PICKING SENSE OUT OF NONSENSE

Dr Anjani Ganase, marine scientist, wonders about the wisdom of destroying a protected marine ecosystem, the only one in Trinidad and Tobago, with a strategy to recreate it sometime in the future. She responds to the press conference of the Minister Stuart Young, and representatives of Sandals, the Government’s business partner, which was held on November 26. 

“Nature refers to all the animals, plants, rocks, in the world and all the features, forces and processes that happen and exist independently of people, such as the weather, the sea, mountains, the production of young animals or plants, and growth” (Cambridge Dictionary).

There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of nature. Despite humankind’s infiltration into nearly every ecosystem and eco-space on earth, there is need to preserve as much of the natural world. Our air, our climate, our food and everything needed to advance us, comes from nature. With nature comes biodiversity; the number of organisms - plants, animals, bacteria and viruses – all branches of the tree of life are our key for survival and evolution. Framework ecosystems – coral reefs, mangroves, forests and seagrasses - aren’t built in one day; rather their location, arrangements and their construction have evolved over eons, providing homes and resources for thousands of different communities of organisms. These complex architectures have never been replicated by humans. We benefit by our lack of influence, as nature preserves the future of possibilities. 

“…the project to protect the environment and do more than protect the environment … to enhance the environment,…”  – Stuart Young 

You can no more enhance the environment than “gild a lily.” To construct the Sandals they speak of, we are seeking to change natural assets. There is no other ecosystem conglomerate like this; for this reason, the Buccoo reef and lagoon area is the only coastal protected area in Trinidad and Tobago. The only way to enhance this environment would be through active protection and management. Leave nature alone, she can heal herself. This includes managing all upstream disturbances, mangrove loss and water pollution. It’s necessary to monitor and regulate ecologically important species, so that biodiversity and habitat have the opportunity to be enriched without human intervention. Construction will only reduce biodiversity.


No Man’s Land, Bon Accord Lagoon. Photo by Renee Gift


CONSERVATION

 “The protection of plants and animals, natural areas, and interesting and important structures and buildings, especially from the damaging effects of human activity” (Cambridge Dictionary)

We have picked and selected the traits of plants, animals and marine life that we enjoy and this always comes with a cost to biodiversity. Loss of biodiversity results in the loss of options and buffering capacity against disturbances such as disease and hurricanes. When we consider our uncertain future under climate change, we need all the help that nature affords. We have selected landscapes for our homes, selected food choices, and even selected nature as entertainment;  these are only supported by the vast reservoir of untouched ecosystems as resources, which can buffer changes in environmental conditions and sustain livelihoods. 

The main strategies for conservation of coral reefs and coastal communities in the Caribbean, including Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, are governments’ declaring marine protected areas and forming policies to support coral reef and marine management. 

According to the respected experts, as documented in “Towards Reef Resilience and Sustainable Livelihoods: A handbook for Caribbean coral reef managers” - developed by over twenty institutions, governing bodies and over 100 collaborating scientists and reef manager -, protection must include:  

(1) “All structured ecosystems: coral reefs and adjacent habitats - mangroves and seagrass beds  - which provide essential habitat to reef fishes at different stages of their life cycle.”

(2) “Water quality - sediment, excess nutrients and other pollutants in the water can all damage the natural functioning of coral reef.” 

(3) “Ecosystem function and integrity: this includes maintaining biodiversity. In practice this should translate into management actions including: protection of key herbivore populations; protection of nursery habitats (e.g. mangroves, seagrass beds); protection of spawning aggregation sites and population sources of both corals and fishes.” (Mumby et al 2014). 

It should be noted that strategies mentioned by Sandals representative Adam Stewart and Minister Young are absent from this book and are at odds with the consensus of scientists around the Caribbean.  A super hotel and ecologically thriving marine ecosystem are mutually exclusive. They cannot co-exist.

Mangrove forests of Bon Accord Lagoon. Photo by Renee Gift
RESTORATION

 “The act or process of returning something to its earlier good condition or position.” - (Cambridge Dictionary).

Coral reef conservation aims to restore coral reef ecosystems. To restore coral reefs you first need to return it to the physical conditions – water quality, light, temperature - in which they thrive. In a virtuous cycle, coral recruitment and growth and replenishment of fish stocks reseed and encourage coral growth. Artificial reefs and coral gardens do not “live” without actively fixing the physical condition of the environment. Putting down non-indigenous materials alters the natural habitat and impacts the marine communities that utilise the habitat in ways that are not obvious to humans, The only suitable conservation strategy for our marine park, so far neglected by our governments, is active protection and management of the marine area, including upstream clearing and degradation; and a managed fishing plan. 

Buccoo Reef is already a marine protected area – the only marine protected area in Trinidad and Tobago – and no one with a sustainable development approach should push for building in protected areas. To seek to build in an MPA and then devise a plan to restore it later is contradictory, and may be construed as devious. 

As always, construction concerns and strategies come to the fore in projects of this nature. But before there is a construction plan, it is necessary to have clearance from experts in the field of marine ecology and conservation where ecologically sensitive areas or marine protected areas are concerned. In the time of climate change, the research done by hundreds of marine ecologists should not be ignored. The public of Trinidad and Tobago – who must pay for this extravagance – should educate itself on the broader science and understand the importance of an unaltered mangrove, lagoon and reef system to health and wellbeing.

REFERENCE

Peter J Mumby, Jason Flower, Iliana Chollett, Stephen J Box, Yves-Marie Bozec, Clare Fitzsimmons, Johanna Forster, David Gill, Rosanna Griffith-Mumby, Hazel A Oxenford, Angelie M Peterson, Selina M Stead, Rachel A Turner, Philip Townsley, Pieter J H van Beukering, Francesca Booker, Hannah J Brocke, Nancy Cabañillas-Terán, Steven W J Canty, Juan P Carricart-Ganivet, John Charlery, Charlie Dryden, Fleur C van Duyl, Susana Enríquez, Joost den Haan, Roberto Iglesias-Prieto, Emma V Kennedy, Robin Mahon, Benjamin Mueller, Steven P Newman, Maggy M Nugues, Jorge Cortés Núñez, Leonard Nurse, Ronald Odinga, Claire B Paris, Dirk Petersen, Nicholas V C Polunin, Cristina Sánchez, Stijn Schep, Jamie R Stevens, Henri Vallès, Mark J A Vermeij, Petra M Visser, Emma Whittingham, Stacey M Williams (2014) Towards Reef Resilience and Sustainable Livelihoods: A handbook for Caribbean coral reef managers. University of Exeter, Exeter. 172 pages

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