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Environment Tobago Newsletter

  1. 1. Environment TO BAGO new slett er E Volume 4 Issue 4 December 2009 n vi r on m e n t TO- BAGO (ET) is a non- government, non-profit, vol- unteer organisation , not ET & BPTT Launch Book and Art Competition subsidized by any one group, corporation or government Environment TOBAGO body. Founded in 1995, ET is a proactive, advocacy group Environment Tobago (ET) along with its sole sponsor, BP Trinidad and Tobago that campaigns against nega- LLC hosted the launch of the book: The Tropical Rainforest of Tobago: The Main Ridge and tive environmental activities throughout Tobago. We the My Heritage; My Future Art Competition on Friday achieve this through a variety October 2nd at the Mt. Irvine Bay Hotel & Golf of community an environ- Club. The book which was produced by Environ- mental outreach programmes. ment Tobago and fully endorsed by the Division of Environment TOBAGO is Education, Youth Affairs & Sport, forms part of the funded mainly through grants and membership fees. These Rainforest Education and Awareness Project. funds go back into implement- The book includes the history of Tobago’s ing our projects. We are Main Ridge Forest Reserve and details in its eleven grateful to all our sponsors over the years and thank Chapters information on rainforests, functions and them for their continued services, the various relationships between the flora support and fauna found in this ecosystem and the many threats, including deforestation and climate change. The entire project outlines an education and awareness campaign using the book, an Art W hat’s inside Competition and the production of Reusable bags. The project combines ET & BPTT Launch 1 two fundamental con- Book and Art Competi- cepts of environmental Our new book management and sustain- tion Environment Tobago ability: Natural Resource Conservation and Waste Re- 2 And Wetland Eduction duction. in Tobago The project is initially targeted to youths within To- bago. Two copies of the book will be distributed to all the Pri- Profiling Membership 5 mary and Secondary schools and libraries throughout Tobago What is Ecological 7 and will be used to educate and raise awareness. The Art Release? Competition, which was simultaneously launched, will ensure more active participation, aid learning and use of the booklet The Ghosts of Land Use 7 as a resource. The use of the winning entries will be placed on Past reusable shopping bags and its purpose is two-pronged: the An Active Volcano and 9 Spiders reduction of the use of plastic bags on the islands contributing Mrs. Patricia Turpin, Presi- to less plastic waste in our environment and also to motivate dent of Environment Book Review 10 the youths and instill pride. The reusable bags will be sold at TOBAGO, What’s Happening @ 12 some major supermarkets and shops in Tobago. Notes to Mrs. Patricia Turpin, ET’s President, in her address, spoke of the need for such a 14 contributors project in Tobago and for education on rainforests worldwide. She outlined some of the
  2. 2. Page 2 Environment TOBAGO newsletter December 2009 Editor: Jo-Anne Nina Sewlal Assistant Editor: Christopher K. Starr Design & Layout: Jo-Anne Nina Sewlal Technical Support: Nolan Craigwell, Jerome Ramsoondar Nigel Austin Enid Nobbee On the left, a student with Mr. Tyrone Kalpee (HSSE Director, BPTT) and Ms. Hema Singh (ET’s Contributors: Education/Project Officer), on the right Mrs. Claudia Groom-Duke (Secretary of Education, Youth Jo-Anne Nina Sewlal Affairs & Sport) Christopher K. Starr Bertrand Bhikkary Environment important and life-sustaining functions and services which rainforests provide some of TOBAGO which include; its role in providing clean water, preventing soil erosion, sequestrating Photographs: carbon dioxide and providing a habitat for wildlife. Environment Mrs. Claudia Groom-Duke, Secretary of Education, Youth Affairs & Sport deliv- TOBAGO ered the feature address. She reiterated the Division’s full support of this project and commended both Environment Tobago and the sponsor, BPTT for their support in Board of Directors such a worthy initiative. 2008-2009 Mr. Tyrone Kalpee, BPTT’s Health, Safety, Security and Environment Director brought greetings on behalf of his company. Mr. Kalpee remarked that BPTT is very President:: Patricia Turpin proud to be associated with this project. Vice-President: The book costs TT$120. and is currently available at the ET office and in 2010 Kamau Akili will be available at The Hotel Association and some choice hotels. More locations will Secretary: hopefully follow. Kay Seetal Treasurer: Shirley Mc Kenna Committee members: Wendy Austin ET’s Annual Wetlands Poster and Art Competition William Trim Fitzherbert Phillips Environment TOBAGO Geoffrey Lewis Bertrand Bhikkary The Renmar’s Restaurant at the Pigeon Point Heritage Park was transformed Heather Pepe into a temporary art gallery as students, teachers, sponsors, members of the board of Ryan Allard Directors of Environment Tobago and specially invited guests gathered to celebrate David Antoine Andy Roberts the young artists who participated in Environment Tobago’s Annual Wetlands Poster Darren Henry and Art Competition. Also present was the Honourable Secretary of Tourism and Transportation, Mr. Oswald Williams. Mr. Williams acknowledged the critical role of wetlands and its contribution to a healthy environment; the same environment on which tourism de- pends. Mr. Sheldon Narine of the Community Relations, Corporate and Communica- tions and Community Affairs, BHP Billiton, the largest sponsor this year, commented
  3. 3. Volume 4 Issue 4 Page 3 the importance of art as a tool for learning and commended Environment Tobago and all the participants and teachers for their involvement in this project. The winners are: Primary School Category Place Name School Prize Speyside Anglican Primary 1st Prize Ajani Denoon $1,000. School 2nd Prize Rheanne Daniel Pentecostal Light & Life $800. 3rd Prize Everlun Ram- Pentecostal Light & Life $500. 4th Prize Danyahow Emo- Pentecostal Light & Life $300. MISSION STATEMENT School Prize Montgomery Government Primary School Secondary School Category $500. E nvironment TOBAGO conserves Tobago’s natural and living resources and advances Place Name School Prize the knowledge and understanding of such 1st Prize Lehron Brooks Goodwood High School $1,000. resources, their wise 2nd Prize Afisha Trotman Goodwood High School $800. and sustainable use and their essential 3rd Prize Lehron Brooks Goodwood High School $500. relationship to human 4th Prize Nikese Gardener Goodwood High School $300. health and the quality of Roxborough Secondary life Special Prize Shakir Daniel $500. School Roxborough Secondary Special Prize Kadisha Brasnell $500. School Roxborough Secondary Special Prize Kedon Thompson $500. School Special Prize Benjamin George Goodwood High School $1,000. Congratulations to all entrants, winners, teachers and schools for exceptional work done. Special thanks to all our sponsors: BHP Billiton, The Division of Tourism and Transportation, Water & Sewerage Authority, Management and Staff of Pigeon Point Heritage Park, National Lotteries Control Board, Trinidad Cement Limited, Na- tional Gas Company, Mr. James Morris, Management & Staff of Kariwak Village. Special thanks to all our competition judges: Mr. Giancarlo Lalsingh, Save Our Seaturtles, Jiselle Webster, WASA, Mrs. Desiree Hackette-Murray, The Unit Trust Corporation, Mr. David Antoine, a member of Environment Tobago’s Board of Directors, Todd De- noon, Buccoo Reef Trust, and Mrs. Patricia Turpin, President of Environment Tobago. Special thanks also to the Pentecostal Light & Life Primary School and the Montgomery Government Primary School, Mr. Rennie Anthony of Renmar’s Restaurant. Tobago has only about 105 hectares of wetlands (1.05km2), or 0.33% of the total land area left. Certainly Tobago was blessed with much more extensive wetlands three hundred and fifty years ago. This was before widespread conversions for agri- culture, that took place during the colonial era and the more recent conversions for
  4. 4. Page 4 Environment TOBAGO newsletter residential, industrial and commercial development. The root causes of the continued loss and degradation of wetlands have been found to be one of three reasons: • Lack of knowledge about what exactly are wetlands • Lack of knowledge about wetland functions and services • Lack of knowledge of the link between healthy wetlands and healthy people/ communities. Environment Tobago’s Wetlands Education and Awareness Project, a segment of which is the Poster and Art Competition, aims to raise awareness and improve understanding about Tobago’s wetlands, its roles and functions and its contribution to healthy com- munities and sustainable livelihoods. In February of this year Environment Tobago hosted a Wetland Festival- three days of activities in the Belle Garden Village which involved wetland education and awareness through a wetland clean up, an exhibition, a reforestation exercise and free tours of the Belle Garden Wetland for community members. The Annual Wetlands Poster & Art Competition was also launched during the festival on February 2nd, World Wetlands Day 2009 with the theme for this year Upstream, Downstream: Wetlands Connect Us All. As part of our ongoing education programme on wetlands, ET has partnered with the Division of Education, Youth Affairs and Sport, the Belle Garden Wetland As- sociation and the Division of Health and Social Services, to have 12 students in each of the 50 schools in Tobago get a guided tour of the Belle Garden Wetland. The tours which began in October 2009 will continue until April 2010 to ensure that all schools get this opportunity. “ To many people t hes e t all pe aks mak e for a challe ngi ng but sce nic hike. B ut t hey are not j ust anot her t all mount ai n to clim b. ” Ms. Jiselle Webster of WASA's Corporate Mrs. Desiree Hackette-Murray of the Unit Trust Communications Office in Tobago assists with Corporation, Tobago Office, assist with the the presentation of Certificates presentation of the Special Prizes The Honourable Secretary of Tourism and Mr. Sheldon Narine, of BHP Billiton, presents the Transportation, THA, presents the 1st Place 1st Place trophy to Lehron Brooks, of the Good- winner of the Primary School Category, Ajani wood High School Denoon, of Speyside AC School with his trophy .
  5. 5. Volume 4 Issue 4 Page 5 Profiling Membership Environment Tobago “Environment Tobago conserves Tobago’s natural and living resources and advances the knowledge and understanding of such resources, their wise and sustainable use, and their essential relationship to human health & quality of life.” Who would have guessed that with initially only 43 official members Environ- ment Tobago would be soon approaching its 15th Anniversary? The contributions and loyalty of our members plays an indisputable role in the organization’s success. Since its inception in 1995 Environment TOBAGO has been able to gain the official support of over 418 members who attest to their support of ET’s above- mentioned mission through monetary, technical, intellectual or even administrative contributions. Envi- ronment TOBAGO has also ventured into the cyberworld and membership in our Facebook group has reached 605 members and our Twitter site has 264 followers. Our membership database reveals that 265 of our members are still based locally: 200 Tobagonian and 65 Trinidadian. Word of our small but thriving Environ- mentally-based, Non Governmental Organization (E-NGO) has crossed international borders, as new members proudly display their ET souvenirs upon return from our coveted holiday destination. A direct consequence of this is epitomised in our 153 international members, some of whom took great lengths to join via mail, friends or upon their first visit to our island. Of this figure 38.6% derive from the United King- dom and 37.3% are citizens of the United States of America. The remainder comprise of Canadian, French, German, Swiss, Dutch and Austrian nationals. We even have a Puerto Rican and a Norwegian on board Though it can be generalized that members have educational aspirations, a “ the prese nce of FP m ay be an indic ation, an "e arly war ni ng syst em", t hat our s eas ar e pollut ed and that e nvironme nt al c hanges are affecti ng t he ability of wild animals to res ist i nfectious dis eas es” considerable amount of them are directly involved in tourism and travel arena, which have suffered immensely because of the scourge of wanton environmental degrada- tion which is now on panoramic scale. Statistics reveal that 81 and 29 are students and educators respectively. Individuals in the tourism arena give their support as a considerable percentage of persons occupy professions ranging from hoteliers, restau- rateurs, travel agents or consultants to tour guides. Some of our founders provided key roles in the early years as Attorneys-at- Law, bankers, an ornithologist or bird specialist, tour guides, travel consultants and certified surveyor, just to mention a few. In essence, members stem from a wide spectrum of professions .What appeals to me is that there is no discrimination based on social status. One of our founders was even a seamstress! Though several members have been professionally trained in cer- tain key areas such as Environmental Management, Environmental Law and Environ- mental Consultation, the sad reality is that such intellectual capacity rest predomi- nantly in our international members. However, voluntary contributions of such “green-freaks” have heightened our intellectual proficiency through their involvement in major projects completed by our organization. We have established a volunteer programme since 1998 which monitors the symbiotic relationship between our or- ganization and universities in which they benefit, as they prepare the final thesis based on data collected during the course of our projects, ET on the other hand gains through their careful scientific research, analysis and documentation. In fact, the con- tributions of such volunteers/ members have received such appraisal from our institu- tion that entire projects have derived from ideas of such individuals. Though their as- sistance is at times quite intermittent, their contributions are never forgotten. Of note is the birth and execution of our Rainforest Booklet project. The original book-
  6. 6. Page 6 Environment TOBAGO newsletter let was a manuscript penned by a former volunteer named Graham Welfare in 2002. The research he did on Tobago’s Main Ridge was nearly lost in our archives, until it was rediscovered by our present Project/ Education Coordinator who refined the ma- terial. Our largest project of 2009, our Rainforest, Education & Awareness Programme was initiated with the release of the booklet, “The Tropical Rainforest of Tobago: The Main Ridge,” in October. And last but by no means least much commendation is to be given to one our most dedicated and loyal members, Ms. Jo-Anne Nina Sewlal who has painstakingly and virtually single-handedly compiled our newsletter pro bono for sev- eral years. This and her unselfish contributions to our weekly column in the Tobago News newspapers can never be remunerated. On behalf of all members of Environ- ment Tobago we would like to take this occasion to thank you immensely. (Don’t blush, you deserve it!) To conclude, some may say that ET made members, but in fact I would say that our members made ET. Administrative/ 160 Financial 140 Science 120 100 Tourism 80 Environmental 60 40 Educational 20 Other “ To many people t hes e t all pe aks mak e for a challe ngi ng but sce nic hike. B ut t hey are not j ust anot her t all mount ai n to clim b. ” 0 Professionals Number Unknown Diagram Showing Profession Background of Members ORIGIN Admin./ Science Tour- Environ- Educa- Other Un- Finan- ism mental tional known cial Foreign 5 9 4 6 24 18 87 Local 51 24 26 3 40 53 68 Table Showing Professional capacity vs. Origin of ET Members
  7. 7. Volume 4 Issue 4 Page 7 ECOLOGY NOTES What is Ecological Release? Jo-Anne Nina Sewlal Dept of Life Sciences, University of the West Indies In this section I like to highlight some environmental terms you would not hear in everyday conversation but are used to describe phenomenon that affect our environment and lives. This quarter I would like to briefly explain the term “ecological release”. This term can be defined as the expansion of habitat and re- sources into areas where there is a lower level of species diversity. This phenome- non occurs when there are low levels of interspecific competition in an area. Take this example of birds which are known predators of butterflies particu- larly in their caterpillar life stage. If these birds are removed either by excessive trap- ping for pets or by disease, than a top predator of these caterpillars is removed and the caterpillars is “released” from the factor limiting is population size. Therefore, more individuals will survive to maturity and to reproduce so that the population will continue to increase. However, this large population of caterpillars will need more food and a lar- ger habitat. This may mean that this expanded population can enter unwanted areas like nearby farms or gardens, causing much destruction to crops and ornamental plants and of course a loss of money. ARTICLES “ the prese nce of FP m ay be an indic ation, an "e arly war ni ng syst em", t hat our s eas ar e pollut ed and that e nvironme nt al c hanges are affecti ng t he ability of wild animals to res ist i nfectious dis eas es” The ghosts of land use past Bertrand Bhikarry Environment TOBAGO Director Lately we've been hearing a lot of talk about taking Tobago forward. We see tan- gible evidence of this movement when we pass through the villages on the tasks and pleasures island life here affords. One indica- tor that 'progress' is the order of the day are the large number of cleared plots, plots un- der construction, and plots under re- construction. Re-construction? That there are civil works on in Tobago pres- ently which need extensive re-engineering is not hidden knowledge. That the construction industry itself harbors practitioners without adequate qualification or experience is a fact Villa construction in L'AnseFourmi. Another exam- of life. It presents yet another hurdle in a se- ple of a typical small project with negative implica- ries of little understood steps for land devel- tions for the future of all the lands further down- opers. hill. Indeed in the near future the village itself may The lack of all relevant information at come under threat of landslide due to the aggres- the local level for decision making is a huge sive nature of the incursion.
  8. 8. Page 8 Environment TOBAGO newsletter omission in the toolkit to tackle improper land use and project preparation. Not all developments are big ones. The fact is more land is put under the blade for the 'small man' in total, as opposed to the bigger schemes. That the cumulative effect of the former groups activities goes unchecked, unmitigated is at the root of the land use problem. Examples abound. In the Orange Hill area all the lands formerly known as the Patience Estate are being sold as small plots to itinerant developers. This area is being chopped into 'house spots' in spite of potential drainage problems impacting on land users further downhill. It goes on daily without visible supervision of any regulatory body. The sting is in the tail. The initial foray for a development project into the area, by a cooperative called HILOC, failed to obtain planning permission due to its small plot size and un- Sluice at Gibson’s Bay suitability for the community. That the area has casually been converted to a differ- Jetty cleared of vegeta- ent type of use by virtue of unplanned small developers goes unnoticed. It now tion, back in 2001. Now it is currently makes any renewed thrust by HILOC clones a viable business concept. Orange Hill overgrown is one example of an entire chain of events now occurring. Events which accrues innumerable trouble to those who would inherit Tobago. Private enterprise is not the only sector which does damage to our natural environment. The State agents are very much in the picture. In the Orange Hill area, to keep our examples tight, the work crews have been busy as proverbial bees - with chainsaws. They have been clear cutting the verges for the full width of the road reserve with little thought for land stability or aesthetics. Again at the local level more damage is being done, with little provision for change, mitigation, or cost effectiveness. If no where else it is from simple everyday practice like theirs that the ghosts of land use past will haunt us. Although it may seem otherwise, land use in our island has never been a key factor in the development process. To be sure its mentioned in the Town and Country Planning Act, there are the Zones, there are high level regulatory bodies like the “ To many people t hes e t all pe aks mak e for a challe ngi ng but sce nic hike. B ut t hey are not j ust anot her t all mount ai n to clim b. ” Environmental Management Agency. However it is all just lip service when results are analyzed. The early signs of improper land use are evident in Tobago - Look at the large sums allocated for shoring works in the north of Tobago, at the polluted bays and wetlands. It's enough to make the most optimistic tree hugger cry. There may be hope. If regulation is failing, volunteerism or citizen participa- tion may become the key factor in saving Tobago. They would need a focal point though. In the course of pursuing its mission to educate the public, the NGO Envi- ronment Tobago concentrated on 'sustainable development practice', and brought in many tools to deliver enlightenment on a topic which has never really been solved fully anywhere in the world. But why seek sustainable development? Why govern development at all? Why bother with what constitutes proper and improper use of land, river or sea? Maybe the most elusive query of all is why would the Tobago resident buy into a better land use concept. The short answer is for conservation of natural resources so biodiversity or life as we know it can be preserved. If our children are to be spared (the ghosts of land use past) maybe what is needed at this time - before grand solutions and silver bullets, is to ensure land plan- ners reach an understanding that humans are at the top of the food chain, therefore at most risk. They could then subscribe to a higher motive - that of self preservation, for taking care of the land, rivers and seas.
  9. 9. Volume 4 Issue 4 Page 9 An Active Volcano and Spiders Jo-Anne Nina Sewlal Dept of Life Sciences, University of the West Indies Before 1995, Montserrat may not have been in the forefront of our minds. How- ever, with the constant eruptions of the Mt. Soufriere volcano one might think that the is- land is quite devoid of biodiversity since two-thirds of the island have already declared unsafe for entry and set as an exclusion zone. You might also think that it has lost its right to the nickname, “The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean”. However, it has a range of habitats including rainforest, dry woodland, wetland and grassland, as the magma did not cover the entire area in the exclusion zone, but the area is deemed unsafe to live because of the sulphuric fumes given off by the volcano. The island of Montserrat is one of the islands located in the northern Leeward Is- lands in the Eastern Caribbean (16o45’N 62o12’W). It is located approximately 480 km east- southeast of Puerto Rico and 48 km southwest of Antigua. It has an area of 102 km2 and 16 Remnants of house at Bel- km long and its widest part is 11 km across. It is volcanic in origin with a central point and ham Valley the highest elevation on the island of approximately over 930 m. First of all I found out that this nickname was not only due to the lush green hills which are still present on the island but because of the island’s strong Irish heritage. As the island was a refuge for English and Irish Catholics who were brought over from St. Kitts in 1632 because due to their religion they were not welcome in other British colonies. It is also the only country in the world outside of Ireland where St. Patrick’s Day is a public holiday. Of course a must on my list of places to visit was the Montserrat Volcano Observa- tory (MVO) and learn more about Mt Soufriere after all I was on an island with an active volcano. A couple of years ago one was able to visit the laboratories to see the various in- struments in action and talk with the scientists. However, it started to interfere with their research especially during periods of activity where the volcano needed to be constantly monitored. So visitors are now welcome to watch a documentary on the volcano. There is “ the prese nce of FP m ay be an indic ation, an "e arly war ni ng syst em", t hat our s eas ar e pollut ed and that e nvironme nt al c hanges are affecti ng t he ability of wild animals to res ist i nfectious dis eas es” also a small collection of items collected from around the island to show what the effects of the intense heat, for example, melted glass bottles. There are also numerous posters about volcanoes and if it is not too busy you can still fire off some questions to the scientists and staff around. One peculiar feature about the Mt. Soufriere volcano is that after 19 years it has not become dormant again. It keeps emitting magma which builds up to form a spike. When this spike becomes very large and of course very heavy it collapses and the process starts all over again. Most of the pyroclastic flows went through the Tar River Valley and through the capital city of Plymouth. However, some did go through the populated Belham valley which claimed 19 lives. It is close to the border of the exclusion zone on the safe side. When I vis- ited it, I walked around some of the abandoned buildings on the hills overlooking the valley. Standing on the gallery of that building I cannot begin to feel what the occupants must have felt on that it was flooded with hot ash and gas. Present day Plymouth, also I was also fortunate to take a boat ride along the coast. Here one could easily see called the “Modern-Day how the old coast has been weathered to form sheer cliff where you can see the layers of Pompeii” rock. While in areas where the pyroclastic flows have reached the sea the cliffs are round and have do not show much signs of weathering. Old Bay which is the second to last Bay leading up to Plymouth is designated a bird sanctuary for coastal birds. There is a great dedi- cation to preserving the biodiversity of the island with the national park in Centre Hills and the proposal of the gardens at the Montserrat National Trust to be declared the Botanic Gardens of the island. Since Montserrat is an oceanic island, that is, it is volcanic in origin and did not break off from a continental land mass, so that all the flora and fauna on the island arrived here from other localities. Also because of the isolation from large areas of land, over time en- demic species develop on oceanic islands. Some endemic animal species include, the Mont-
  10. 10. Page 10 Environment TOBAGO newsletter serrat Oriole (Icterus oberi) and the Montserrat Galliwasp (Diploglossus montisserrati) which is not an insect as the name implies but a lizard. In terms of endemic plant species, there is one that was recorded from Mt. Soufriere however, since the eruptions it is quite danger- ous because of the fumes and the danger of an eruption to check if any specimens in the area survived. In addition to natural disasters, this island has its share of threats to its wildlife. One species that was under the threat of extinction was the Montserrat Oriole. During my visit I saw both a male and female on Katy Peak, and as my guide Jervain noted its popula- tion on the island is increasing and it is out of danger of extinction. The frogs on the island also referred to as “Mountain Chicken” since they are eaten and said to taste like chicken have also been hit by the fungal disease, Chytridomycosis. However, I am pleased to report that it too is under control due to night-time treks by workers of the forestry division where they capture and bathe the frogs in antibacterial solution. The only Silk Cotton Tree The sampling effort for my project produced a total of 43 species from 17 families, on the island. The rest were cut down because of none of which posed any threats to human health. The high level of species richness on the a disease that affected the island could be due to the recently exposed northern part of the island. Due to the erup- cotton crop on the island tions the remaining population have been forced to occupy the northern part of the island which in turn has led to better access to previously inaccessible and pristine habitat. But before leaving I made sure to take a drink from Runaway Ghaut which is a mountainside stream. It is said that if you drink the water here you will visit Montserrat again. So I hope to see you again one day Emerald Isle. Acknowledgments: This project was partially funded by a Vincent Roth Award from the American Arachnological Society, and an Award of Excellence from the UWI Credit Union. Thanks go out to the following persons and organisations for facilitation, transport, and assistance in the field; the staff at the Department of Environment, Physical Planning, Gerard Grey, Jervaine Greenway and Greg Pereira. TAKE A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE Review of: John Muir 1915. Travels in Alaska. Boston: Houghton Mifflin 326 pp. [Eighteenth in a series on "naturalist-in" books.] Christopher K. Starr Dept of Life Sciences, University of the West Indies ckstarr@gmail.com John Muir (1838-1914) was born in Scotland and immigrated with his family to the USA when he was 11. His early life was marked by hard labour on the family farm in Wisconsin, under his hard-driving calvinist father. He was largely self-taught and showed a genius for inventing and building mechanical devices, including several rather elaborate wooden clocks. Much has been written about Muir and his life, including at least one full-length biog- raphy (Turner 1985). A large part (possibly most) of Muir's published writings are avail- able at http://www.yosemite.ca.us/john_muir_writings/ . Muir was a man of robust health and great physical strength, which served him well in his wilderness wanderings. He did a great deal of mountain climbing in western North America, but for him this was not a sport. Rather, he did it to gain a first-hand acquaint-
  11. 11. Page 11 ance with the land forms and vegetation of areas that had not yet been mapped. And to surround himself with wildness. The opening sentence of his autobiographical The Story of my Boyhood and Youth goes to the heart of what he was all about: "When I was a boy in Scotland, I was fond of everything that was wild, and all my life I've been growing fonder and fonder of wild places and wild creatures." The term "creatures" should be under- stood broadly to include plants, in which Muir was at least as much interested as he was in animals. His writings show a keen sense of the relationship between plants and habi- tats. Muir was largely self-taught in scientific subjects, but he came to be respected by the leading natural scientists of his time. He is best known today as a pioneer of the north- American conservation movement, founder of the Sierra Club, and one who helped to create the American National Parks Service. He had a special affinity for California's Si- erra Nevada and campaigned for the preservation of some of the most celebrated natural sites in the USA. His main original contribution to science was in the area of how glaciers shape landscapes. Alaska was acquired by the USA from Russia in 1867. Muir first went there in 1879, because "To the lover of pure wilderness Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world." In the trips described in this book, his attention was mainly to the south- eastern part of the territory, especially Wrangell Island and the area around the Stickeen River on the nearby mainland. This does not match the popular view of Alaska. It is a cold-temperate region, a cool rain forest without climatic extremes. It is far south of the Arctic Circle, and there is no 24-hour daylight in summer. Even so, the mid-summer sun “Caribbean people sets only for a few hours just below the horizon. Another book, The Cruise of the Corwin, can be forgiven a tells of a trip to the farther north. certain unfamiliar- Muir had a great deal of contact with native peoples and was even adopted into one ity with glaciers, tribe. However, he has surprisingly little to say about them. While he was sympathetic but in some regions and felt generally at home among them, he seemed not especially interested in the human they are such a element of the region. On the other hand, his Alaska writings devote much attention to prominent part of glaciers. Caribbean people can be forgiven a certain unfamiliarity with glaciers, but in the landscape “ some regions they are such a prominent part of the landscape that there is at least one field guide devoted to them (Ferguson 1992). There are several types of glaciers, but we normally associate the term with valley glaciers, the type studied by Muir. You can think of these as high rivers of ice, flowing very slowly down the valley. Ice is constantly breaking off at the lower end, giving rise to icebergs if this is at the sea. Their formation requires quite specific climatic conditions, most particularly high snowfall in winter, followed by a cool winter, so that much of the winter accumulation of snow is not lost before the next winter. Over time the snow is compacted into a mass of ice that flows outward and downward under its own weight. These conditions are of course mainly found in polar and high alpine regions. Although slow, a glacier is a very powerful thing. By its tremendous weight, it car- ries and pushes large masses of earth and rock as it advances and can be a major force in shaping the landscape through which it moves. Fjords, such as those in Norway and Alaska, are long, narrow coastal valleys with steep sides and rounded bottoms, originally carved out by glaciers. Glaciers are dynamic entities. They constantly change as ice is added in one part and lost in another. Furthermore, they grow and shrink in response to climatic changes. During much of the last ice age, which ended about 11,000 years ago, glaciers covered almost one-third of the land surface of the planet, versus about one-tenth today. We are now between ice ages. Even so, eight minor glaciation cycles have been identified during the past 750,000 years, the most recent from the 17th to the late 19th centuries. In this period, average temperatures were cool enough to permit glaciers to grow significantly. Since Muir's time, in contrast, they have been in overall retreat worldwide. Photos of major valley glaciers taken at intervals of decades commonly show marked changes in
  12. 12. Page 12 Environment TOBAGO newsletter size. Even so, at present about three-quarters of the world's fresh water is bound up in glaciers. Global warming causes a rise in the sea level by releasing more of this water into the oceans. Muir seems to have spent much of his time in Alaska in a state of exaltation. At one point he remarks that "When sunshine, sifting through the midst of the multitude of ice- bergs that fill the fiord and through the jets of radiant spray ever rising from the tremen- dous dashing and splashing of the falling and upspringing bergs, the effect is indescribably glorious." And elsewhere: "I reached the top of the highest, when one of the greatest and most impressively sublime of all the mountain views I have ever enjoyed came full in sight -- more than three hundred miles of closely packed peaks of the great Coast Range, sculp- tured in the boldest manner imaginable, their naked tops and dividing ridges dark in col- our, their sides and the canyons, gorges and valleys between them loaded with glaciers and snow. From this standpoint I counted upwards of two hundred glaciers." As long as there are truly wild places on Earth, the spirit of John Muir will live among us. References Ferguson, S.A. 1992. Glaciers of North America: A Field Guide. Golden, Colorado: Ful- crum 176 pp. Muir, J. 1913. The Story of My Boyhood and Youth. Boston: Houghton Mifflin 293 pp. Muir, J. 1917. The Cruise of the Corwin. Boston: Houghton Mifflin 278 pp. Turner, F. 1985. John Muir: Rediscovering America. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Perseus 417 pp. WHAT’S HAPPENING @ ET Environment TOBAGO Environmental ET is now on Facebook and Twitter and Services Map of Tobago We invite everyone on Facebook to join. Here we will post upcoming events, links, photos and videos on ET matters and They are excellent and will be published every two years. other environmental issues. Published in January 2008. Requests for these maps can be made to ET office. ET group link: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/ group.php?gid=53362888661&ref=ts And keep up to date on what we are up to by following us Volunteers needed! Persons who are interested in helping with cataloguing and on Twitter: https://twitter.com/environ_tobago filing of ET’s educational, research and operational material and archiving. New Members With a membership of 397 worldwide, ET welcomes the following members: Ms. Bettina Schelke Mr. Glenroy Waldron Ms. Jiselle Webster
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  14. 14. Page 10 Environment TOBAGO newsletter READERS’ FORUM Dear ET Newsletter Readers, Office: 11 Cuyler Street Scarborough, We want to hear from YOU! Tobago, W.I. Comments may be edited for length and clarity. Send your comments to: jo_annesewlal@yahoo.com Mailing address: P.O. Box 503, Scarborough, or envirtob@tstt.net.tt Tobago, W.I. Phone: 1-868-660-7462 Fax: 1-868-660-7467 GUIDELINES TO CONTRIBUTORS E-mail: envirtob@tstt.net.tt Articles on the natural history and environment are welcome especially those on Trinidad and Tobago. Articles should not exceed approximately 1200 words (2 pages) and the editors reserve the right to edit the length. Images should be submitted as separate files. Submit material to any of the following: 1) jo_annesewlal@yahoo.com 2) envirtob@tstt.net.tt Deadline for submission of material for the 1st Quarter 2010 issue of We are on the web the Bulletin is March 10th, 2010. http://www.Environmenttobago.net EMAIL ________________________________________________