The first panel discussion of the 2017 Green Screen Environmental Film Festival was held on Saturday 4th November at the Medulla Art Gallery. Entitled ‘Our Waters’, the panel considered the challenges facing the environment and the responsibility of varying institutions to protect our marine resources. The short film series was relevant, thought provoking and engaging.
The panelists were Hamish Asmath, Geographical Information Systems Officer in the Geomatics Unit at the Institute of Marine Affairs, Dr. Sharda Mahabir, Project Manager at the Water Resources Agency of WASA,Gerard Alleng, climate change senior specialist with the Climate Change and Sustainability Division of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Courtney Rooks, naturalist, conservationist, explorer and ecotourism professional and Ronald Roach, CEO of the Trinidad and Tobago Solid Waste Management Company Limited (SWMCOL).
Moderator Francesca Hawkins, asked for an overview of our current situation before delving into solutions and initiatives. The statistics put forth by the panelists on the rapidly depleting coral reefs, the polluted rivers and the negative effects of climate change in the Caribbean were alarming. Mr. Asmath noted that the recent hurricanes in the region caught everyone’s attention, however, he urged the public to be equally concerned with subtle dangers such as rising sea levels.
One of the primary hindrances to protecting our water resources is minimal collaboration among the relevant institutions. Rooks stated, “The big problem is that there is no network of humans but individuals who want change and can’t do it alone.” Lack of funding is also a major setback as the environment is not prioritised. “Currently, the cost of the leaching system (which we need) is 21 million (TT) dollars and we were given 1 million dollars by the government.” lamented Mr. Roach. He then suggested that less government funding should be spent on mitigation and be reallocated to public education to change the complacent attitude of citizens towards the environment.
Dr. Mahabir spoke to initiatives geared towards improving the environment and specifically our marine resources. She spearheaded the ‘Adopt a River’ project in recent years to clean rivers across Trinidad and Tobago. The ‘Water Warriors’ programme taught residents to test their water and they were educated on recycling. This initiative started in Carapo as the first community based recycling programme in Trinidad and Tobago. It was quite successful and has since spread to other communities.
Mr. Alleng presented a model for being ‘blue and circular’. In explaining this model, he stated, “As islands, our principal asset is the sea. A sustainable ocean economy is possible: a circular model where waste is seen as valuable as the input for something else and for this we must improve efficiency.” Questions and comments from the audience led to immersive discussion on the state of our marine resources. Amidst the devastating effects of climate change, it was refreshing to hear the positive efforts being made. I still feel that a lot more can be done to educate the public and perhaps more people would be willing to change their destructive behaviours and contribute positively to more initiatives if they are aware of such. Dr. Mahabir ended on a high note by encouraging those present to use trending hashtags, get everyone involved and to make it personal so they understand their reciprocal effect on the environment.
Don’t believe that the challenge to change something is too great.
Holly Trew, Department of Biological and Chemical Sciences at the UWI Cave Hill, Barbados
Short film series: ‘The Reef’