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Coastal desert creeping inland

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Editor: The increasing degradation of St. Vincent’s coastal landscape is clearly visible from Fort Charlotte and moves noticeably further inland each year. The problem starts with cutting of trees, after which erosion of the soil sets in and the earth becomes compacted.

A few weeks ago I witnessed the cutting of a huge mango tree that was bordering a piece of land in preparation for building in Villa. The tree was not obstructing the planned development and would have provided shade, retain water in the soil with its roots and produced delicious fruit and a habitat for birds in an otherwise built-up area. {{more}}What makes its destruction even more tragic is that the development is to build apartments for tourists. But tourists come here from built up areas to experience tropical nature – we are effectively destroying the very things that attract them.

As a nation, we are shockingly complacent about the rate at which we are losing our trees and fertile lands. Since Independence, consecutive governments have been the main perpetrators of environmental degradation in three ways:

Firstly through the lack of control over rampant clearing of the land for monocrop cultivation, and residential development. This type of clearing eradicates all trees and natural habitats has a domino effect on the island’s bio diversity.

Secondly in embarking on unsustainable ‘development’ projects which involve destruction of nature’s ecosystems. Many of these projects have become abandoned scars on the land and seascape.

And thirdly by neglecting to initiate public awareness on the importance of maintaining the environment which includes cultural awareness programme in schools.

Promoting environmental awareness seems to have been contrary to the aims of certain projects that have been profit driven with short-term interests, rather than long-term interests of providing sustainably for future generations.

We need not wait any longer to become convinced that we must halt the destruction of what the survival of future generations depend on – fertile land and copious water supply.

World-wide, women, youth and civil society are playing a key role in promoting sustainable development activities in small islands. As there is plenty of information on environmental issues, we can start to apply it in our own backyard. We may wait a long time for government to accept the need for a reforestation program, as their projects seem to entail large scale deforestation.

Communities and individuals can begin by planting trees. Any tree will assist in holding together topsoil, creating shade and rainfall with the added bonus of providing fruit. Farmers should intercrop perennials with tree crops. Those who are building houses should leave intact any trees that will not obstruct construction. They will eventually be thankful for the shade and wind protection that they provide.

Collectively a replanting and protection effort will beautify the landscape, protect watersheds and bring back the characteristic natural beauty that St. Vincent is renowned for and that is fast disappearing from the coast inland to the rainforest.

Fort Charlotte is one of the most visited vantage points in St. Vincent and one from which the effects of deforestation are clearly visible. When the fort was constructed canons turned inland on the Garifuna who fought for 200 years to protect their beloved island from the British. Let us hope that when our visitors go there, they keep looking out to sea and don’t turn their heads inland. For one glimpse of the coastal desert we are creating will horrify the environmentally conscious and enforce, justifiably, the impression that the island’s inhabitants are their own worst enemies.

Vonnie Roudette





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