The Caribbean is one of the most amazing locations in the world. The Caribbean environment is truly exceptional. The Caribbean is home to two of the largest reef systems in the world (in Belize and the Bahamas), boasting literally hundreds of islands (more that 700 in the Bahamas alone); teeming with ocean life including whales, dolphins, barracuda, and sharks, not to mention coral systems and creatures.
The Caribbean also has the second largest Boiling Lake in the World, at the Morne Troi Pitons National Park in Dominica, and a Buried City on the island of Montserrat.
The Caribbean is also home of the oldest rain forest reserve in the Western Hemisphere (in Tobago) and has more than 30 approved and tentative UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
In the Caribbean, there are hundreds of mountains, lakes, rivers (Dominica has one for every day of the year), and beaches (Antigua has one for every day of the year). All of these factors make the Caribbean region more significant to the world ecological system than its tiny size would suggest.
Caribbean islands provide an important barrier/strainer for everything that crosses the Atlantic. The Caribbean Sea and the Caribbean islands are an important environment and ecological space that needs to be protected and conserved for future world’s generations.
Added to this, a comfortable, balmy, moderate temperature and home to indigenous peoples, the Caribbean environment and people, are worth protecting.
At the same time, Hurricanes (as we have seen recently with Hurricane Maria affecting Dominica and Hurricanes Irma and Dorian in the Bahamas), Storms, earthquakes and volcanoes (Montserrat, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Guadeloupe) are only some of the challenges that these island face. Add the Sahara Dust that blows across the Atlantic, the Sargassum sea weed and the escaped Lion Fish (from Florida that eats up all the local fish and has no known predators), and you have a beautiful but challenged set of Caribbean islands.
The Caribbean is far more significant to the world’s ecological system, than its small size would dictate.
We need environmental justice – we need to ensure that those who destroy the planet most, bear the consequences most.
While small Caribbean islands play a major role in the safety and security of the Global eco-system, it is totally unfair that the islands bear an unequal brunt of the burden of climate change and global C02 emissions.
It is not fair that poor, tiny Caribbean islands are bearing the heavier burden of climate change. Menacing category 5 hurricanes are wreaking havoc on more islands than ever before. This cannot be fair!
Think about it. The environmental footprint of a poor Caribbean person, a Rasta, for example, could be hundreds of times LESS than someone living a rich country. So why should Caribbean people lose homes, roofs and families because someone else is playing dirty or just plain dirty.
Instead of the ‘benefits’ accruing to the Caribbean for its environment, the region bears the burden of the emissions delivered by first world countries. This is unjust. Let justice prevail!
Despite the global significance of tiny Caribbean islands, not enough is being done to protect and conserve that world heritage resource. Challenges abound. And it is not just about money and research, it is about the culture, the ethos, and the lack of understanding, appreciation, and ‘trickle down’ benefits from this resource. What are the Challenges?
One of the key challenges is the lack of understanding, appreciation and appropriation of the benefits of conservation and clean environment.
Not to blame history, it needs to be recognised that Caribbean Islands (and its people) ‘grew up’ and developed in complete disassociation with its environment. Consider the eating patterns under slavery where persons ate not what was grown locally, but fed on a diet of dried salted cod, while all of the fish in the Caribbean sea roamed free.
The connection between the Caribbean people and the Sea continues to be foreign. Imagine being surrounded by water and not being able to go into the water or even swim? It is therefore important, first of all, to create a nexus between people and their environment – to learn to play, to love, and to preserve what is ours.
Similarly, Caribbean people so not see the link between the waste and rubbish we generate and our beautiful/polluted oceans. Some islands (Trinidad and Tobago) are even notorious for the amount of garbage per head that is generated.
Many Caribbean people do not enjoy the ocean as swimmers, bathers, surfers, divers or boaters. They are divorced from the Ocean. So much so, that there are few areas of study in the Caribbean that involve the ocean environment.
At the same time, those who aim to protect it are usually foreigners, NGOS and generally those who appreciate (and can realise) the value of the ocean. As the saying goes, ‘they come to do good and they stay to do well’. And it should be no surprise that almost every ocean sport offered to tourists in the Caribbean has traditionally been offered by foreigners.
The Caribbean has an amazing natural environment. But it is in deep trouble. We need to take ownership – to link people with planet.
It is really important not only to educate and teach citizens about the importance of conserving the environment but to actively encourage them to enjoy it; to benefit from it; to make a living from it; to sight-see underwater; to learn; to teach; to do research; and to swim, surf and kite as well.
It is important that the benefits of conservation reach those that are most likely to destroy it. This way, they can see and feel the benefits of conservation in their pockets, on their tables and in their bellies.
Only then will we will create true environmental protectors, conservationists and activists. And, of course, a better Caribbean and a better planet for us all.
Dr. Auliana Poon
Dr. Auliana Poon is the founder and Managing Director of Leve Global and Exceptional Caribbean.
Auliana loves the Caribbean and believes in its people. Her personal mission is to change the world; to transform our societies. And this is precisely why she has spearheaded Exceptional Caribbean – a continuing mission to elevate tourism, trade and lives.