At a formal ceremony held last week at the St Augustine campus, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the University of the West Indies and the Buccoo Reef Trust. In an address by one of the directors of the Trust, Lawrence Duprey said “by signing this document we are laying the groundwork for a long and mutually beneficial professional relationship. A relationship that, we believe, is in the best interest of Trinidad and Tobago as well as the entire southern Caribbean. ”
The MOU provides a formal basis for collaboration between the two organisations, which will ensure that resources are shared towards common objectives relating to education, conservation and research. The MOU specifically embraces activities that include developing formal courses in marine sciences and relevant research projects. It will also seek to promote scholarship programmes for national and international students.
In his address, Duprey emphasized that “education is key to the empowerment of our society, and, as we progress into this new century, education will play an increasingly important role in our ability to thrive and prosper as a nation. We are continually making choices and decisions and these cannot be made in ignorance. It is therefore imperative that we all join forces to give our people the capacity to make informed decisions on how we utilize our aquatic resources so that they are not overexploited but used in a wise and sustainable manner that will preserve them for generations to come.”
According to director Gerry MacFarlane, this MOU is part of an on-going effort by the Trust to establish greater links between Tobago and the regional and international scientific community. The Buccoo Reef Trust is a Non-Profit organization intent on establishing an international centre of education and research in the marine sciences in Tobago (www.buccooreef.org) . Together with the University of the West Indies, these two organizations hope to develop a strong marine science capability that will reach out to students locally, regionally and internationally.”
Last year the Buccoo Reef Trust, in collaboration with the Department of Marine Resources and Fisheries of the THA, undertook a study of the water quality around Tobago. This study revealed that nutrients from the land were accumulating in coastal waters at levels that now threaten the survival of the island’s coral reefs. The Buccoo Reef Marine Park in particular, one of our nations natural treasures, will undoubtedly be lost if remedial actions are not taken. It is vital that such research is not only supported but also heeded by policy makers and government officials. This MOU will not only strengthen the case for marine conservation but also ensure that our capacity for environmental management, research and education are enhanced.
It is significant that the signing of this agreement is taking place at the conclusion of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. Amongst the commitments made at this historic summit were:
- a commitment to establish a network of marine protected areas by 2012
- a commitment to implement a global programme of action for the protection of the marine environment from land-based sources of pollution by 2004
- a commitment to restore fisheries to their maximum sustainable yields by 2015.
These ambitious commitments, which coincide with the long-term aims of the Buccoo Reef Trust, will only be realised if the government, academia, civil society and the private sector rally together and commit the necessary resources.
The Buccoo Reef Trust has been actively seeking private sector support with the understanding that government efforts alone will not be sufficient to protect Tobago’s priceless marine resources. According to MacFarlane, “even more important than corporate support, the conservation movement needs proactive community participation. Without the involvement and commitment of the stakeholders, the management of our marine environment becomes more challenging.”