Caribbean has vulnerable environments, economies - CCA Director

Guyana Chronicle
March 30, 2003

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Mr. Norman Faria conducted an interview with Dr. Joth Singh, the Executive Director, Caribbean Conservation Association (CCA). We publish below excerpts of that interview.

Faria: The Barbados-headquartered CCA, as the region’s premiere umbrella environmental group, has been with us for many years….

Dr. Singh: Yes, it was formed in 1967 through the foresight of a small group of individuals including Ed Towle of the Island Resources Foundation. Thirty-six years later, we have 86 Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), 16 government members, and over 100 individual members. Our membership is quite broad, spanning many languages. Through the various Executive Committees and Presidents over the years, I do believe we have sensitised the general public and regional governments about the need to conserve our natural and culture heritage for present and future generations, as well as establish living examples of good practices in this regard.

Faria: In your Message in the Association’s recent Newsletter, you refer to the facing up to new challenges in the 21st Century. What do you mean by that?

Dr. Singh: The effects of globalisation and the accompanying free trade and market orientation principles present us with a new range of problems and opportunities. The Caribbean states have vulnerable environments and economies. Tourism is the number one foreign currency earner in many of these states and therefore it is critical that we preserve our natural and cultural heritage. We have to be careful that, for example, in order to remain competitive through the tourist plant expansion, we neglect to pay due attention to preserving this resource and violate our citizens’ rights to enjoy the bounties of their home. Our decision-makers must not sell out our patrimony and leave us as onlookers as others come to enjoy our homes and traditional hospitality.

Faria: The changing times have undoubtedly impacted on the Association’s way of doing things. Has the decision at your recent AGM in Trinidad to make a greater outreach to the NGOs connected to this?

Dr Singh: We feel this networking and other links with the NGOs can help us improve operations and maximise on available resources. There is more structure now. There will be more interaction with them including assisting in writing proposals for funding. We already have good functional relationships with many of our NGO members including the Environmental Group in Antigua and the Barbados Marine Trust.

Faria: The Association has, from the beginning, taken an interest in preserving heritage sites. It was involved with the Cabrits restoration project in Dominica with Lennox Honeychurch several years ago, for example. There appears to be an upsurge in such conservation projects. In this respect, Guyana last month hosted a Caribbean Wooden Treasures meeting under the auspices of the World Centre’s Global Strategy Action Plan.

Dr. Singh: Yes, we are reactivating our work in heritage conservation. We will shortly be taking a more active interest in such projects and countries such as Guyana must be commended for their vision.

Faria: Back in those early days when people such as Jill Shepherd and Calvin Howell, the latter who died recently, were Executive Directors, the question on how to get a handle on scarce finances took up a lot of valuable time and efforts. What’s the situation like today?

Dr. Singh: This continues to be an issue. There has been some improvement very recently as we seek to have Government members address their arrears in membership dues. Government members such as France and Trinidad and Tobago have been excellent in keeping their membership dues current. The increase in the number and size of projects has made more funds available. We are also thankful to the European Union for their funding of the Caribbean Regional Environmental Programme.

Faria: There has been some opposition, for example from the St. Lucian Animal Welfare Protection Society, to the captive dolphin and other animals (there is a resort in Union Island which keeps sand sharks in a small enclosure for instance) programmes. What are the Association’s views on this?

Dr. Singh: The Association needs to formalise a position on this issue. In recent times, we have been somewhat consumed with the whaling issue. At the last AGM, members voted overwhelmingly for the CCA to promote the benefits of non-whaling activities to the Caribbean. We are very much concerned on the impacts on the health of dolphins held in captivity but currently do not have a formal position on the issue.

Faria: If I may go back to the role visitors can play in assisting the Association’s work, there appears to be a difference in the attitude of tourists in recent years towards the environment. This is reflected in the establishing of businesses offering nature hikes and so on. Some large hotels also have a green component such as recycling the building’s waste water.

Dr. Singh: I think there has been a general improvement in awareness about the environment among peoples in North America and Europe, the main source areas for our tourists. We commend those regional governments which provide information about our environment to complement this development. The CCA is partnering the Caribbean Tourism Association and the Caribbean Hotel Association to mount the Caribbean Blue Flag Campaign which is currently in its pilot phase. The Blue Flag is a certification system for beaches and marinas and has been operating in Europe since 1987.

Faria: What about whales and turtles?

Dr. Singh: We discussed, once again, the whaling issue at our last AGM. We would like the Caribbean to promote the benefits of activities such as whale and dolphin watching out in the ocean where the animals are free and in their natural habitat. The membership has indicated that cultural issues need to be taken into consideration. Bequia, an island dependency of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, has been granted a quota of whales which may be taken under international treaty. We, however, have to be sensitive to the feelings of visitors, particularly those whose choice of destination is influenced by the policies of countries with respect to whaling.

The CCA is very supportive of turtle preservation initiatives, including efforts at sustainability. We are, in fact, in touch with operatives involved in the most significant one in Guyana at Shell Beach and other turtle nesting sites.

Faria: Recycling in the Caribbean is necessary but has proven to be economically problematic. Why is that?

Dr. Singh: The levels of plastics produced in the individual Caribbean islands are not sufficient to allow a profitable recycling operation. In fact, many of the successful plastic recycling operations are subsidised. We agree entirely that discarded plastic items are a major problem in the region. The solution lies more in reducing the levels of quantities of these plastic bottles rather than recycling them. Some ten years ago, glass bottles were the main containers for the soft drink industry. These glass bottles were being reused. It is real pity that glass bottles are used minimally now. We need to go back to this practice. We think to be economically viable, recycling projects have to, one, operate on a regional basis where economies of scale come into play; two, subsidies must come from governments. Legislation has to be amended. We also need to make major adjustments in our lifestyles and move away from the disposable society we have adopted.

Faria: Clearly, the increasing waste from cruise ships in the region go into Caribbean landfills and dumps.

Dr. Singh: Again, this is one of the major concerns to the Association. A fair amount of work still has to be done in this area. Cruise ships are discharging solid wastes on islands which already have problems dealing with their own wastes. In addition, a fair amount of used oil is left in ports. A number of regional administrations have a passenger head surcharge to help pay for the collecting and disposing of liners’ waste. I understand the Barbados Port Authority has its own incinerator but there are expenses such as fuel as well as capacity and efficiency issues.

Faria: What of the CCA’s future role?

Dr. Singh: I believe the future is bright in so far as we pursue our mandate. It is continually reiterated by people in the know that the CCA has a very important role to play in the development efforts of the Caribbean region including the Guianas and is uniquely placed through its diverse membership to do so. Among other tasks, we have to get more private sector members aboard. They have not played a significant role as advocates for change and also work hand in hand with governments to ensure that policies adopted suit the immediate and long-term needs of our region.

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