What impact have you had on your clients and the tourism sector?
Our clients are primarily the volunteers who come out to our project, but also include scholars who take part in our scholarship programme, which has been running for five years and has benefited over 100 scholars to date. The scholars learn about their surrounding environment and gain valuable skills which they can take back into the economy. Ana Loureiro was a scholar in Tobago and her opinion of her CCC experience was this: “What I’d been dreaming about doing ever since I first heard of Coral Cay had come true, I had taken part in a survey, I had contributed to protecting the corals, and I had done something really worthwhile towards our planet.” Other comments include that from Imran Khan, another Tobago scholar, “My stay here was unbelievably wonderful…I’ll be back!” Through our work in the TCEMP, we have given these scholars diving, science and key management skills.
The TCEMP, along with CCC, is at the forefront of the eco-tourism sector. During the five years the project has been running, hundreds of volunteers have passed through the project, gaining key scientific and teamwork skills along the way. This is what volunteer Afsaneh Malakouti had to say: “I feel so lucky to have been given this [opportunity] to come out and be a volunteer for CCC. It is a truly memorable and enjoyable experience that I will never forget.” CCC has enabled hundreds of volunteers to gain experience of diving and scientific fieldwork, inspiring some to go on to careers in marine conservation, such as Ife Smenkh-Ka-Ra, who you can read about here: http://www.coralcay.org/content/view/900/286/
CCC is addressing the problem of lack of education and awareness in the local community by constantly expanding our Speyside Scholarship programmes and including the provision of education in all its ventures. Children from all schools on Tobago are exposed to marine education through field activities and visits, and six tour guides and 18 students have had their knowledge of the biodiversity of the area expanded since the scholarship programme was set up. CCC also educates locals about ways they can enhance the area’s sustainability, and inform them about how and why CCC is working here. To this end, CCC is always invited by the local government/community to work in a region, so we make sure they are informed about our activities and are happy with our progress.
CCC also trains previously inexperienced people to dive and record scientific data ourselves, thus increasing the human resources we have at our disposal.
The main issues which threaten the success of our innovation includes mainly a lack of funding, particularly if the global economic climate is affected by a recession and volunteers feel less able to pay for our expeditions, and extreme environmental factors
The issues of habitat degradation and pollution are being addressed by involving local communities and businesses in the area, and we expect to see a reduction in the occurrence of these. The series of small, well-managed no-take zones which would be instated would promote the recovery of some marine species, such as grouper, and develop a sustainable fishing industry in the Speyside area. This would then lead to increased income from dive and snorkel-related tourism.
The main results of addressing lack of education in the local community are expected to be an increased awareness of the problems faced by the reef and surrounding environment, and increased action taken on behalf of the environment. This could be in the form of more locals applying for and taking up our scholarship scheme, or more schoolchildren, who are specifically targeted in our campaign, becoming interested in marine conservation.
We have already been able to bring these two strands of our campaign together, with many former scholars pursuing degrees and careers in environmental science and fisheries, and intend to continue this throughout the coming years.
What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.
Throughout 2011, we aim to increase local capacity through our primary school education programmes, open days, scholarship programmes and community events. Using these opportunities and activities to help the local communities of Tobago learn about the coral reef ecosystem and how to protect it, we will be able to ameliorate the facility of the community to understand and promote plans for a marine park that would not only be beneficial but necessary for the economic situation of the community and also the biodiversity of their marine ecosystems.
Additionally, for the project to be successful on a purely scientific scale, by the end off 2011 we will have a complete baseline survey inventory of the current status of the area around Tobago’s coasts, focusing on:
- Fish biomass/diversity
- Coral health
- Protecting key biodiversity sites
This would only be truly successful with the full support of the Tobago House of Assembly.
This is the year that establishing a Marine Protected Area (MPA) is vital to the success of the organisation, to fish stocks around Tobago and hence to the Tobagonian fishing industry. The management of the MPA would be handed over to trained members of the community, including the surveying upkeep and monitoring of nautical traffic within the area.
For this to continue steadily and successfully, revenue must commence through tourism. Using the support of the tourism sector for this designation, this would be obtained by an increased awareness amongst the tourism sector, which CCC intends to promote.
By the end of the third year, for our project to be successful there will be complete community control of the MPA, survey sites and all managed environmental areas, as well as substantial financial gain for the community. A system whereby tourists pay to visit and dive in the area of Speyside – with the fee going towards the maintenance of the MPA, and the tourists’ local expenditure going straight into the community – will be the main goal of the TCEMP fulfilled. The economic improvement of the Speyside and surrounding areas (due to the designation of the MPA) will improve their quality of life, and additionally the MPA will become a successful case study or model for effective marine conservation in the Caribbean Sea.
What would prevent your project from being a success?
The most problematic prevention would be a lack of volunteers, who are the predominant source of funding for all CCC projects. This problem would arise in circumstances that include insufficient marketing due to a lack of funds, or a difficult global economic situation. A general lack of funding (most likely due to a rise in competition in the NGO/ecotourism sector) would be a primary prevention of the success of this project; furthermore, a lack of resources would have a similar outcome.
A secondary prevention to the success of our scholarship programme would be a fluctuation in community support and participation. Apathy or a lack of understanding of the main goals of CCC could lead to the disinterest of the local community, however, CCC endeavours to include the community at every point.
Infrastructure problems such as transport and travel difficulties would prevent not only the intake of volunteers, but also the ability for CCC staff to travel to different communities across the island. On a similar level, administrative difficulties such as issues distributing funds across CCC counterparts, problems that arise during legal processes and policy-making, and a lack of support from community and local government bodies would create a hindrance to the growth of the project. Luckily, these processes have run relatively smoothly so far.
Finally, external or environmental factors such as extreme weather conditions or phenomena, political disruptions and even climate change would impeach the expansion of our initiative on both the community and scientific levels. Naturally, these are unpreventable situations, however the success of our project is reliant on their essential stability.