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Ecologist warns of economic losses from marine neglect
Reef ecologist at the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) Jahson Alemu says neglect of the country’s marine ecosystem will lead to a serious loss of economic opportunity for T&T. Alemu’s remarks came as he responded to the country’s 26th place ranking in the first-ever Ocean Health Index (OHI), conducted by a team of international researchers.
He suggested that attaching economic values to ecosystem statistics cited by the OHI would be useful but added there has been a tendency to “seriously undervalue” the worth of the country’s marine ecosystem services. This, he argued, has resulted in “under-investment in conservation and lost opportunities for economic growth and poverty reduction.”
He said: “Fortunately, economic valuation provides a powerful tool for sustainable development by showing how dependent the economy is on an ecosystem and what would be lost if the ecosystem is not protected.” The OHI indicates negative trends in the islands’ “carbon storage,” coastal livelihoods and economies, clean waters and biodiversity.
For “carbon storage,” which refers to the retention of carbon dioxide in the ocean, the study cites the negative impacts of chemical and nutrient pollution, habitat destruction, social pressure, the presence of alien species, sea surface temperature and ocean acidification. Similar threats are cited in the cases of the other goals for which negative trends were observed.
Environmental activist Kyle De Lima wondered why the declining availability of “natural products” from the sea was not also reflected in such a manner in the OHI study. “There are few things that Trinidad and Tobago derives from the ocean in a sustainable fashion, certainly not to warrant a score of 96,” the Trini Eco-Warriors co-founder said. “Sadly, far too often, people here cause more harm than good when exploiting resources from the ocean.”
Alemu, meanwhile, cited a 2006/2007 valuation study conducted in Tobago by the World Resources Institute (WRI), in collaboration with the IMA which concluded that the island’s coral reef ecosystem services, including fisheries, tourism, tourism associated activities and recreation and shoreline protection, contributed between US$120 million and US$170 million annually to its Gross Domestic Product.
This, Alemu said, was “significant” since the island’s GDP in 2006 stood at US$286 million. “These economic benefits will continue to be provided so long as the integrity of these ecosystems is maintained,” he said. “Relative to our size, our EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) offers great artisanal fishing potential, which in turn contributes to food production and human well-being. “Other supporting economic services contributions include beach nourishment, nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration and storage.”
But De Lima said there were several obvious threats which needed to be addressed. On the question of “clean water,” for example, the score of 71 cited in the OHI “doesn’t look so any more.” “I can confidently say that I am not comfortable with this figure of 71 being ascribed to our nation as I feel the reality would be too low to be displayed without it leading to serious questions being raised at the highest levels,” he said.
“But they would only be asked due to… increased public pressure, I think.” The OHI has received mixed but generally favourable reviews from experts internationally. Trinidad and Tobago tied with Oman, United Arab Emirates, Malta, Israel, the British Caribbean territories, St Kitts and Nevis, the British Pacific territories and the USA in 26th place. The leading Caribbean country was Antigua and Barbuda in 8th place. Jarvis Island, an uninhabited 4.5 square kilometre in the South Pacific, topped the table while the West African state of Sierra Leone was in last place.
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