Youth Support Environmental Conservation
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Youth Support Environmental Conservation

Environment TOBAGO (ET) collaborated with the Department of Natural Resources & Environment of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) to hold an Exhibition in the Botanic Gardens in Scarborough to commemorate World Wetlands Day on February 2nd.

Approximately one hundred secondary school students from Harmon’s SDA, the Moravian School, and Bishop’s High School attended.

The students played two interactive games with ET to explore some of the complex issues and difficult choices involved with wetlands conservation.

Students plan for sustainable development

In one game, the students had to design a development plan around a river and freshwater wetland so as to minimise the negative impacts of human development (via pollution) on the wetlands, while maximising the social and economic benefits to the community. After examining their plan, the students realised that some of their choices would pollute the waters and destroy wetlands, and also threaten human health. They then revised their development plan to ensure the best possible benefits for the community while conserving the environment.

This simple activity was very successful in demonstrating the importance of land-use planning to minimise negative impacts of human development on the environment. Many of the simple principles the students demonstrated are not applied in T&T today, but hopefully will soon come into effect with passage of the water pollution rules prepared by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA).

In the second game, the students examined the history of development around the Buccoo/Bon Accord wetland complex, as well as some of the proposed hotel developments.

They then conducted a role playing exercise to see how different people in the community have different views about tourism and development. Some people (e.g. farmer, reef tour operator) depended on a beautiful and healthy natural environment for their livelihoods and placed a very high value on conservation. Others valued the natural environment as a source of recreation (e.g. tourist, bird watcher, windsurfer). Many people felt that tourism was a very important for Tobago’s economy, and for some it impacted directly on their livelihood (e.g. hotel developer, rental car agency owner, waiter).

Some people in the tourism industry (e.g. guesthouse owner, hotelier) felt that increasing tourism could threaten them through increased competition. Certainly the carrying capacity for the industry on Tobago, both in terms of the demand as well as the capacities of the natural and human environment, must be considered.

Some people also stressed the positive and negative impacts of tourism on Tobago society and culture (e.g. increased prostitution, increased crime).

Students vote against hotel development

It was extremely interesting that although during the discussion a majority of students emphasised the economic value of the tourism industry for Tobago, when it came time to vote for or against a tourism development that might threaten the natural environment of the Buccoo/Bon Accord wetland complex most of the students voted against the development.

Does this reflect an understanding that economic value is only one type of value, and that the natural environment has many other values for society? Do they understand that the natural environment is a valuable resource for sustainable economic development? Is it that they place a higher value on a healthy environment and sustainable development than short-term unsustainable exploitation?

Students were brought to an understanding of the multiplicity of values within society that shape development choices for Tobago. Increased public participation in these development choices is essential, and public involvement in reviewing Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) is one example of how this can be achieved.

ET also conducted a slide show on the wetlands in Tobago, highlighting the diversity, beauty and value of these ecosystems as well as the threats to them due to human developments.

The students were also treated to a poster exhibition and videos on wetlands from the Ramsar Convention Bureau. Trinidad & Tobago is a signatory to this international convention for wetlands conservation, and Nariva Swamp is currently the only Ramsar site in T&T, although it is hoped that the Buccoo/Bon Accord wetland complex may also be added as a wetland site of international significance.

The Department of Natural Resources & Environment showed a video they had produced on Tobago’s wetlands, as well as other videos about the many types of wetlands there are, the values of wetlands, threats to wetlands around the world, and the role of the Ramsar Convention.

At the end of the day, rousing games of wetlands jeopardy by ET tested student learning about wetlands and their conservation. It was clear that the students were very knowledgeable about wetlands biodiversity, values and conservation.

Teachers interested in having their students take part in these or other environmental education activities may call Nicole Leotaud at ET 660-7462 to schedule a visit to their school. - Nicole Leotaud, Director, Environmental Education Centre
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