A nature park is not the place to party

Its normal now that holidays in sweet T&T is all about the partying. Whether desecrating religious observance, falsifying the reason for school breaks or trivialising sombre events such as Independence, parties are the classic one size fits all mood medicine. Young, well-off, not so young, not so well off, there’s always a reason for a party, for faking a merrier mood. Thing is we go overboard, opting to do so in spaces where well … silence belongs. Begging a tiny consideration though. Where do those of us who wish to enjoy nature as it ought, go? We can’t very well take to the woods, enjoy a forest walk say, cos of car thieves, bandits and trapguns. We cannot all access the open sea and even there, pirates or smugglers make the proposition iffy.

Today in the pursuit of silence we will look at Tobago, currently under party lockdown but bracing itself for the July August holidays. If history is the judge then ‘Zesser’ times are ahead for the sister isle and there’s not much the individual can do about it. Except worry perhaps. Allowing that every adult can piece together the likely outcome, can the touted Tobago economy survive if it continues to abuse nature in order to please the party crowd? Common sense suggests otherwise. This island has positioned itself as an idyllic breakaway from the hectic Trinidad scene because (of course) Trinis need to get away. Life on the big sister is no picnic even if one is well-off, well-intentioned or well armed.

Looking foward, the July August period promises Trinidadians a bit of Tobago freedom - aka ‘endless party’ it stands to reason that the ‘zesser’ group should not deprive nature seekers from enjoying Tobago’s true charms. One merely needs to look at just the single example; No Man’s Land. Once a key calling card for serenity, today and in the forseeable future there simply can be no enjoyment there. With all the discordant noises that the party boats try to push as music. Its a rare bird indeed that catches a peaceful day in No Man’s Land - in any of the holidays or weekends. And that’s looking back over the decades.

Admittedly the situation may be different this year seeing as how the government may yet keep Tobago beaches and rivers and party venues closed. Still and agreeing with the merit of taking the overly cautious path in the face of the re-escalating virus, a question does need to be addressed. Does a group of birdwatchers, a couple of riverside fishers or a family taking a stroll on the beach constitute the same level of threat to public health as a group of party people on one of those so-called reef tour boats? The issue is deeper than it looks. Families who come to Tobago for a quiet time are potentially better spenders if they can get what they left Trinidad seeking; dinners and lunches where they can talk to each other without resorting to sign language, reef tours where bad behaviour and the party hearties are not literally in the same boat.

Can a fix be engineered by the Tobago House of Assembly should someone prove (once more) that nature is the best resource but one requiring skillful management? Arguably all that’s missing for enabling a higher degree of quiet - and we’ll stay with the Buccoo Reef Park because if they fix that the entire party pack expected in July August will fall in line. If so is the silver bullet to noise pollution just the exercise of controls already in place? Yes, but subjective. The Environmental Management Authority and the Assembly Division of Environment are visible, are reactive. In the sense that if someone does complain about noise, they’ll come, monitor decibels and take action accordingly. Thing is that’s still hours of tympanic terrorism to bear for those merely wanting quietude.

Logic suggests everyone will recognise the presence of COVID-19 and hold to this regardless of published case numbers nearer to July-August. Restrictions to noisy behaviour will aid that awareness and bring as well a certain degree of compliance if: Loudspeaker and wildman type parties on Pigeon Point and No Man’s Land are shelved. Tack on quiet-mode access to the Buccoo Reef Marine Park and watch Tobago’s prospects rise post COVID-19. Everything depends however on better monitoring and enforcement of the rules. Which in any case also falls within remit of the Assembly as custodian of the Marine Park. To reiterate; rules do exist to protect the many forms of life that occur in the Bon Accord Lagoon and reef environment.

Yet everything above may remain flight in fantasy if new actors aren’t brought in. Enter now the promise of civil sector delivery. But first a short story. In 2003 the non-profit Environment Tobago (ET) proposed to the Tobago House of Assembly that they be awarded Park co-management status as recommended by the Institute of Marine Affairs, drafters of the Buccoo Marine Park management plan. It was seen as a partnership that could protect the park for users even while enabling deserving business interests within the space. Unfortunately the proposal never got past the lowliest of THA eyes other ‘interests’ no doubt holding sway.

Today in 2021 Environment Tobago is once more encouraged to seek a co-management deal, albeit with smaller ambitions. When pressed for details they said ‘ET merely wants to attain a position that allows for monitoring and if necessary deter transgressions within the park where biodiversity and or ecosystem functions come under threat’. The group may be on to something. The THA at this time does not have the capability to patrol and restrict the Buccoo Marine Park despite spending many millions of taxpayer dollars on the cause. Neither are they in a position to deploy new (to Tobago) technology given the stated dearth of funds allocated them by central government.

Environment Tobago on the other hand has indicated its willingness to step up to the plate powered by its wide subscriber base, insider-speak for concerned nature lovers wanting the park locality restored to what it once was and in line with committments scripted in law.
The public, or least that part of the public who wants to enjoy the Buccoo Marine Park environment as it ought, should keep an eye out for developments over the near future. The fact is the party scene is driving away many many people from Tobago and at a time when alternative punters are in short supply. It makes sense then that loudspeakers and crowds should go where they fit best. The marine park just isn’t that place. In light of which, here’s a quick reminder. April is just about done with which means in June, Trinidadians will be making arrangements to party in Tobago, Tobagonians facilitating. Which prompts a final question. Come the July vacation period and assuming Government has the courage to open up beaches and rivers to the party-deprived public, will peace in the park be shattered or will good sense prevail?

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