World Environment Day (WED) Talks
Updated: Aug 2, 2018
The Ministry of Planning and Development assembled a dynamic team of 12 environmental experts to share their knowledge and ideas on how we can better protect our environment. This was done by engaging in a discourse across a wide range of thematic areas, including #ClimateChange, #OzoneDepletion #MarineEcosystems, #Biodiversity, #WasteManagement, and #RiverEcosystems among others. This event took place on June 26th, 2018 at NALIS Library, Port of Spain.
Dr. Floyd Homer, Coordinator at the EU Environment Programme, shared his input on #biodiversity and how it is all interlinked with everything that exists.
He shared his experience in Anguilla, which has a population of approximately 14,000, and the Chief Minister (Leader) who was of the view that, "Biodiversity meant the plants, birds and fishes all around him".
"You stand still, close your eyes, and listen. Do you hear the birds and streams? Take a deep slow breath, what do you smell? Is it rainfall, how does it feel? That in essence is our eco system full of diversity that exists in our forest", said Mr. Homer.
"In T&T we have 48 endemic plants, 400 species of mammals, 55 reptiles, and 23 different types of fresh water fishes", said Mr. Homer.
Even Dr. Homer was puzzled as to the popular use of plastic water bottles by citizens of T&T. He rhetoric of, "Why can't people drink water form our pipes"?, was answered in a flabbergasted tone, "That’s what he grew up on".
He went on to explain that we were endangering our diversity by leaving our plastic waste anywhere and everywhere as a, "Healthy forest means a healthy people".
We highly encourage all to review the National Environmental Policy for ways that sustainable development can appreciate significantly.
Mr. Homer ended his discussion by stating, "A change in habits and behaviours is only possible if we have #education, #enforcement and #alternatives".
The 2nd speaker was introduced as Mr. Hasmath Ali from Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Inspectorate. He referred to pesticides as biocides and made mention of the different coloured coded bottles that are prevalent in T&T. Mr. Ali advised against transferring pesticides from their original packaging.
"It is part of our culture to not see pesticide as poisons but rather as "medicine", stated Mr. Ali.
All pesticides and chemicals should be handled with care and particular attention should be paid towards labels for usage, toxicity, storage and disposal.
The amount of pesticides brought into the country yearly ranges from 1,500 to 3,000 tonnes and this amounts to large amounts of plastic bottles that are usually discarded in forestry areas by farmers or end up in the dumps.
Unfortunately, T&T does not have a safeguarded way of discarding obsolete pesticides which can tally up to 87 tonnes.
Mr. Ali shared critical information that pesticide containers can be recycled, however a process called triple rinsing should be practiced before this is done.
On the topic of water resources, Ms Laurayne Lucky from the CWWA shared some very valuable information about this scarce resource. She made mention of ground breaking work using floating icebergs to relieve the drought problem faced in South Africa.
She stated, "One of the most predominant reason for increased water shortage is the increasingly steady demand for it, with tourism being one of most intensive sector of water usage. There is also the underlying issue of convenience vs the environment".
She gave an example of powdered detergent products that we use domestically. This maybe cost effective to the consumer but takes a heavy load on the environment.
Water scarcity exists globally with every 1 in 6 person having water problems.
To encourage the recycling of pesticide bottles, Mr. Hasmath stated that, "Incentives are needed to encourage farmers to recycle after they use the pesticides". He also made mention of recycling bins at 'agro' shops which was a practice that was done previously.
Ms Lucky's response to recycling and the increasing use of plastics was, "The corporate sector needs to understand their role and to take responsibility in recouping their plastic waste, as generally the cost of water for them is negligible".
Kevin Thomas from CNIRD and MEEPTT, spoke about the marine environment and the amount of marine debris found yearly.
He stated, "Over 8 million tonnes found every year with 80% coming from land based and 20% sea base sources. From that, 60-80% are plastic with polyester contributing to 60% as 2000 microfibers are deposited from clothing during the washing process and goes into the oceans".
Mr. Thomas mentioned the increasing issue of water being contaminated with micro plastic, be it water from our pipes or water bottles.
Some issues affecting the ocean are ghost fishing, entanglement, ingestion and alien fish invasion.
There is an increasing impact of bio accumulation. This is the process by which the micro plastics are moving up the food chain with the average person having 11,000 pieces of micro plastics in their stomach.
One way of spreading awareness is volunteering to take part in ICC Beach cleanup which is carded to take place on September 15th, 2018.
Dr. Judith Gobin, lecturer and scientist from UWI, made her contribution to the discussion by speaking about the marine environment. She mentioned that over 10 million species are yet to be discovered. She shared her experience as one of the women scientist from Trinidad on board the E/V Nautilus, where she was privy to a look into the unique non-biotic and biotic deep sea environment off the coast of Trinidad and Tobago.
This included a peek into its natural features including its cold seeps and biodiversity; the value of these deep sea resources to the region and mitigation/conservation measures for potential threats specific to Trinidad’s deep seas.
She stated that,
"One of the most exciting find in the depths penetrated was the discovery of methane seeps which was frozen at the bottom of the sea and created a snow cone mountain".
"Critical to us was the purpose of the deep sea", explained Dr. Gobin, "which detoxifies our oceans, especially as our land resources are running out".
She ended by sharing the not so good news that even at depths of 3 miles below the surface of the sea, they saw the penetration of plastic pollution.
Dr. Gobin pointed out that,"Investment needs to be made into alternatives because if there are none, people just dump their trash"(recyclables).
Mr. Thomas shared that the volume of debris collected proved more, depending on the amount of volunteers who turned up for beach cleanups. So far, an average of 13 tonnes of trash per year is collected.
It was also stated that there was an increase in marine litter due to wars.
On the topic of climate change and how it affects our water resources, Ms Gonzales from the Caribbean Youth Environmental Network said, "There are two sides of the coin, either it will be hotter or wetter".
In T&T most of our water comes from rain and surface water, with the issue being too much, too little or too dirty water. Once this occurs our rivers die and with no water, humans die. It's as real as that.
"How do we affect change? We need to plan, manage and consider alternatives to deal with water scarcity", says Ms Gonazles, "With the use of 'Brown Gold' or waste water as an alternative". This brings us to the term Economics of Water.
Dr. Kegan Farrick from UWI made his contribution by offering three (3) options for managing our fresh water, which he states, "Is our greatest challenge".
One of our Critical zone observatories is water, which is the ‘skin of the planet’. Question is, "Where does the water go and what can we do to conserve it"?
Be Creative - for instance the use of multi-metres by farmers to measure water use.
Explore – by exploring new environments.
Get Involved – for instance Citizen Scientist making their contributions on sites like CrowdWater.
Dr. Mahabir from the Adopt a River (AAR) programme, advised that tree planting can be used to combat the loss of water. Additionally, outreach activities are necessary to inform the public about the importance of our rivers. Some ways they have achieved this are:
Conducting schools visits and investing in outreach programs like song, dance and poetry competition.
The Water Warriors programme.
Dr. Mahabir spoke about her experience in dealing with the "garbage juice" that was leaking out of the Guanapo Landfill and it being addressed, as there has been no leakage reported since.
AAR has trained 10 communities in water testing since 2017 and these communities collect data and upload on AAR's app monthly.
Mention was made of the Cashew Gardens Community Recycling Programme (CGCRP), the first of it's kind in T&T. This programme was a result of water testing and river cleanups exercise and is still going strong in their commitment to recycling and awareness activities.
A question was asked about charging more for water in order to deter wastage but Ms Gonzales stated, "How do you put a price on water"? She went on to say, "You can charge for the processing of it, like the treatment and work done but generally water is free".
A follow up question was asked about a rainwater harvester being a source of water for communities and if this would this be free of charge? It was shared by Dr. Mahabir that although this water storage will be free, there is currently a policy being drafted regarding a license to regulate the use of harvesters.
Dr. Kumarsingh from EPPD spoke about the difference between 'weather' and 'climate' with changes in the latter taking effect after 30 years.
He elaborated further by stating that, "There was an increase in average temperature of 1 degree which results in climate change and global warming", as seen in case of extreme hurricanes.
The consequences of the high amount of green house gases in the atmosphere will been felt in the next 60 years.
He stated that, "Trinidad and Tobago is extremely vulnerable to climate change and the biggest threat to the planet is that someone else can save it".
A question was asked about negative emissions technologies and Mr. Kumarsingh replied that, "No research was being done on this in T&T and to his knowledge there exists no conclusive proof that this process works in reducing Carbon Dioxide emissions".
Ms Sian Cuffy-Young, Managing Director of the Siel Environmental Company introduced her topic with a quote by the Might Sparrow, "Education, education. this is the foundation. Our rising population needs sound education".
She highlighted two critical factors that make anything possible, that is, environmental education, and behavioural change. As such, persons should act on informed decisions that are tangible and involve sustainable actions.
"An environmentally literate society is needed which starts with knowledge, awareness, skills, actions and attitudes".