Adding 5 sea turtles to the Tobago economy

leatherback turtleif central government is toying with the idea of developing T&T’s Blue Economy using the full-on United Nations Environmental Development template, odds they are also aware it’s not a decision that might not go down easy with folks in the sister isle who look forward to turtle soup at Harvest time. Will the People's Partnerhip risk upsetting the popular vote and actually lock up poachers?
Bear in mind those who hunt the seas actually see themselves as self-employed independent souls who choose not to take a desk job in the Tobago House of Assembly. It's complicated however Tobago might still want to embrace the national conversation although they have (to all intents and purposes)lost five turtles from the collective Tobago pot. Why? Because it’s high time Tobagonians understand preservation of the island’s natural assets - especially what’s in and under the sea. If Tobagonians do come to grips with conservation and the real tenets of sustainable development, there is a chance that Tobago may finally dig itself out of the long-standing economic bind which it has endures.

In March this year the T&T government passed an amendment to the Environmental Management Act making it illegal for anyone to hunt, have or to otherwise endanger sea turtles. Now what is it about those reptiles that make them important. Are they political prizes? Nope! It is incorrect to say our Parliamentarians acted because of pressure brought on by the various wildlife groups, although perhaps a hankering for positive press might have played a part in a few ministerial minds. More than likely the real reason they passed the Environmentally Sensitive Species Notices had to do with making an appropriate response to institutional concerns that the seas are to be protected for the good of all.

Remember the oceans or what’s in and under it comprise the last of Global Commons and require a world-class network of law (and strict enforcement) to ensure its proper use. In that regard the EMA Notices of March 2014 actually do form part of a bigger formal movement supposedly intended to tighten screws on misappropriation and/or misuse of earth’s natural resources: That particular mandate was fine-tuned at the “Rio+20” United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro when our leaders signed various accords closely pinned to delivering ‘the future the world wants’.

But what the world gets unfortunately has always been determined by returns on the dollar, a measure of productivity which all too often neglect the intricacies of ecological balance. Rio+20 (pronounced Rio plus Twenty) therefore articulated the rise of a Blue Economy, a concept only recently formed but already wielding enough clout to benefit five lowly sea turtles species swimming in and around T&T.

But what is a blue economy anyway? The concept was explored in depth in Rio when sovereign nations - notably the small island states, searched for an acceptable alternative to the ‘Greening’ paradigm. Their need was glaringly apparent then and it remains so even today: Tiny countries, such as Tobago are quickly coming to the realisation their only hope for economic salvation hinges on making a living from the seas around them. The economic model the Rio groups gravitated towards was naturally dubbed the Blue Economy, taking hue as it were from the existing Brown and Green models of developmental activity.

From the conservation standpoint a Brown Economy is one that dumps refuse from the workplace into the nearest body of water for someone else far away to sort out. Their definition of a Green Economy is not really encouraging either. Many hold the opinion that greening is merely a series of token gestures that could never truly counterbalance the damaging aspects of standard economic work – despite dubious innovations like carbon offset or cap and trade programs.

Before we get too far along though, understand an ideal blue economy doesn’t really exist yet. While people do derive a living from the sea, there is no concerted global plan of action to protect the marine environment from captains of industry or individual nations with power and reach to plunder or despoil. Steps to protect human rights have long existed though – as evidenced by the United Nations Charter. Where there are conversations around conservation however, these take a specie-specific or non-integrated approach. The big voices; CITES – the Convention in International Trade in Species want to save the natural stock of biodiversity on both land and sea, but their focus for now is mainly on the animal kingdom. Perversely, the United Nation’s Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) – according to the reports from Rio, is solely focussed on alleviating human poverty. Therefore the odds are low that there is going to be a balanced outcome in the man versus nature play-offs.

The more likely scenario is big money will engineer situations that will despoil the marine environment and undersea resources for the sole benefit of shareholders. Poor people will flock to plunder the low hanging fruit of the sea (like fish and turtle) with little regard about nature’s ability to replenish her stocks. Eventually if this were to continue, only the humongous Brown and Green economies (which seems always able to deflect their damage onto less enterprising communities) shall survive, but that’s only for a little while as everyone is realising.

It is in light of these understandings perhaps that the current government took its decision to protect loggerheads, leatherbacks, olive ridley’s and hawksbills. It is a very small move admittedly, but if Trinidad and Tobago can genuinely protect the nation’s marine diversity at this point in its economic trajectory (when we can afford the price of conservation) chances are fair that blustering Trinis and proud Bagonians will not have to go cap in hand one day to the IMF (or their equivalents) to beg for funds to sustain the population.

Sustainability is the operative word here, and it means coming to understand every aspect of modern life depends on the same elements that our apeman, African, and Amerindian antecedents needed; food, water and shelter. The big problem as it always has been, is to convince folks in T&T that protecting the turtles – as far-fetched as it may seem, means saving lives. To give charity where charity is due, the present People's Partnership government seem to understand this and they acted fair and accordingly by writing the EMA Notices 88-92 of 2014 into law.
... Read notices #88, #89, #90, #91 #92