Building Tobago post-covid19


Newsday interviews marine scientist Dr. Anjani Ganase, who weighs in on the outlook for Tobago in the face of climate change and covid19. He stresses the need to protecting the natural environment, reducing the carbon footprint, and learning how to deal with all climate change challenges.

Living with covid-19, what do you think is the main challenge for business in Tobago?

Businesses in Tobago will be hard pressed to recover financial losses in the short term, while trying to secure livelihoods in the long-term against future threats – not only diseases but also threats related to climate change. While Tobago is the beneficiary of an oil and gas economy, its other natural resource – rich biodiversity and island beauty – has driven a fairly passive tourism industry. Unfortunately, both industries are high-risk ventures as the world moves away from fossil fuels. Small islands are also at risk as they continue to be ravaged by extreme storm events, flooding and severe water shortages.

It’s time we started protecting our natural environment for our own benefit. If and when there are visitors again, they can enjoy with us.

It will be a tough grind for our leaders who would need to strategise how to get out of debt, while moving in a direction that would liberate us from the stronghold and damage of oil and gas. We also have to contend with staying relevant, as other island nations around the world are already shifting to the green or blue economy. [. . .]

What in your opinion, is the greatest opportunity for Tobagonians after May?

The greatest opportunity is here and now to reset and strategise Tobago’s economic future, as a paradise for its people who can grow and learn and create livelihoods from imagination and the natural resources. Let us aspire to a future that would no longer be halted by a single disaster event (hurricane or pandemic). As an island, we don’t have to be restricted to tourism in the traditional sense.

As a new starting point, what would you like to see happening in Tobago after May?

In the immediate short-term, Trinbagonians will need to support each other more than ever until the international markets become available again. After May, or once we are able to move around within our borders, we should encourage families to seek a domestic vacation in the sister island, as the affordable and safe option. Support the local farmers and restaurant owners. All the while, we should be considering how Tobago should rebrand itself, for this conversation needs to happen with the communities.

Long-term investments need to be made in the following sectors:

  1. Renewable energy at a small scale in the first instance to reduce the need for subsidised use of our gas; and allow us to sell our gas elsewhere for its true market value. Give tax breaks for renewables such as solar or wind power.
  2. Alternative economic ventures must be developed to buffer tourism. Look at sustainable aquaculture and establishing marine renewable technology. Learn from other islanders, such as the Polynesians, who mastered sustainable aquaculture for over a thousand years.
  3. Modernise tourism to select eco-friendly, educational and research ventures. To do this it is imperative we protect and manage our natural spaces (green and blue) as educational and research experiences need to occur in places that are ecologically untampered by humans. Training should occur in marine protected areas management and conservation but also for support staff for research activities – lab, technology, boating and diving.
  4. Develop a programme for education and ocean governance. In order to benefit from our marine environments, we need to encourage marine research, while putting in the policies for sustainable use.

What are some of the initiatives that you would expect to be started in Tobago?

Waste reduction, in regard to carbon emission and other waste, goes hand in hand with Tobago’s success. The priority would be to give stimulus packages to support green ventures in the private sector. Businesses – guest houses, hotels restaurants – will be encouraged to reduce their carbon emissions by either mapping an infrastructure that significantly reduces their carbon footprint; for example architecture that reduces the need for air conditioning and uses natural light; installation of small scale renewable energy sources such as solar panels, solar heaters and sky-lighting. Governments should support this by providing training in technical positions and subsidising cost for importation of parts or petitioning for local manufacturing. [. . .]

Industry: Shift away from monocultures that require large land spaces, and methods that devastate our biodiversity. Encourage small businesses and homeowners to grow using permaculture methods and maximise small spaces to grow an array of produce.

Education: Invest in studies in renewable energy, marine research and technology, digital technology.

Sport and entertainment: Invest in sports that allow immersive experiences with nature – mountain bike riding, sailing, surfing, free diving, even sky diving.

Environment: Management of protected areas and spatial planning of the land and ocean ecosystems for conservation, recreational use, research and areas for restoration.

Social support: Invest in health and wellness infrastructure – nature parks, retreats – not only for citizens but something that can be a draw for the international community

Describe your vision for a Tobago as a model society.

I hope Tobago would be the model for the rest of the Caribbean and small-island states around the world, to show that we can change to deal with climate challenges and we can change to a different economy where people’s well-being is paramount.

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