As Saint Lucia joins the rest of the world in recognizing World Environment Day on June 5th, I reflect on Saint Lucia’s tagline ‘Simply Beautiful’. The United Nations has chosen to commemorate this year’s observance under the theme of “Connecting People to Nature”. The simple and natural beauty of Saint Lucia is what has brought many visitors to our shores; it is what has made us proud as a people and it is what connects our culture, our economy and our history.
Today, we are being encouraged to connect to nature, but how do we really do this? How do we sustainably utilise the bounty that Mother Earth offers, while showing her our appreciation? How do we take care of the resources with which we are blessed, so that our children and grandchildren will be able to connect to nature ten, fifteen years from now? I wish to share with you some ideas on how we can begin to connect with nature in our own little ways, and to give you a snippet of what has been taking place in this regard.
We can begin by responding to the changes around us and by paying more attention to, and being more aware of the state of our environment. Whether as Government, non-government and community based organizations, or even at the household level, we must all take responsibility and feel empowered enough to take actions that reflect our understanding of what it means to connect to nature. The Department of Sustainable Development, through various general and community focused capacity building and awareness initiatives, has been seeking to effect positive behavioural change in our society. A public awareness initiative is now being implemented through the Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Project (DVRP). The objective of this initiative is to build awareness about climate resilience and disaster risk reduction. So far, we have reached out to various groups, such as students, Mothers’ and Fathers’ groups, sports clubs and the Church, among others.
By reaching out, we are connecting people to nature and at the same time, we are working towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal number 17, which encourages us to build partnerships. Partnerships can begin at the small community scale, where, for example, I would like to encourage the schools, the churches and football clubs to collaborate in developing or improving the open green spaces within communities. These areas can evolve as nature parks, where persons commune in a healthy environment.
Government agencies can seek to build new partnerships with our future generation by co-opting their talents and skills in practical exercises that put them in direct touch with nature. The demarcation and cataloguing of natural assets in the Piton Management Area is an ongoing initiative that includes students from the Choiseul, Soufriere and Vieux Fort Secondary schools. This is a good example of connecting our youth to nature, while they learn about, and contribute to its conservation.
At the regional level, we have partnered with the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (5 C’s) in implementing a Coastal Protection for Climate Change Adaptation Project in the Choiseul and Canaries areas. This initiative, also supported by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, offers opportunities for developing sustainable livelihoods and builds climate change resilience within the watershed areas of these communities, while leading to ecosystem rehabilitation, employment creation and improvement in food security. Through this initiative, the people of the community are connecting to nature, under the guidance of the Departments of Tourism and Agriculture.
One of the favourite pastimes of Saint Lucians is going to the beach. Regrettably, over the years we have observed an increase in the irresponsible disposal of garbage on our beaches. Let me, therefore, commend the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) for the tremendous job performed in cleaning up our beaches on a regular basis. In communities such as Praslin, for example, youth groups and residents come together every so often to clean their beaches. These efforts should not, however, be construed as giving us the right to litter our beaches. I, therefore, challenge all beach-loving Saint Lucians to play their part – remove your garbage from the beach, so that you will be able to continue enjoying the beach and connecting with nature.
While the focus today is on World Environment Day, I must make mention of International Biodiversity Day and World Oceans Day.
Recently concluded activities to commemorate International Biodiversity Day, which was observed on May 22nd under the theme Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism, embellished, in its own way, the theme for World Environment Day. Senior officials of government and students of various institutions were given the opportunity to truly connect with nature at some of the island’s well-known nature tourism sites.
Finally, as we observe these days dedicated to environmental concerns, I encourage you to learn about the different efforts that are aimed at Sustainable use our natural resources. Visit the Sustainable Development and Environment Division, the Forestry Department, the Fisheries Department and the Water Resources Management Agency.
Get out with your family and friends and connect with nature by exploring our nature trails; places such as the rain forest, the Pitons, the dive and snorkel sites of the Soufriere Marine Management Area and many, many more. These are all beautiful places to relax, learn and just connect with nature.
I want to further encourage you to become involved in, or initiate, community based projects that will improve your knowledge of, and appreciation for, our natural resources. By doing this, you will develop a great sense of ownership and pride for the beauty that surrounds us and on which we depend.
World Environment Day, International Biodiversity Day and World Oceans Day allow us to reflect on the various initiatives that have been undertaken to conserve our environment. However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that so much more needs to be done, and that it is incumbent on each individual to make the effort to ensure that our resources are sustainably used.
Let us all work towards protecting, conserving and connecting with nature, remembering that what is done to nature is done to us all, as it impacts our very existence.
I thank you.