INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND
World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year on February 2 to raise awareness about the value of wetlands for humanity and the planet. This day marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea.
Each year, a theme is selected to focus attention on a vital function of wetlands. The theme for 2016, under the banner “Wetlands for our Future” is “Sustainable Livelihoods” and was selected to demonstrate the vital role of wetlands for the current and future wellbeing of humanity and to promote the wise use of all sorts of wetlands.
Wetlands are essential for human health and prosperity. They provide fresh water, ensure the food supply, sustain biodiversity, protect against flooding, and store carbon dioxide. As a major source of employment globally, they are also ideally placed to showcase truly sustainable livelihoods.
World Wetlands Day was observed in Barbados on February 2, 2016 with the theme “Wetlands for our Future – Sustainable Livelihoods” being the focus. In this spirit, a week of activities was coordinated to highlight sustainable livelihoods on the island which are related to its coastal wetlands wetlands.
As defined by the convention, coastal wetlands include saltwater marshes, estuaries, mangroves, lagoons and coral reefs. In Barbados, coastal wetlands provide a habitat for many tropical species of fish, with coral reefs in particular functioning as nurseries for the majority of these species. As a result, these wetlands are an integral part of the local fishing industry and contribute both directly and indirectly to the sustainable livelihoods of individuals who make a living from fisheries related activities.
To demonstrate this, the Ministry of Environment and Drainage as the Focal Point for the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, organised a series of tours to the Consett Bay fishing village to educate students of four primary schools on the importance of fisheries to the island and the ways in which it has contributed to the sustainable livelihoods of those involved in the industry.
The tours were organised for students of the St. Bartholomew Primary, St. Christopher Primary, Ellerton Primary and the Wesley Hall Infants School. These tours were held over 4 days, from Tuesday February 2 to Friday February 5, and accommodated approximately 250 students.
On each day the tours were divided into two sections, with each section designed to enlighten students on a specific subset of activities that took place in the fishing village.
The Consett Bay boatyard was the area focused on in the first section of the tours. Here the head of the Consett Bay Fishers Association, Mr. Earl Watson, educated the students on the functions of the boatyard. He explained that the reason for commencing the tour in this particular area of the fishing village was to take the students chronologically through processes of which the fisheries industry was comprised. He would specify on numerous occasions that ‘you cannot have fisheries without first building a boat’.
For this reason, he commenced each tour by explaining the process of boat building, a craft that has existed on the island in various forms for centuries. Mr. Watson explained that the process of boat building differed based on the types of build materials used. He further explained that the two most common types of boats used on the island were wooden boats and fibreglass boats and showed examples of each in the boatyard.
He then explained the more traditional process of the construction of wooden boats, first from the process of assembling the frame before then fitting the hull around it. The students were educated on the different types of wood that were utilised in the process, as well as the specific types of paints used to protect these materials from the harsh sea water.
Next he went on to explain the more modern process of the construction of fibre glass boats. Unlike wooden boats, which tend to be built from scratch using unique frames, he explained that fibreglass boats on the island tended to be fashioned after pre-existing hulls. He explained the process of building hull ‘casts’ from older boats and then using these to fabricate the hulls of the newer fibreglass boats.
As he explained this process, the students were guided through the active boat yard where they could see these processes in action. Scattered throughout the boatyard were artisans and technicians, building, repairing, painting and maintaining the various boats that landed and launched from the Consett Bay area.
The students then learned about the different classes of boats, from the common day-boat to the larger ice boats and the finally the massive long-liners. Mr. Watson explained that each class of boat specialised in a different type of fishing and tended to stay out at sea for different periods of time. As was expected, the day-boat tended to go out in the morning and return in the evening. However, Ice boats were large enough to carry supplies for 3 to 4 days of activity at a time, while the larger long-liners could be at sea for weeks per trip.
With this established, Mr. Watson then explained the process of getting the boats from the boatyard into the water, and then conversely how it was that boats were brought back from the water into the boatyard.
On Thursday, the students of the St. Christopher Primary were in for a special treat, actually witnessing the process of an emergency boat landing at Consett Bay.
The second section of the tour focused on the Consett Bay market and was conducted by Mr. Joel Clarke, the Chief Supervisor of Markets for Consett Bay and his staff. Mr. Clarke took this time to explain the function of the market and explained that contrary to the conventional wisdom, the market was not actually set up as a money making enterprise.
Mr. Clarke explained that the fish market was owned and operated by the government of Barbados and as such it was set up to assist members of the public who chose to make a living in the fisheries industry. To achieve this, all of the services offered by the fish market were offered at a nominal price and existed to foster the growth of the industry through support of its various stakeholders.
On each day, the students were given a hands-on experience with the facilities ice machine and blast freezer, both of which were used to preserve the catches of fishermen and store fish processed by the various cleaners and vendors. They were also given a demonstration of the scales used to weigh catches and educated on the fees per weight per fish charged by the market.
As the tour progressed the students were taken into the fish cleaning area, where a number of vendors were busy processing the catch of the day. Various species, including local delicacies like flying fish and Mahi Mahi were being scaled and deboned. The larger species like Mahi Mahi were also cut into standard size steaks before being packed for sale.
This gave the students an opportunity on each day to witness the transformation of fish from the state in which they are caught, to the packaged products that they were more familiar with in delicious seafood meals.
After the tour of the processing area, each day culminated in a tour of the jetty, which served as the bridge between boat landing area and the market. Here, the two sections of the tour were brought together so that the students could see how the boats and fishing interacted directly with the cleaners, vendors and market operators.
This gave the students a greater understanding of fisheries industry at the ground level and the contribution of Barbados’ coastal wetlands to this process.