AS far as stewards of the environment are concerned, the community-based organisation Protectors of the Environment must surely top that list. The group has done its fair share to preserve and protect the environment.
In its 27-year existence, Protectors of the Environment has planted more than 50,000 trees along the hills of the Northern Range in Lopinot, St Michael, St Benedict and Caura.
And last Saturday, the organisation, along with five Prison Service Youth Clubs, added to that figure by planting an additional 700 trees in two and a half acres of land located at the 4 1/2 mile mark, Lopinot Road, Arouca, as part of its latest tree-planting exercise, “Plant a tree, save a forest”.
As a result of those efforts, in years to come future generations will be able to enjoy the beauty and shade provided by numerous mahogany, crapaud, balata, pink poui, bay leaf, locust, penny piece and primrose trees.
The purpose of the latest tree-planting exercise was to get the youths involved in helping to reforest the hills that were affected by the number of slash-and-burn practices and to raise national awareness of these issues, according to president of the Carapo Combine Prison Service Youth Club Christine Jawahir.
That may sound very familiar to people like Peter Barry Rampersad, who founded Protectors of the Environment with a very similar objective.
Back in 1987, a prolonged dry season resulted in numerous forest fires which threatened the entire northern range. At that time, unemployed youths from the Surrey community, whose families and livelihood depended on agricultural farming, would socialise with workers from the Forestry Division at the recreational grounds.
Whenever forest fires were sighted the Forestry Division was notified, but the young men from the community who were accustomed to the mountainous terrain would volunteer to assist in extinguishing the fires. They developed an alliance with the forestry division and, in time, Protectors of the Environment, led by Rampersad, was founded.
According to the organisation, its activities include volunteer work in the areas of fire suppression, fire-trace preparation, reforestation, watershed management and maintenance of rivers in the Lopinot and Caura Valleys, and its members also have an active share in coastal clean-ups.
For an organisation which started with only a group of young men, Protectors of the Environment has grown to include women and children, but its size is pretty modest—just 60 members—and yet the work it has accomplished is truly remarkable.
In 2004 alone, 30 members built 500 check dams in Lopinot. Check dams are a lattice of rocks constructed across gullies during the rainy season to trap silt and regulate the flow of rainwater into rivers.
In its history members of the group have spent more than 500,000 man-hours in fighting forest fires throughout Trinidad, particularly in the Northern Range. Sometimes these fires are fought alongside the Fire Service.
However, Protectors of the Environment has also fought numerous fires on its own.
For its tireless conservation efforts, the organisation has, over time, received many commendations and was awarded the Environmental Management Authority’s (EMA) Green Leaf Award on three occasions—in 2002, 2005 and 2007.
In 2002, Protectors of the Environment was also awarded the bpTT Spirit of the Community Award.
But the organisation, which operates out of Surrey Village, Arouca, faces several challenges—watershed degradation being of chief concern, particularly in the Lopinot Valley.
Water quality and quantity, erosion, siltation, flooding and damage to crops, property and infrastructure are some of the major issues residents are encountering, the group told the Express.
In 1998, Protectors of the Environment
implemented the Guadeloupe Water Catchment Project in the Lopinot Valley, in collaboration with the Forestry Division. The Guadeloupe reservoir is the local water catchment area in the Lopinot Valley and was dammed to supply water to the residents of the village.
The Guadeloupe water catchment is an important lifeline for Surrey, as it is the only source of potable water to be used by residents, businesses and farmers; but now it appears to be under severe threat by deforestation, fires and other unsustainable practices.
The Express understands there are now more frequent disruptions in the water supply due to siltation and rocks, and debris clogging up the reservoir. In addition, the expansion of the community is increasing the demand for a potable water supply. Protectors of the Environment warns a similar situation could occur in the Diego Martin valley if preventative action is not taken. “If we don’t protect our environment now, we will suffer later on,” stressed Rampersad.
Like most community-based organisation and NGOs, one of the biggest challenges is a lack of funds for Protectors of the Environment to undertake its community work and environmental projects. However, it continues to collaborate with organisations such as the Prison Service Youth Clubs to get youths and the public involved in raising awareness on the importance of protecting and preserving the environment.