THINGS THAT MATTER: World Environment Day – Wake up, everybody!
World Environment Day passed us by quietly on Tuesday (June 5th) as did World Oceans Day on Friday (June 8th). Bajans were understandably still in a state of shock, euphoria, confusion or bemusement after the election massacre two weeks ago to take much notice of anything else. But our environmental crisis goes beyond the South Coast Sewage crisis, the Bridgetown Sewage problem and the current massive invasion of sargassum sea weed on East coast beaches. It’s multi-faceted and mirrors the environmental crisis the whole world faces.
World Environment Day [WED] was established by the UN General Assembly in 1972 on the first day of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. Two years later in 1974 the first WED was held with the theme “Only One Earth". Each World Environment Day is organized around a theme that focuses attention on a pressing environmental concern. The 2018 theme is “Beating plastic pollution”, because this is a massive global problem and needs urgent action.
This year UN asked for three things on World Environment Day: action from citizens, governments and, above all, the private sector. The action word is action! The point of a special day is to highlight the problem, involve people, produce action and hope for lasting effects. UN calls it the “people’s day” for doing something to take care of the Earth. That “something” can be focused locally, nationally or globally - a solo action or a group action.
Here in Barbados we had a splendid message from the Minister of the Environment and National Beautification, but it appeared in the Advocate on World Environment Day, rather than before, which would have highlighted the approach of the day, with appropriate action programmes. The Minister’s two-page spread made many valuable points and I liked the concluding exhortation: “Join us as we promote sustainable living and celebrate Barbados from our hilltops to our reefs. Let us demonstrate our commitment to environmental stewardship by doing the right things and by doing things right.” I also noted the activities of the St. Mary’s and St. Margaret’s primary schools, and the visit of three schools to the National Conservation Commission. The primary schools should be the focus for intensive environmental education. In the early 90s the National Trust proposed to government an educational programme in schools by a brilliant environmentalist / agronomist who had just retired, but funds for a part time salary did not seem a priority in those “good” years and it never came to pass.
Some experts divide our environmental challenges into three – Disturbances in the Biosphere, Climate change or the Warming world, and the Plundered Planet (Tony Jupiter, Director of Friends of the Earth).
There are so many disturbances of land and sea – from the impact of deforestation, over-farming, and pollution; the massive impact of pollution with plastic, with horrendous effects on rivers and oceans – on fish, turtles and even whales; the problem of pesticides and effects on rivers and ground water. Here in Barbados the destruction of our coral reefs by pollution and physical damage has reached a critical stage, while the culture of littering despoils every beach and verge. Invasive plant species are a world-wide problem, and our own example is the river tamarind, taking over the countryside.
While the warming world is still considered a Chinese hoax by some powerful people, it may be affecting us in many ways – including bleaching and death of coral reefs, droughts and bouts of devastating flood rains, loss of biodiversity and two topical issues for us - increase in severity of hurricanes due to warmer ocean surface waters, and the deluge of sargassum seaweed – both subjects for another column …
Barbados has undergone significant environmental changes since Independence. After three hundred years of being described as a neat and tidy garden, with undulating fields of sugar cane, interrupted only by clusters of trees around plantation yards and church towers, villages and a network of roads and paths, we’re now more forested than we’ve been since the early years of Anglo-African settlement. Sadly it’s not with valuable timber but largely river tamarind and Albizia lebbeck (known here as shak shak or women’s tongue). The mahogany woods planted a century or two ago made great sense, still do, and should be replicated for a potentially profitable furniture export industry.
A common challenge everywhere is how to make use of industrial sites or abandoned quarries. A beautiful example in Barbados is Orchid World in St. George. This was created in and around an abandoned quarry between Groves and Golden Ridge. And I’ve just discovered an even more dramatic, exciting and ambitious project, the regeneration of the areas around the sand mining at Walkers in the Scotland District.
The Scotland District is the uniquely beautiful, major part of our National Parks System. The dramatic Atlantic coast, wide beaches and sand dunes, coral boulders, hills and crags, from Chalky Mount to Pico Teneriffe, create a unique, invigorating and inspiring landscape like no other. I call it the lungs of Barbados. And a sizeable portion, some 250 acres, comprises the Walkers Savannah and sand mining site. The areas around and between the active quarrying is now undergoing sensitive regeneration – the Walkers Reserve.
The story of Walkers is fascinating. An enterprising, creative American entrepreneur who fell in love with Barbados was planning a hotel on this beautiful East coast site, when it was discovered that silica sand, essential for mixing concrete, was available in abundance. For over 50 years, Walker’s Quarry has provided the sand for nearly every building in Barbados, while protecting one of the biggest beach-side forests on the island. And this spirit of conservation and love for the land has led the second generation McNeel, Ian, to conceive a comprehensive regeneration scheme.
Walkers Reserve is actively returning quarried areas to ecological health. A permaculture design, guiding transformation from quarry to food forest, creates mixed use agro-forestry areas for short and long term yields as well as restoring native forest as habitat for threatened wildlife. The regeneration plan, managed by Shae Warren, meets the vision of the owners, and the needs of both the local community, the country and the planet.
The plan stabilizes soil and shelters new growth from the strong, ozone-laden easterly winds off the ocean. Where there were once windswept dunes, now sheltered lakes form a sanctuary for migratory birds. Working directly with local farmers, pickers and community members, this burgeoning ecosystem rejuvenates Bajan food security, food culture and agro-diversity by knitting the landscape and social systems together. The permaculture approach (similar to that at Coco Hill farm) is working beautifully, in areas that were grassland and scrub after sugar farming ceased. And the sheer beauty of the area is breath-taking.
Walkers Reserve is the most exciting project I’ve seen in decades. When finished in a couple of years it will not only be a great attraction for visitors and locals, but inspiration for the kind of sustainable permaculture we need to ensure food security and drastically reduce importation of food. It’s a project with multiple spin-offs. Congratulations Ian, Shae and the whole team.
Bouquet: To Alfredo Giovine and his team at Tapas Restaurant in Hastings for struggling on in spite of the South Coast Sewage Challenges. The problems in that area are now settled (they’ve moved up stream) and I enjoyed a magnificent lunch there on Friday, when the only aromas, against the background music of the sea, were those of the nutmeg on my rum punch and the delights of blackened fish and delicious creamed Caroline Lee potato – to die for!
Professor Fraser is Past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Clinical Website: profhenryfraser.com