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How responsible are we for environmental degradation?

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Fri, May 23, 2014

To what degree are we, citizens of our country, responsible for causing environmental degradation and doing irreparable harm to flora and fauna alike? To what extent do our short-term excuses about “survival” undermine our own long-term prospects for sustainable development?{{more}}

These are pertinent questions that we must ask ourselves with regard to preservation of our environment and the implications for the continued development of our country. We can give here two examples of the interrelation between us, and our environment, and how this relationship impacts our lives.

First, we are still recovering from the aftermath of the Christmas Eve flooding of last year, which had disastrous economic and social consequences. While it is true that we have no control over the forces of nature, that does not mean that there are not measures we can take to mitigate the most harmful effects. The degree of the damage wrought by those floods was certainly exacerbated by our own irresponsible actions in willful deforestation in the mountains, all premised on the need to “survive”.

Then, in this issue we carry a story, this time not of destruction to our forests, but to the continued survival of two species of turtles. The story raises the concern of Fisheries officials about the threat to the species from out-of-season hunting of the Leatherbacks and Hawksbills. Turtle meat is still viewed in many quarters as a delicacy (though abhorred by conservationists), for which the hunters receive a good price. This makes it an attractive proposition, so much so that although there are legal penalties, hunters are prepared to take the risks, safe in the assurance of collusion by would-be-consumers.

The excuses given are very familiar, revolving around “the poor man must live” theory that excuses every kind of infraction. We should make it clear that neither in the case of deforestation nor out-of-season hunting, is anyone trying to interfere with livelihoods. In fact, the idea is to make those livelihoods not short-term, but more sustainable and long-term. We are yet to understand that if we destroy all our forests, the long-term consequences will be disastrous for us all. We fail to realize that by killing turtles when they come to lay, the survival of the species and the very livelihoods we talk about will be placed in jeopardy.

Clearly there are problems in tackling the issue, for the threat of charges in the court does not seem to be enough of a deterrent. We believe that key to all of this is a massive public education campaign, beginning with the young ones. It must also encompass engagement of people in the communities around which the hunting takes place. We have to painstakingly convince would-be-hunters that one is not seeking to stop them from hunting, but that the in-season is for a sound reason.

Secondly, we cannot give up and feel that there is nothing we can do. Dominica has a very aggressive approach to the challenge which involves mobilizing volunteers to patrol the beach; the Fisheries Division alone is insufficient, and sadly, it is also true that there are some persons entrusted to enforce the law who may turn a blind eye because they too enjoy the turtle meat. Get organizations involved in environmental preservation, like JEMS to give an example, very involved in the process.

We already have the very real threat of climate change to deal with. Negative actions on our part can only worsen the situation.

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