Third World Stupidity

Today, I walked with my Aunty down to the sea front in Bournemouth. Right now, a large building there is being demolished, because it blocked our beautiful view of the sea and the distant Purbeck Hills. It is such a forward-thinking and intelligent thing to do, and is happening because the residents of Bournemouth stood up and said "We hate that building, we're not spending our money there. We and our visitors need beauty." And so the IMAX, the best cinema for miles around, gradually went out of business and closed down. The council bought the building over many years, and finally, TODAY, we have our sea view back!

The Ajoupa Garden, Photo: Bunty O'Connor
The twin island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, arguably one of the most beautiful and special places in the world (ask any well-travelled Trini), is doing the opposite: The people and the government are systematically killing the animals and burning the forests, actively poisoning, destroying and removing what is lovely and rare and endemic to our islands.

Situated in the mouth of the Orinoco River, Trinidad has terrain similar to the rainforests and mountains of South America, and most of the same species of flora and fauna. However, the islands are also home to many creatures found only there. Rare frogs found only at the top of El Tucuche mountain, flightless birds not seen anywhere else in the world. Food trees that bear valuable crops, a forested mountainside that prevents landslips and provides clean rivers to water a city.

But who cares about frogs? Only David Attenborough, apparently, who has visited Trinidad several times in his search for the rare and beautiful. And rare pawi birds? Well, apparently they don't taste that good but Trinis are happy to kill and eat most things. Add plenty pepper, so the taste doesn't matter. Water? Meh, it falls from the sky.

Brasso Seco River Crayfish, Photo: Kelly Warren Fitzjames
I real vex. I am so angry that I know this rant will not be the well-written and balanced article I had hoped it would be. Maybe that will come later, ent? How is this for dotish: Apparently, a really fast way to catch crayfish is to simply poison the river and scoop them up. Wily little things, they are usually quite difficult to trap. Who has that kind of time? And Trinis are so stunningly uneducated that they will merrily eat poisoned food, or sell it to others without a care in the world.

Poison is also helpful if Trinis want to get rid of something: Carrion crows known as 'Corbeaux' thrive in Trinidad because of their rich diet of garbage and dead dogs strewn on the side of the road. They offer a useful service, eating what would otherwise rot and spread disease. They are not lovely birds to look at, but I have known one or two and they are gentle and intelligent animals. And last week hundreds of them were cruelly poisoned and died in agony. I wonder if the poisoner is planning on picking up the roadkill and disposing of that, now that the Corbeaux cannot efficiently do the job?

In search of a David Attenborough YouTube clip about the rare frogs of Trinidad, I came across one of Trinis having a frog kicking contest. They laughed uproariously as the frogs peed themselves and scrambled desperately to escape. I did not watch to the gory end, and I stopped looking for YouTube videos for Trini frogs. How sad that our police service is powerless to act in cases of animal cruelty, castrated by incompetence.

Backward ever, I heard that the sweet village of Charlotteville is, as we speak, having its quaint seafood restaurants and shops demolished so a large steel and glass building can be built to block the sea view. Goodbye, tourists, hang on to your pictures of the old and picturesque Charlotteville.

Charlotteville, Photo: Via Papa Bois?
Maybe one day, if Trinidad and Tobago can afford it, the modern building will be demolished as quickly as it was built. It will cost the taxpayers millions of dollars, of course, but like the Bournemouth IMAX building it will have come to symbolise a corrupt, rapacious past that we will be so ashamed of, we will tell our visitors it wasn't our fault.

On one 'eco resort', people who don't know any better have cut down valuable nutmeg trees to 'develop' the site for tourism. A nutmeg tree, wow, I wonder how much that is worth per square foot of land? I can buy one nutmeg seed here for anywhere between 20 and 50 pence. When I was last at the site where the trees have since been removed, I picked up around 30 where they were lying rotting on the ground. Of course, the soft mace had rotted away, and that is even more expensive than the seeds. How is the loss of those valuable trees going to be recouped? Will visitors be charged by the hour to look at the spot where the trees were?

And one group of forward thinking citizens set up a recycling company called Me Nvironmental, which was gratefully received by anyone with any brain. Tons of recyclables were collected... But government support has been lacking so the company is closing down after a few months.

The very accessibility of the Trinidad rainforest, the thing that makes it a favourable eco tourism and research destination, is its undoing. Trinis can hike for a mere hour to a place of unparalleled beauty, announce "Dat place real nice boi!" and leave their tuna cans, crix bags, disposable diapers, KFC boxes and camp fires behind them. They can set the forest alight in the dry season to plant a quick cash crop in the ashes. Massive hardwood trees can be taken down the hillsides of the Paria Forest to the sea and transported to any destination quickly. You want to expand a quarry? No problem! Trini is the King of the get-rich-quick scheme. It's so easy to find a waterfall or a view filled with trees that we think the beauty and forest structure must be limitless and indestructible. But if the destruction continues at its current rate, I fear places of beauty will become much rarer and harder to get to.
Double River Falls - Adventure Tourism

This year's dry season has been devastating to the hillside forests, as usual. But who cares! It's only bush, dred. Worthless. It have snakes and ting there. I shudder to think of the floods that will destroy and kill again in the rainy season to come. How many people died in last year's floods? Only a few? About as many as in the Boston tragedy, right? Doh study! The insurance companies will keep paying out year after year, right? If they don't, Trinis will just steups and carry on.

When heavy rain falls on forested hillside, much of the water stays on the leaves and evaporates into the air. The remaining water filters slowly through foliage, undergrowth, and root systems. Each tree then removes tens of thousands of gallons of water from the soil, storing it and releasing it back into the atmosphere as water vapour. When trees are removed from hillsides, the heavy raindrop impact removes topsoil and quickly sends sediment-heavy floodwater downhill, clogging rivers and drains and causing flooding. 

Remember extreme rain from twenty years ago? The drains would rush with clear water, speeding down the St Anns and Santa Cruz and Arima hills. Now, it's a road full of yellow mud and silt. Too much water for any drain to hold, roaring into the valleys, taking the topsoil with it.

There are groups of people are fighting for the lives of our islands. They write, they beg, they film, they set up groups, they plant hundreds of trees, they go to schools and teach children about the importance of our national treasures. They guard the sacred places with body and soul. They keep the secret places, secret. Breed and release, plant seedlings, collect seeds. All of these people have faith and hope that one day, the destruction of our greatest treasure will stop. And then Trinbago, she will breathe a big sigh and ketch herself again. There are Trinis all over the world and we go back, all the time, like returning turtles. My own children only want to complete their education, and, like so many Trinis, return. Perhaps once you have lived away, you begin to appreciate what is special in Trinidad and Tobago. When we return, will there still be a Trinbago?

I have seen an ocelot in the wild, frozen in the morning mist before it sprang away. I have seen the flash of the morne bleu. I have climbed the falls and leaped shreiking into deep, crystal clear pools. I have watched breathlessly while a massive leatherback turtle lay her eggs and heaved her exhausted body back to the sea. I have seen some of the secret places and danced in the night on a shore where microscopic, phosphorescent creatures glittered in my footsteps and lit up the shoreline.

There is nothing to compare.

Follow these peeps, who are doing good things in 2013:

Sustainable TT on Facebook
It's Up To MEnvironmental on Facebook
Papa Bois Conservation on Facebook
Caribbean Discovery- Eco Tours on Facebook
Saving Trinidad and Tobago's historic buildings, Facebook
Asa Wright Nature Centre on Facebook
4H Caribbean on Facebook
Environment Tobago
Caribbean Youth Environment Network
Nature Seekers
Green T&T
The Cropper Foundation
Caribbean Institute of Sustainability

Can you add any more? Let me know in Comments!


Anonymous said…
I always thought people living closer to nature would naturally have more healthy respect for it. THis post breaks my heart.
Nan Sheppard said…
Mine is breaking too... But this is a very one-sided and angry commentary I've given here. as I said, I am too vexed to be otherwise! I believe there is an increased awareness of Nature in Trinidad and Tobago - But there are still stupid people, and the law can not step in and stop them.
It doesn't even make economic sense given that there's money to be made in preserving and sharing nature and its fruits. You cite lots to lament.
Unknown said…
I am crying nan... so true... so disturbing! Wow, it is a rainy afternoon here and that is good as the earth are parched.
Love you sister.
Unknown said…
In the first picture, that man is my GRANDFATHER.
Islandgirl said…
We need some angry letters nan..I am going to share this every way I can. Please send it in to the papers as well. I have the email addresses if you need them
Ron said…
I too share your pain, anger and for me a sense of despair ... I fight for our marine environment especially :
Ria30 said…
This is infact a one-sided post, I would like to see another praising those who are passionate about preserving the beauty of Trinidad and Tobago and who work diligently to do so. In every country there are stupid people who lack basic appreciation for the jewels of their land. This however, DOES NOT speak for all who inhabit the land. Sadly, the acts of the bad ones always overshadow those of the good and it will always what sells and draws attention. If you get the chance, a more positive article would be appreciated.
Helen said…
Sad, shameful and true. Most Trinis don't deserve what we have been so blessed with... they have not one ounce of appreciation for it. Thank you for writing it and I WILL be sharing it... maybe we can shame enough of our fellow countrymen and women into supporting the efforts of the tireless few who work day in, day out to preserve what the rest of this country seems intent on destroying.
winstonj said…
change can begin in the schools,at the primary school level, but there is always so much corruption in the public sector and with big business,i thought of using the ppl that scavenge the dump to sort garbage and recycle since I left school in the eighties, shame someone took this long to try it, and its failing
Nan Sheppard said…
Hi Ria, yes. See above where I say what a one-sided post it is! Positive things are being done, but I felt very sad and angry when I wrote this.
Unknown said…
Sorry to say, but everything in this article is true. My cousin is one of the few that try to save these wonderful animals that we have in our country. I have no idea when my people will wake and realize that we need the forests and animals to survive and they need to be protected. My heart breaks every time I see the mountains a lit with fire. I was so happy for the rain, but at the same time, with water comes disaster because of these fires and of course all of the garbage that is thrown willy nilly all over the place.
Margie Rick said…
This breaks my heart. I have been to Charlotteville, Tobago twice for extended scuba diving vacations. It is, or should I say, was a very picturesque village on Man 'o War bay - it was the shops that gave the village its character. How short-sighted to tear the down and replace them with a huge concrete monstrosity. The other stories of poisoning crawdads and frog kicking contests turned my stomach. How inhumane and cruel. I also know that the sea turtles are under assault - either being killed for food or when the females come ashore to lay eggs they are harassed. Just last year a woman had her photo taken while sitting on the back of a female sea turtle trying to lay her eggs. How can wildlife survive when such cruel ignorance abounds?
Unknown said…
Great article, the ranting is well deserved and very on point. Being around the environment I see all that you talk about as well as those that have not been breaks my heart when I go out and there is garbage in the rivers that are now full of silt due to the quarrying in the hills, animals are losing their habitat and forced to search for food and shelter near communities where they are hunted and killed but not for food for their families to have a meal no! To make a quick dollar or just for the thrill of it. So much of effort is being placed into building the economy but they believe that the economy is oil and gas I would like to see them drink that oil and eat their money when their is no clean water and no fertile land to plant food.
George Leacock said…
Add Environment Tobago
joanne said…
To your first comment Nan, I don't think it's one-sided. Not enough is happening on the educational and enforcement fronts in terms of sensitizing the population to the value of our biodiversity. A suggestion - Start EVERY school day with a lesson in the need to protect our environment and our wildlife; incorporate it into the curriculum at the Police Training College; make it a mandatory part of continuing education for judges and magistrates. Start EVERY Thursday afternoon Cabinet meeting with similar content and survey the room to find out what Ministers are doing in their Ministries to improve the situation. Educating people is not impossible, but you FIRST HAVE have as one of your VALUES in your VALUE system that this is the RIGHT THING to do. If our leaders at the top (and anyone else for that matter) LACK this VALUE in their value system then a targeted plan of action for concrete change is a pipe dream. Because of how critical the situation is, we need QUICK change - who better to start bringing it about quickly than the politicians. But if the value system of your administration is more than suspect...well, not sure what else to say.
Nan Sheppard said…
Joanne, I once called the police because some 'farmers' lit a fire to clear bush near my home, and the fire got away and burned several acres - including our saplings and fences. I fought fire all day, with the kids helping. I quarrelled with the guys who lit the fire and they just laughed. I said I would call the police and they laughed more. So I DID call the police, and they said they couldn't come. No car. I said they had better come now because I was about to take the law into my own hands and go over there with my cutlass.

Well, one policeman turned up an hour later, mostly for the entertainment value of checking out the mad white lady with a cutlass. I showed him the damage, and the fire still burning out of control in the nearby fields. He said there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. Not a thing.

I fought that fire all day. And listened out for it to re-ignite all night. Every year, many days are spent fighting fires, by people in rural areas. You are right, the police need to get involved. The law has to change. But I'm not holding my breath.

Cathryn said…
Nan, it's illegal to light a fire in the dry season in Trinidad. There was plenty the policeman could do! There is also a misconception that all forest fires are started by slash and burn techniques...most of them are started by people burning a little rubbish in the yard. When admonished they say "ah go watch it". Well, guess what...wben the wind whips those sparks into the tinder dry "dry-season" trees that's all they'll be able to do; watch helplessly as the fire rages into the nearby bush.
Islandgirl said…
Really loving all the comments and I am hoping everyone commenting here becomes proactive and does what ever they can in their circles of influence to change this. We need to start coming together to fight this together. Join Papa Bois Conservation on Facebook, join Its up to me nvironmental's Facebook page..connect with other like minded doers and DO! Every single little bit counts..and pull more people in with you and get them, doing too..even if it is only writing a letter to the government or taking a politician to task or asking hard questions in consultation forums or starting a recycling drive in your home/ school/ community is up to all of US to start doing and making a difference. We can't wait on THEM...there is no them! We are running out of time!
Unknown said…
Some other organizations doing the good work (By no means all, there are lots more):
Caribbean Youth Environmental network (CYEN)
Environment Tobago
Nature Seekers
Cropper Foundation
Point in Action
Caribbean Institute of Sustainability
Asa Wright Nature Centre
Nan Sheppard said…
Thank you! Pleased to see more great groups being highlighted here. I'll link them up today.