Seeking sustainability from and for, our protected areas

A big threat for T&T’s protected spaces whether savannah, forest, reef or wetand is forced degradation. It’s probably just as big a problem as our current shortage of income. But because nature cannot talk, money is perceived as more critical to our survival than nature. Figure that out. Arguably though the solutions to both comes down to management.

But simplicity ends there. In the list of justifications fowarded for managing protected spaces, money - to made from selling nature’s gifts feature big time. Usage is a much touted goal and nothing’s wrong with that, except the locality itself ought not to get lost (or stolen) in the process. Others, and this is as unscientific as any lay opinion can get, believes protected spaces are grant fund magnets – money for nothing according to Dire Straits. This assertion may be true but its not meant to ascribe or cast aspersion on any particular sector; what with grant-seeking proposals on every desk from civicus to private enterprise to State. Moreso, protected areas do provide a service to the Commons. So why not have a place get paid for the upkeep (or non-development) of itself.

There is also a line of thought; less gut more brain that effective management is really ‘only’ about establishing a mandate, acquiring legislation and importantly having the means to enforce it. And having achieved that, borrow, develop and then market protected area in question to every potentially receptive niche in the tourism sphere. At the end of the day this approach, let’s call it sustainable financing may prove the best way for Trinidad and Tobago to monetise its parks and forest reserves.

A word Common sense would argue therefore that borrowed money is better than grant money. In that the former lends an enterprise more than just dollars. It adds the element of organic or natural growth. [Disclosure: Environment Tobago does seek and has accepted grant funding ] Lest there is confusion as to this NGO’s stance, we are clearly more in favor of the old-fashioned business model where good packaging of a quality product readily translates into sales. Good sales foster growth. In other words it lends to sustainability. Sustainable use is the end game of protected area management.

Grant funding for protected area development does have its place, may even provide proper return if properly deployed. But as our experiences show, grants generate hoped-for outcomes in higher percentages where there’s adequate enforcement (of the rules there to protect the resource), a true and on-going evaluation of its usage or carrying capacity and a workable plan that incorporates that data dynamically. For now in Trinidad and Tobago such a framework is non-existent.

Co-Management in parks and reserves
Has been on the table for decades. The recently concluded GEF project IFPAM has produced some groundbreaking work. This roadmap is a good introduction to the concept of participatory development in the formulation of protected area management plans.

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