Business

A Green Economy

Can the dream of sustainability become reality?

Story & Photos By Kathleen Wood

In November 2014, a two-day Green Economy workshop was held in order to identify environmental priorities in TCI. Representatives from government, science, watersports, fisheries, local communities, and tourism met to discuss what current policies are working well for TCI’s environment and what further work is needed to foster sustainability.

 

This curious yellow warbler flits through Salt Cay’s bush.

This curious yellow warbler flits through Salt Cay’s bush.

The people of the Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI) have a vision for the country, and it is one in which its fragile ecosystems are protected and cherished. Here is what they see in the future, based on comments from workshop participants:

“’Beautiful by nature’” is no longer just a brand but a clear statement of our core values. We recognise the importance of the natural environment for humans and nature and understand its vulnerability. That knowledge is embedded into society, the decisions we make and action we take.”

“We depend on our local environment for many benefits including food and clean water, cultural and economic opportunities, and mental and physical wellbeing. These benefits are enjoyed by all.”

“Our stunning natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage is treasured, protected and enhanced. We have beautiful clean beaches, wetlands teeming with wildlife and a clean and healthy marine environment. Our protected areas on land and sea are in great condition and support a rich diversity of local plants and animals.”

“We have vibrant sustainable economic development and communities guided by a Strategic Sustainable Development Plan, strong environmental policies and a clear planning framework. Each island has a unique identity with any new development or change fitting in with its character and surroundings.”

“Our values and action ensure permanent and thriving tourism and low-density eco-tourism is bringing in new visitors. All new tourism development is environmentally sustainable and makes a significant contribution to the local economy, local communities, local people and local business.”

“We have transitioned to sustainable energy, water and waste management and transport is low-carbon and efficient. Locally produced food is enjoyed by the whole community and there is a flourishing, well managed and sustainable fishing industry benefiting local fishermen and their communities.”

“A new TCI University enables further education in a range of disciplines specifically geared towards TCI sustainable development and tourism needs.”

The messages coming forth from the workshop and stakeholders were clear and represented a consensus of opinion. TCI’s economy is precipitously poised on maintaining the country’s ecological assets, and as a country, we must ensure the welfare of the environment is maintained or face dire consequences. Limited natural resources, poor topsoil, and scant rainfall limit TCI’s potential for most industries; therefore, the natural beauty of crystal-clear waters, white sand beaches, and teeming coral reefs represent the country’s best saleable commodities. Hotel and restaurant receipts alone directly provide 34% of GDP, and indirect economic effects may account for as much as 80% of the country’s economy (Batas & Forbes, 2007).

Unfortunately, tourism and other development often come with associated environmental costs. Resorts generate solid waste and sewage effluents that can threaten or kill marine organisms. Dredging for marinas can result in physical destruction to and sedimentation of coral reefs and seagrass beds, and rapid development can result in the clear-cutting of pristine terrestrial habitats, resulting in a loss of habitat for rare, threatened, endangered, and endemic species.

You know spring is near when the cacti dotting much of TCI’s lush “bush” blooms.

You know spring is near when the cacti dotting much of TCI’s lush “bush” blooms.

TCI is caught in a delicate balancing act to foster economic development, while at the same time ensuring that such activities do not compromise the environmental values that underpin the entire economy. TCI is not alone in this vulnerability. The United Kingdom’s Overseas Territories (UKOTs) possess a staggering 94% of the UK’s endemic or unique species (Churchyard et al., 2014), yet with few exceptions, these small island states suffer from pandemic sustainable policy failure (Mycoo, 2006). In order to address these concerns, the UK’s Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) launched an Environmental Mainstreaming or “Green Economy” process in order to assist individual UKOTs in identifying priority issues that would enable countries to integrate environmental concerns into all aspects of developmental decision-making.

In early 2014, the Ministry of Environment and Home Affairs and Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs (DEMA) expressed an interest in launching a TCI Green Economy Project and were awarded permission to do so. The process was fully funded by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and JNCC, and preliminary work on the project commenced in October 2014.

Dialogue Matters, a U.K.-based company that aims to transform the way people work together around the management and use of the natural environment, was awarded the contract for the project. Dialogue Matters was established in 2000 and specializes in delivering the best possible stakeholder dialogue, using a participatory and user-friendly approach to research and reporting. Their workshops are intended to inspire environmental action and to foster momentum to transform how stakeholders engage with one another as they steer towards best practices.

The first order of business was an exhaustive review of existing environmental research, legislation, and capacity of government and non-government organizations. A total of 42 documents were reviewed in this process and a spreadsheet of environmental inventory and gaps was developed.

Next, a project oversight group (POG) was appointed, with members from key stakeholder groups, such as government, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations. In a separate workshop for POG members, key environmental issues and stakeholders were identified.

Finally, a workshop with 32 attendees took place in November. Through a series of hands-on activities and discussion sessions, participants identified key environmental priorities and developed action plans to implement them.

The priorities identified by workshop participants included:

• Developing and implementing a sustainable National Physical Development plan to inform island-specific and national strategic development and spatial planning;

• Implementing a programme for sustainable waste management and recycling;

• Enhancing environmental understanding and education at all levels;

• Procuring a sustainable source of funding, capacity, knowledge, and skills to manage the natural environment more effectively;

• Developing and implementing a sustainable behaviour action plan;

• Implementing sustainable energy use; and

• Determining mechanisms for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), government, and the private sector to work together more effectively, including establishing a new NGO to forward all environmental objectives.

With these seven priorities clearly identified and agreed upon, it is now up to the people of TCI to move these matters forward. While some of the priorities will involve identifying funding sources, work towards some of the above initiatives is already underway. A Green Economy Working Group (GEWG) was established and met for the first time on January 29, 2015, and another meeting took place on February 5 to commence work on establishing a dedicated environmental NGO. Discussions are underway to improve solid waste management in TCI, including a discussion on banning plastic bags and Styrofoam packaging. Some GEWG members are also looking into how sustainable energy policy has been implemented in other UKOTs.

A primary goal of the TCI Green Economy project is to empower people from all walks of life to take ownership of and responsibility for the environment that sustains us. The ball is in our court. A green, beautiful by nature future for TCI can be a reality.

Workshop participants believe the following can be achieved if we all work together:

“Providenciales is ‘Beautiful by nature, cared for by us.’ The island is well planned and managed with flourishing low-density, high-end sustainable tourism. We have a clean and well cared for environment with reduced waste, pollution well managed, and renewable energy used both in businesses and in homes. New development is low rise and carefully planned and we have good drainage and roads. Local people and communities are thriving and prosperous with better education, more small business, and other employment opportunities. The Provo fishing and fish farming cooperative brings economic benefit to local people and communities. Native people have extensive cultural and leisure facilities and good access to the beaches. The natural and historic heritage of the island is treasured, preserved and enjoyed by all.”

“North Caicos is a lush green island and provides ‘the agricultural heartbeat of TCI.’ The majority of the island remains green and natural. There is flourishing agriculture (including organic farms) that provide food for the islands and reduce the need for fruit and vegetable imports. An Agriculture Centre carries out research into new techniques and supports the farmers. There is also sustainable fish farming to take the pressure off the natural areas. Education provides new opportunities in agriculture and fishing. The heritage of the island is showcased and cared for. Museums and national gardens preserve and celebrate traditional skills (sisal production and corn grinding) and the diversity of plants and wildlife is celebrated in show gardens. The infrastructure such as schools, roads, the airport, and clinic provide better quality of life for local people. Tourism is low key, with eco-tourism, boutique hotels, and guest houses.”

“On Middle Caicos the cultural heritage has been lovingly and carefully preserved. Traditional crafts are kept alive by local people who work together in community based initiatives. Eco-tourism thrives with low density accommodation and eco-lodges, all powered by natural energy sources. Eco-trails thread through the beautifully maintained landscape and the caves are well looked after. The local people can sustain themselves here on their island with no need to migrate for work. Food is produced locally through agriculture and mariculture.”

“South Caicos has a flourishing, sustainable, well protected, and managed fishing industry. The fish processing plant is owned cooperatively by fishermen and provides for the domestic market. The combined fishing and marine research and tourism centre protects and monitors the marine and terrestrial environment. The Salt Ponds are a key part of the island’s tourism, attracting people to historical features such as the salt pans and Boiling Hole, and there is clear signage to explain and describe what is seen. The parks around the salt ponds have nature trails with fabulous bird-watching opportunities. There is also a thriving watersport tourist industry on the island. Infrastructure is good with the airport finished and upgraded and well planned and well maintained waste and water management. Schools and clinics enhance human wellbeing.”

Grand Turk’s historic Front Street reflect centuries of island history.

Grand Turk’s historic Front Street reflect centuries of island history.

“Grand Turk is a fitting capital of the TCI with a complete regeneration, restoration, and rejuvenation. The built areas are well-maintained and well-landscaped and historic features restored, interpreted, and treasured. Grand Turk is clean and garbage-free and the large feral domestic animal population is contained and managed humanely. The salt ponds and mangroves are unpolluted and support fish and bird life. Cruise ship and tourism tours are conducted in an environmental way which shows and educates people about the unique natural beauty and heritage. The economy has diversified and provides long term employment and business opportunities for local people. Transport and energy is sustainable and low carbon, based on alternative energy and electric vehicles, walking, and cycling. Clean energy technology has been incorporated into all commercial, public, and residential property. Tourism is thriving with medium scale development offering more tourism accommodation.”

“Salt Cay is an island which is promoted and known for its heritage and historic and cultural tourism. All the historic buildings and features have been refurbished and the White House has been restored as a historic centre. Other heritage buildings are used for arts, crafts, and cafes and visitors can enjoy local foods like Salt Cay candies. The salt pans and history are preserved and there are historic walks which bring the heritage of the island to life for visitors. Tourism is low key and of a ‘Martha’s Vineyard’ type providing employment for local people. Whale watching draws in other tourists and is well regulated.”

A preliminary TCI Green Economy website has been established at http://tcigreeneconomy.weebly.com. Any person interested in participating in the TCI Green Economy Working Group should contact Kathleen Wood at kw@swa.tc in order to be added to the Working Group mailing list.

Sources Cited

Batas, M., & Forbes, K. (2007). National Accounts Statistics In D. o. E. P. a. Statistics (Ed.), (pp. 80). Turks and Caicos Islands: Statistical Office – Department of Economic Planning and Statistics, Turks and Caicos Islands Government.

Churchyard, T., Eaton, M., Hall, J., Millett, J., Farr, A., Cuthbert, R., & Stringer, C. (2014). The UK’s wildlife overseas: a stocktake of nature in our Overseas Territories. In R. S. f. t. P. o. Birds (Ed.), (pp. 76). Sandy, U.K.: Royal Society of the Protection of Birds.

Mycoo, M. (2006). Sustainable Tourism Using Regulations, Market Mechanisms and Green Certification: A Case Study of Barbados. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 14(5), 489-411. doi: 10.2167/jost600.0



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