CONSERVATION of natural wetlands is more than an ecological obligation and is now closely linked to agriculture and economic diversity, acting Conservator of Forests, Courtenay Park, said yesterday on the occasion of World Wetlands Day.
Park was speaking at a mini-expo at the Caroni Bird Sanctuary Visitors’ Centre, part of the local activities to observe World Wetlands Day, under this year’s theme, “Wetlands and Agriculture”.
With wetlands around the world under threat from pollution, encroachment by man and climate change, Park pleaded the case of local sites, among them the Nariva Swamp and the Caroni Swamp, the latter of which became a Ramsar protected site in 2005.
Park said the interaction between wetlands and peripheral agriculture, that is, cultivation in communities close to a wetland, cannot be underestimated.
These wetlands are, however, also influencing the wetlands’ ecologies and he called for management of this relationship locally.
Park drew reference to the early rice farming community near the Nariva Swamp area, where farming activities had once threatened the safety of the wetlands there.
In the North-Western tip of Trinidad, farmers who have been leased land in that area have successfully interacted with the wetlands there in the production of cucumbers, watermelon and sweet peppers, Park said.
The interaction goes further and deeper, however, with many communities that rely directly on the wetlands for sustainability.
“Many residents in communities in and around the swamp depend on the area’s natural resources for food, by way of cascadura fishing, and blue crab catches,” Park said.
“Such food items are invaluable to the local communities for both subsistence and commercial purposes.
“The greatest negative and agriculturally related impact to the Nariva Swamp has been the illegal squatting by large rice farmers who have used heavy machinery in their operations. Their activity was originally detected in the early 1980s, and by the mid 1990s major ecological changes were observed to have taken place. Other challenges include the use of illegal fish traps and poaching.”
“We should consider the utilisation of a systematic and semi-quantitative method of wetland evaluation in making decisions towards the classification of working wetlands for specified agricultural activities,” Park said.
“This approach, which should be underpinned by the concept of ‘sustainable management,’ is based on a form of multi-criteria analysis that integrates biophysical and socioeconomic aspects of wetland utilisation,” Park said.
Also speaking was Minister in the Ministry of the Environment, Ramona Ramdial, who called on citizens to continue to support the two-year moratorium on wildlife hunting, now in its fourth month.
“As of today, the two-year moratorium on hunting has been in effect for over just four months and I urge you to continue to report illegal hunting of wildlife animals by calling the number 800 HALT (4258) to protect our wildlife,” Ramdial said.
“We have received tremendous support from the public thus far and our Moratorium Enforcement Unit has been responding on daily basis. Our protected animals can finally multiply so that our young ones in the audience would be able to see them in the future,” she said.