Seacology's Senior Program Officer, Karen Peterson, recently traveled to the Caribbean to meet with Seacology's Field Representatives in the region. Below, she shares stories and pictures from her trip.
Late April is the close of the dry season in the Caribbean. Water rationing and brush fires are common. This year, the region was drier than ever after typical occasional rains between December and Easter never occurred.
Grenada is located in the southeastern Caribbean, close to
Venezuela. Its land area of 133 square
miles is home to approximately 100,000 people.
The island is known for its rugged landscape, beautiful historic capitol
city of St. George's and colorful, laid-back atmosphere. I traveled to Grenada as Seacology's Senior
Program Officer to meet with our field representative for the island, Tyrone
Buckmire. Tyrone has made a long career
in conservation, education, human services, education and ecotourism, and is
Secretary/Executive Director for the Grenada Fund for Conservation, Inc. Tyrone is one of four Seacology field
representatives in the Caribbean region, all of whom were hired in 2009: the
other reps are Mykl Clovis in Antigua, Krishna Desai in Jamaica, and Lenin
Riquelme in Panama. Seacology staff is
thrilled about launching new island projects in the Caribbean.
The Caribbean is a different island region for Seacology in several ways. Unlike project areas in regions such as Southeast Asia and Polynesia/Melanesia, communities do not have control over their natural resources as land is either privately or governmentally owned. Additionally, conservation projects can be very complicated and involve multiple governmental and nongovernmental partners. Also, as in many locales throughout the world, it is all too common for conservation interests to be brushed aside in favor of short-sighted development projects that do not have the best long-term interests of habitat, threatened species, or local communities in mind.
Fortunately, our very part time field representatives in the Caribbean, four of 18 total in Seacology's program, are now acting as our eyes and ears on the ground in these islands.While in Grenada, Tyrone and I toured the island and looked at various types of habitat: unspoiled, degraded and in the process of being rehabilitated. In particular, we saw some remarkable sea turtle nesting beaches. In the Caribbean, as elsewhere in the world, turtles are under pressure from poaching, egg-gathering and incidental bycatch (by being caught in fishing nets). Luckily there is increased awareness in Grenada regarding how special these beaches are, and that many people, both visitors and residents of Grenada, would love an opportunity to see the magnificent spectacle of turtle nesting. There is a strong push to create guidelines for responsible guiding on the part of tour operators. Another current area of focus in Grenada at present is the preservation of the island's mangroves. Mangrove habitat is extremely important to a variety of species, and acts as an important natural buffer - critical to the hurricane-prone Caribbean in general, and to Grenada, where damage from 2004's Hurricane Ivan is still evident.
Antigua & Barbuda is a nation in the Leeward Islands in the West Indies. Antigua is relatively small in size - 108 square miles - and has a population of approximately 70,000. Antigua is a very popular tourist destination, with some three quarters of its residents reliant upon the industry for their livelihoods. Though affluent compared to other Caribbean nations, Antigua has received relatively little attention from conservation organizations. With our Antigua Field Representative Mykl Clovis as my guide, I had a busy two days on the island learning about its treasures and threats, and how Seacology might be able to help. I toured the Antigua Barbuda Waste Recycling Corporation in the capitol of St. John's. This project of the Rotary Club of Antigua Sundown is a truly remarkable model for not only the Caribbean, but for islands throughout the world. Waste management is a universal problem for islands, where space is limited, resources for proper management are often lacking, and the logistics involved in processing and facilitating recycling are often insurmountable (more on the facility from http://www.abwrec.com/index.php).
Mykl and I also toured the island's highest point, Mt. Obama; the mountain, previously Boggy Peak, was renamed in August 2009. The forested mountain offers beautiful panoramic views of the Caribbean, and is in the process of being turned into a national park with trails and other amenities. We also took a boat to tiny Great Bird Island, aptly named for its profusion of birds as well as home to the world's only population of the Antigua Racer snake.
The dry weather had finally broken in Antigua a few days prior to my arrival, so I was treated to a wonderful display of birds arriving in great flocks to fresh water areas on the island. Mykl's extensive knowledge of the ecology of the island, as well as close connections to local conservation organizations and like-minded individuals, made my stay in Antigua a productive and enjoyable one indeed.
My final stop in the Caribbean was Jamaica. Unfortunately, I had less than 48 hours to spend on this large, fascinating, and diverse island. The focus of my trip was to the 460,000-acre Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA). Only an hour from Kingston, this area contains the largest mangrove system in the country, along with extensive seagrass beds and coral reefs. The terrestrial area is vast as well, and is populated by 50,000 individuals residing in 44 communities. Approximately one fourth of Jamaica's fishers live and fish within the PBPA, the largest concentration in the country. I visited the PBPA with Krishna Desai, Seacology's Jamaica field representative. We went on a boat tour of the waters and mangrove areas with members of the local NGO C-CAM as well as members of the local fishers cooperative. C-CAM is working with the Fisheries Division to create three new "no-take" marine areas within the PBPA, with the close involvement and consultation of the fishers coop. It was fascinating to tour this very mixed-use protected area, and talk with the C-CAM and fishers coop representatives about their hopes for this important, habitat-rich area so close to the major urban hubbub of Kingston.
My only disappointment was that I did not see any of the area's large crocodile population. However, this was mitigated by the satisfaction I always feel after visiting with Seacology field representatives in their respective regions; our successes in identifying, launching and monitoring island projects is very much due to them. Thank you, Tyrone, Mykl and Krishna, for showing me your wonderful Caribbean islands!