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Reigniting the tourism

Community tourism is defined as tourism which takes into account current, future, economic, social and environment impacts, even as it strives to provide for visitors, homeboys, big industry players and the afterthought, natural environment. Even as we speak Tobago, armed with this definition - niftily provided by the World Tourism Organization, is reaching out once more to the traveling public in the developed north. If we persevere we might get lucky; assuming the budget goes where its supposed to and hurricanes are fake news.

From a people standpoint though the Tobago House of Assembly is not wrong to try for more income. All progressive societies must these days, it's the economic model at work. But trust our leaders to serve the cake half-cooked. Yes they've begun the marketing, is sensitizing the borrower market, is mobilizing business and are rocking the roots of the local hospitality corps. What they've not yet done, and which ought to have headed the list, is ensure systems are in place to protect our natural environment from overuse.

Consider the recent trip by the Tobago Tourism Agency (TTAL) to the British Birdwatching Fair at the Rutland Water Nature Reserve in Leicestershire, UK. According to TTAL the trip is part of ongoing efforts to promote Tobago as a premier, globally competitive bird-watching destination and eco-holiday option. “With birding being identified as one of the core attractors for the destination, it was important for us to showcase Tobago at this event, particularly because the United Kingdom accounts for more than 50 percent of our international arrivals,” said TTAL's boss Louis Lewis. Citing Audubon Society stats, he further asserted that Tobago is fifth in the world among the top birding destinations per capita.

More interesting however is another observation published on the Birdfair website a snippet of which reads; “Although Tobago is a mere 300 square metres in area, more than 200 bird species can be found here. The Tobago Forest Reserve, is the oldest protected rainforest in the Western hemisphere and along the trails you could spot Blue-crowned MotMot, Collared Trogon, Red-crowned Woodpecker, White-fringed Antwren, Blue-backed Manakin and White-tailed Sabrewing. Little Tobago, a small island near Speyside, provides a refuge for various sea birds. You will cross pristine coral reefs on the way there and depending on the time of year, you will find nesting colonies of Red-Billed Tropicbird, Red-footed and Brown Boobies, Sooty and Noddy Terns, Frigatebird and Audubon’s Shearwater.” The statement is more or less true and depending to whom one speaks.

The thing is the THA - Lewis' employers, have hired him to sell, birds and probably rooms in this case, but they haven't done anything to improve those particular 'hotspots'. But even if the Tobago Tourism Agency is only minimally successful in its marketing efforts and fills say, one jet in five that comes to Tobago with birders - they flock you know, then the Main Ridge will be an overloaded destination. So will Little Tobago. The THA through its Tourism Agency may argue perhaps that birders are responsible 'users'. That they generally older, wealthier and care more. Given the possibility that figures may be provided at some point in the future we can leave the first two arguments alone. The last point is highly debatable though.

The very premise of top level birdwatching is to tick off from a 'lifelist' as many avian species as possible. It requires very little stretch of the imagination to see that enthusiastic (and unregulated) guides may find it tempting to disturb nesting sites to impress (for a gratuity) their wealthy gaggle of punters. The logic of overuse extends just as easily to reef trips. The Buccoo example is already a posterchild for every horrid malpractice that bad tourism fosters. Actually now that the once popular Coral Gardens can't satisfy tourists, the operators down there are beefing up other offerings such as jetskis, food and music. Think loud, think garbage because that is what really occurs. Cry Buccoo indeed. Nonetheless the reignited tourism thrust will be sold by the politicos as 'working' once they can report food sheds, taxis, bed and brekfasses, water taxis and touts are turning over money.

Nature lovers have another point of view. Aside from dedicated birdwatchers, many visitors make it a priority to visit the Main Ridge, Little Tobago and the Buccoo Reef simply as key points of interest. The unregulated stream of human traffic and yes this is prior to TTAL's current efforts bearing fruit, places an untenable load on those environments. The impact of crowds on wildlife cannot be underestimated but predictably it is a bad thing. The scenario for Little Tobago in particular is beyond critical given the privacy its roosting seabirds crave. The Main Ridge is probably more resilient given the resurgence of various bird species - though the forest there should never be taken for granted considering its many other threats. The Coral Reefs? Well let's just say their safety rests in everyone's hands. In envirospeak a hotspot is an at-risk locality. Let's hope the Tobago Tourism Agency's Mr Lewis is not being prescient about what the new tourism thrust is bringing to Tobago.

State of the Environment Report 2018

While we agree that sustainability is not always easy, its a slow grind to keep developmental activity in Tobago on a sustainable path. In 2018 Tobago faces the multiple realities of reduced tourism - its bread and butter, threats to the food supply chain - with adverse weather affecting crops, fishermen catching everything except enough fish, and little respite expected from the annual allocation of money from the treasury, national oil and gas revenues not allowing the usual great expectations.

Hard times notwithstanding, Tobago's current administrators have a duty to the public - present and future, to ensure this small patch of geography is passed on with minimal if any damage to ecosystems or coastal infrastructures. This, and again we agree it is not the easiest of tasks, is passing strange that in areas where the 'correct moves' are easy to identify (and therefore implement) nothing is being done.

We speak directly of poor waste management. The landfill at Studley Park is still the only repository for all of this island's solid waste despite limitations which were proven and documented over two decades ago. We speak too of poor land use in general. Good agricultural land is repeatedly being converted to housing acreage. Important forests and mangroves are being decimated with scant regard for preserving water catchment - either for potable use or for natural biodiversity.

The reference to waste management in context of a State Of The Environment Report is not trivial. The broad solution to almost every problem Tobago faces depends on a pristine environment. This is the logical almost intuitive deduction. So the unwillingness or lack acceptance to own or work towards it is a mystifying thing to say the least. Yet in 2018 Tobago presses on as if decades old conversations about incineration or desalination plants is enough.

Which is not to say that's all which is spoken these days. We've heard first rumours, and now find it confirmed that there will be a large hotel planted in the vicinity of the Buccoo Marine Park; with its effluent sanitised (to the best levels that tax dollars can buy); with its (concrete) footprint minimised to the point where no piece of coral will feel the stress. This of course is mere promise to deflect from what has been the historic norm; mismanagement of Trinidad and Tobago's natural resources for some private parties personal gain. The problem we foresee for 2018 and beyond is even more degradation of the Buccoo Reef complex, suffering as it is from toxic overexposure and chronic undermanagement and soon to come the Sandals.

We've heard too that in order for Tobago to move past these hard times the Arthur Napolean Raymond Robinson International Airport will be extended to accommodate even larger aircraft than those that already do not come here. Fine. If it weren't at the cost of losing Kilgywn; one of Tobago key wetlands and probably its second largest fish nursery. The sad thing is once more we see the State, erstwhile steward of the Commons, playing the major part of destroyer, sustainability be damned.

A modern State of the Environment Report will be irrelevant if it were to overlook this country's implementation of the SDGs. Remember the Sustainable Development Goals to which Trinidad and Tobago is committed? They cover much more than the 'treehugging' measures Environment Tobago once employed. Which it naively viewed back then as the only advocacy measure needed for our people to change ways. We will now leave Trinidad out of the conversation. Implicit to Tobago begin able to tick off its share of the targets attending the SDGs is a general acceptance that behaviours have to be changed.

We at Environment Tobago sometimes, probably because people are prone to think everyone is on the same page, understands that the world as we know it has changed - is changing. Into a more hostile environment than anyone anywhere at any time have ever had to face. The fact of the matter ladies and gentlemen is even though Tobago does have that tourism slash economic problem in the near term, Climate Change and all that comes with it is an immensely greater threat. It is that threat which drives this NGO to once more pen a state of the environment report. Hopefully you dear reader will make grasp the difference between taking care of the environment and living happily within it or.... not.

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