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Ready for change student interns research climate at Wildfowl Trust

Published: 
Sunday, August 24, 2014
Tamara Goberdhan, Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust senior education officer, shares climate change and public health data with the three Arthur Ashe Institute interns.

Global warming, sea level rise, changes in our wet and dry seasons, more extreme weather—all these are cited as evidence or likely results of climate change. But what does climate change mean for us here in Trinidad? And how can this affect our health? In Trinidad, many have noticed that both the timing and intensity of our seasons are changing. The hot, dry season becomes especially scorching; the wet season may start later, and be very intensive—though not as wet as in years gone by. 

This year, three student interns from secondary schools in Trinidad are researching climate change and public health at the Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust, as part of a programme run by The Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, which provides a summer course for students from the Institute’s Health Science Academy. Students are conducting research projects in collaboration with non-governmental and community organisations. The Trinidad students were selected on the basis of academics, they have a 75 per cent overall average, and a 75 per cent average in health-related topics. 

The Arthur Ashe project in collaboration with the University of the West Indies, Faculty of Science and Technology, St Augustine, builds upon an earlier Fulbright fellowship. This year’s project is being spearheaded by Marilyn Fraser-White (MD). Fraser-White is the deputy director of the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health based in Brooklyn, New York; she is a Fulbright research specialist. 

Effects in Trinidad 
“The students started their projects in July to early August, and it has been very intensive,” said a representative of the Trust to the Sunday Guardian last Wednesday. She said that as our climate changes, the generation currently in secondary schools will start to see the effects—including increased threats to public health. “For instance, when weather patterns change, and it starts to get more hot, or wet, or dry, the insects react to this. And the insects, in turn, can affect public health. So in a very wet season, you may see a proliferation of mosquitoes—with consequent increased risks of illnesses like dengue and the chikungunya virus infection.

“Now, fish (and other creatures) eat and control the insects. But if the climatic conditions change and remain very different from what the fish are accustomed to, then you may have a continued increase in insects, an imbalance in the wildlife populations, and higher risk of diseases spread by insects.” Another example the Trust gave is when especially dry seasons combine with high winds to blow a lot of dust in the air. This can directly affect health of our lungs, said the Trust—and place stress on health systems. 

Focus on youth learning 
The Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust has been involved in climate change issues since 1989. The Trust has already completed three climate change projects funded by the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany; and it has done a project called Biodiversity and Human Linkages to Climate Change, funded through the Small Grants/ GEF/UNDP. Both projects targeted primary and secondary school students in T&T. “We are now serving as a community host for the Arthur Ashe Institute for three student interns from San Fernando Central Secondary School, St Joseph’s Convent, San Fernando and Naparima Girls School for their Climate Change and Public Health Research Project,” said a release from the Trust.

A Trust representative said of this programme: “Our programme, above all, is about educating young people about what climate change is. It’s about explaining to them how it will affect them. We are faced with the difficulties of extremes—too dry, or too wet. This programme is about getting young people involved, and developing key understandings in them.”

More INFO
The Pointe-a Pierre Wildfowl Trust is an independent, not-for- profit, environmental, non-government, volunteer organisation, encompassing two lakes and 30 hectares of land within a major petrochemical and oil refining complex—Petrotrin. The Trust, a wetland habitat, is a peaceful haven where members and visitors may relax, enjoy bird-watching, photography and interpretative trails. For reservations and information: Call 658-4200, ext 2512. Web site: www.papwildfowltrust.org  Visiting hours: Mon-Fri: 9 am-5 pm. Sat and Sun: 10 am–5 pm