runoff from the land: garbage, soil from land clearing and construction, oil and chemicals. That’s abuse.

As hunters, we have been blamed for some of the depletion. But scuba-divers should only take what we can eat and of a certain size. On hunting trips, the group is educated about the rules of game fishing; on my boat, we adopted the game fishing laws of Florida since we don’t have any in TT.

Today, we are lionfish hunters, since human intervention seems to be the only way to keep this invasive species in check. If we are hunting lionfish, then the hunters need to know about the lionfish: why we hunt them, their place – or not – in our reef environment; that they are eating all the juvenile fish needed for healthy reefs.

Scuba diving today is to encourage people to love the ocean; to appreciate the variety of species, to understand how it is all connected and connected with us. To scuba dive is more of an all-round education than any other.

On the Atlantic side of Tobago: brain coral at Speyside, photo by Ron Tiah


When did the hunter turn protector?
On every scuba trip, you can’t help but see what’s going on in the ocean. I’ve had wonderful experiences in the water. I’ve seen orcas around the north coast of Tobago and Trinidad. I’ve had a family, two adults and a calf, come alongside the boat. The baby was 20 feet long.

These days, I shoot with my camera: manta rays and sharks in Tobago. Humans have to understand the shark’s role. We are not on their menu. With sharks, nature continues to take care of what’s injured or not healthy in the ocean.

Today, I am more of a conservationist than hunter.

What were some of your most memorable experiences in the ocean?

Sometime around 2003, in Charlotteville, we saw a big dolphin coming ashore followed by a pod of smaller dolphins. The big one seemed to be intent on beaching itself. The village came out and lifted the big one to turn it back to sea. We did this – it seemed for a long time – until they went out. It’s always a pleasure to be in the water with dolphins. If you are able to free dive down to 20 feet, they will play with you.

I also remember an interaction with a manta ray caught in a fisherman’s net. The fisherman wanted to get it out without damaging his net. When we freed it, the manta turned back and came close. It looked me up and down before swimming away.

I’ve had similar experiences with sharks (in Florida), where there is a growing practice by the more experienced shark divers to remove fish hooks from their mouths. Don’t expect sharks to be well-behaved especially if you have a fish on your hook or spear. They will take it from you. But they do check you out. They can sense what you are feeling, fear or curiosity. In Tobago, they keep a distance.

I’ve also seen octopuses. In the daytime, they are hard to see, blending in with the sand and rock. But shine a light on an octopus in the night. And it’s a psychedelic show. They don’t know what colour to become!
In the Caribbean sea, an octopus at night, at Charlotteville, photo by Ron Tiah

What would you want to tell people – especially those who don’t dive – about the ocean?
We have to stop treating it like a dumping ground. When the Charlotteville health centre was being built, too much of the excavated dirt was dumped on the ridge above Speyside. Now, every time it rains, that mud washes down the Speyside river into the sea. It is smothering that lovely reef just in front the waterwheel.

We are not doing enough to educate our peoples: we live on an island and we need to preserve our underwater habitats.

We also need to educate our divers; simple protocols like removing garbage when you see it on the reef; like not leaning up against the brain coral to take photos because that slime you lean on is part of the living organism.

We need to tell everyone that tourists prefer to go to destinations that protect their environment; that you can fill your hotels if you appreciate and protect what you have.

The Main Ridge Forest Reserve mirrors the ocean around the north of Tobago. We need to protect both environments: no touching, no taking, no fishpots, no anchors across the reef.  The Caribbean and Atlantic sides of the north of Tobago feature unique and different topography and there’s opportunity to encounter amazing wildlife, dolphins, hammerhead sharks, rays.


What is the role of the diver?

Scuba diving bestows privilege and responsibility: the privilege to enter this different bigger world. Divers need to be educated about what they encounter underwater. Then you have a responsibility to share the knowledge. My passion is total for the protection of our ocean environment.

Scuba diving is something every young person needs to do. They are the ones to deal with the environmental challenges, as doctors, lawyers, teachers, leaders. In whatever professions they choose, they have to help clean up the mess; stop the hunting of turtles and sharks; change the legislation; change attitudes. Their attitudes will change the future.

The reef at Speyside, Atlantic side of Tobago, photo by Ron Tiah



Thursday, June 1, 2017

Take a walk in the wild



On June 5, everyone on the planet – each of the seven billion of us – is invited to remember our place in nature. Human beings are not apart from nature, we are a part of nature. The theme for World Environment Day 2017 is “connecting people to nature – in the city and on the land, from the poles to the equator.” Here in Tobago, we are fortunate to be able to renew this connection in direct ways. No one has to go far to be in nature. Schools and families are encouraged to select an activity that awakens these connections. This feature was first published in the Tobago Newsday on June1, 2017

In Tobago, we are the best hosts. We can recommend all the places that delight visitors: the beaches, the waterfalls, the forest walks. How many of these places do we – apart from those who work as guides or tour operators – actually know intimately? This World Environment Day, we suggest that you renew your acquaintance with what brings visitors here. Sometimes we need to see our surroundings through strangers’ eyes. Connect today, and say “I’m with nature!”

Walk on a beach. None of us lives far from a beach. A few of us are fortunate to have the beach on our doorstep; a stone’s throw from our classroom. Look around and note the distinctive aspects of your beach. Does it face north or east, or west or south? Is it rocky or sandy in the sea? Can you tell if the tide is rising or falling? At night, look for nesting turtles. Notice the differences between the Atlantic (eastern coast) and Caribbean (western) beaches.

Take a boat, visit a reef, walk the rainforest or a river. However you connect with nature on World Environment Day, commit to doing it more often in the rest of the year. Photo courtesy Pat Ganase
Visit the reef. The more accessible reefs are on the Caribbean coast.  Buccoo is Tobago’s famous marine park on the southwest tip. But there are reefs all around Tobago: at Mt Irvine; at Castara; at Culloden; Charlotteville and Speyside in the north. Some reefs are easy enough to swim out to, with mask and snorkel. If you are a beginning marine explorer, find a coach. Curiosity can lead to snorkeling. Snorkelling will lead to diving. As master diver Alvin Dougie Douglas advocates, “we should all spend some time underwater, for our own sanity, and to protect what we love.” See link here: 
http://wildtobago.blogspot.com/2017/05/advocate-for-underwater-education.html

Visit the lagoon at No Man’s Land. Go on a night near the time of the new moon to see the bioluminescence. This weekend before World Environment Day might be good; or the Eid weekend (June 26). According to marine scientist Jahson Alemu, “bioluminescence allows organisms to glow in the dark, and the darker it is, the more intense the glow. …The Bon Accord Lagoon is a protected inlet that holds millions of marine bioluminescent dinoflagellate plankton. … Because the biobays require such exact conditions in order to form, there are very few in the world, and conservationists work tirelessly to preserve these unique phenomena. …. The single most harmful species to these dinoflagellates are humans.” See link here:
http://wildtobago.blogspot.com/2016/12/lights-in-lagoon.html

Walk in the rainforest. The Main Ridge Forest Reserve is the oldest protected forest in the western hemisphere, conserved for water security. Botanist Aidan Farrell wrote, “…the reserve includes three distinct habitat types: lowland rainforest, lower montane rainforest, and xerophytic rainforest. … in fact, rain was the motivation behind the preservation of the forest in 1776: for the purpose of attracting frequent showers of rain upon which the fertility of lands in these climates doth entirely depend." Walk in any part of the rainforest and you’ll learn that forests are more than trees; they are complete ecosystems with animals, insects, mushrooms, frogs and much more. The Main Ridge Reserve covers most of the north of Tobago: choose a waterfall walk at Argyle, or follow the river from Castara or Parlatuvier. See link here:
http://wildtobago.blogspot.com/2017/02/tobagos-main-ridge-forest-reserve-for.html

Stroll in the Botanical Gardens outside Scarborough, among some of the oldest trees outside the Main Ridge. Alternatively, walk in Fort King George overlooking Scarborough Harbour; imagine the battles between the French and Dutch navies; or the defence of the island by the British. The Tobago museum at Fort King George houses a fine display of artifacts from the original people as well as those who colonised the island. It is important for us to know that this island has always attracted people. This Museum – the life work of Eddie Hernandez - should make us think about Tobago’s place in the world.

Even if we don’t get out in nature on World Environment Day, there are other activities that should engage our thoughts. Plant a tree… or three. In our islands, Corpus Christi (June 15 this year) might be the traditional planting day but we can start planting from WED.  

Most importantly, spare some thoughts about the end products of human lives on small islands: garbage. Do you know where your waste goes? Some of it remains on-shore in landfills; but also in river mouths, mangroves and on the beaches; a lot more washes out to sea fooling fish and turtles into thinking of food; once at sea, garbage travels on the currents to the North Atlantic garbage patch.  

Tobago is small, but big enough to support a system to efficiently separate trash and recycle glass, plastic, aluminium cans and paper. Some enterprising private sector organization might look into recycling as a business. Until a system is in place, we can still make sure that trash is minimal, properly sorted and ready for recycling. 

World Environment Day 2017 offers the opportunity to appreciate nature, of which we are a part. The good fortune of living in Tobago carries the responsibility to care for the island and its coastal waters. Let’s use this day to re-connect with our deepest nature, and to undertake those actions that will build our relationship with our land and marine environment.

SOME FACTS ABOUT HUMAN INTERACTION WITH NATURE
·      If the human population of our planet continues to grow and consume as we do now, we would need three Earths by 2050.
·      We cut down 27,000 trees every day just for toilet paper.
·      Over 14 billion pounds of trash are dumped in the ocean every year.
·      Some 50 million acres of rainforest are lost every year; we have already removed 80% of the world’s forests.
·      Plastic trash kills more than 100,000 marine turtles every year.
·      We have polluted our water sources: so much so that 15,000 persons die from drinking polluted water every day.
·      Almost everything we use in our homes could be reused or recycled: 84% of household waste can be recycled. Each person produces about four pounds of garbage per day.
·      In the last fifty years (since the late sixties) more resources have been consumed than in all previous human history.

WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY is observed on June 5 every year since 1974. It was designated by the UN General Assembly in 1972, following discussions about the impacts of human interactions with the natural environment. Since then, WED is the United Nation's principal vehicle for worldwide awareness and action for the protection of the natural environment. The first WED in 1974 had the theme “Only One Earth.” Every year, a different theme is chosen for raising awareness on issues from marine pollution and global warming, to sustainable consumption and wildlife crime. WED is a global platform for public outreach, information and action, with participation from over 143 countries. Individuals, groups or corporate citizens are invited to register and document your WED activities here: http://worldenvironmentday.global/