RARE Centre for Tropical Conservation

by Paul Butler, Director for Conservation Education, RARE Centre

Whether it’s the rugged beauty of volcanic Saint Lucia or the pristine coral atolls that make up The Bahamas, the Caribbean islands are fragments of paradise cast adrift in a proverbial “sea of problems”.

Today, the West Indies face difficult times. Agriculture, the economic backbone of many of our island nations, is under threat from the withdrawal of preferential trade agreements. Foreign aid, once an economic life-line, is slowly drying up as the Caribbean is viewed less and less as a region in need of large scale assistance. All of this is occurring at a time when the islands’ populations and material expectations are growing.

Already in many Caribbean countries agricultural land has become a scarce commodity. Farm plots are being subdivided into ever smaller parcels, fallow periods are being progressively shortened, and marginal lands are being brought into production at an increasing rate. Without gainful employment in non-agricultural sectors, people will continue to deforest their islands to eke out a living.

For conservation to become integrated into the day to day lives of people living in less developed countries, their natural resources must pay tangible dividends in the form of income generation and employment. At the same time, people must understand the fragility of these resources and the need to preserve them to ensure that rural development is indeed sustainable. However, no matter how successful a country is in establishing reserves, changing legislation or promoting a conservation ethic, these good works will be for nothing if rising populations are not brought under control.

For a burgeoning populous places enormous pressure on the ability of a country to gainfully employ, and therefore satisfy the material expectations of its people. Unemployment precipitates environmental degradation as men and women attempt to make a living through forest clearance and subsistence agriculture.

At the forefront of helping these islands to address issues such as these is a small US based non-profit organisation, RARE Centre for Tropical Conservation, based in Philadelphia. Its mission is to develop and implement innovative programs that protect endangered tropical habitats to ensure that these are secured for future generations. RARE Centre’s holistic approach integrates the need to create environmental awareness, promote economic enpowerment and encourage family planning. Guided by easy-to-use manuals all its projects are implemented by host country personnel.

Conservation Education Campaigns

RARE Centre's conservation education campaigns strive to build pride and stimulate awareness for the target species - usually an endangered bird - an appreciation of its rarity, symbolic status and plight; while at the same time introducing the concept of habitat preservation for sustainable development. They also train local personnel in conservation education and, by involving local businesses in sponsoring components of the campaign, they serve to foster civic involvement and commitment to conservation.

Working with an easy to use marketing manual designed by RARE Centre, local counterparts have utilised fact sheets, posters, billboards, bumper stickers, costumes, songs, school, community and church visits, to reach out to more than 1.5 million people in seventeen countries: Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, Dominica, Montserrat, Grenada, Nevis, Cayman Islands, The Bahamas, Jamaica, Belize, Anguilla, Tobago, Turks & Caicos Islands, Western Samoa, Pohnpei, Palau and, most recently, Costa Rica.

Local counterpart accomplishments have been significant and tangible: reserves have been established in The Bahamas (Abaco), Cayman Islands (Cayman Brac), Grenada and Dominica. Wildlife legislation has been written or revised in Saint Vincent and Montserrat, as well as Saint Lucia; and endangered wildlife populations are re-bounding.

Trail Design & Construction Program

RARE Centre’s program of trail financing strives to contribute to the development of forest-based tourism. Carefully planned trails can generate revenue and jobs, while at the same time preserving ecosystems critical for soil and water conservation, as well as wildlife habitat.

It was realised that there was a need for an easy-to-use trail design and construction manual. Such a manual could assist Caribbean forestry departments with the sighting, design and building of trails, and with their subsequent interpretation and management. The result was RARE Centre’s second manual: (TRAILS: Conservation that makes dollars and sense).

The main objective of this manual is to guide its reader through a step-by-step process of designing and constructing a park trail system. It aims to help the resource manager to maximise the economic benefits of their country’s natural heritage through tourism, while minimising its environmental impact. It strives to provide the “tools” required to develop quality, low-impact trails, and to upgrade guide services, thereby providing visitors with new opportunities to see more of their destination, while at the same time bringing in much needed foreign exchange and jobs.

RARE Centre field-tested this manual in the Cayman Islands, where the pilot Mastic trail is now fully-operational and generating a profit.

In early 1995, fifty copies of it were distributed free throughout the English-speaking Caribbean. Manual recipients were encouraged to consider trail establishment and to use the manual’s opening chapters to select suitable sites, survey same and to prepare funding proposals for trail construction.

In response to this request, the Saint Lucia Forestry Department sought financial assistance to open a loop trail at Des Cartier. The total cost of this development was estimated at US $60,000; RARE Centre for Tropical Conservation donated US $32,500, and the balance was contributed by the Government of Saint Lucia.

Since the trail’s opening in November 1995, there has been a steady increase in the number of visitors using it and the trail is now generating a profit, creating employment and enhancing the islands’ attraction to overseas visitors.

The trail’s operation is managed by the Forestry Department in collaboration with local tour companies. It is the tour company’s responsibility to sell the forest tour through their agents at the major hotels throughout the island. The day tour typically sells for US $50 with the local agents making 10% commission on each trip sold.

Tour size varies, but in general the tour runs with a minimum of six persons and a maximum of twenty-five. The tour company is responsible for arranging and providing transport, lunches and all other arrangements. A space is left on the bus for the guide who is provided, and paid for, by the Forestry Department.

The Forestry Department levies a US $10 per head tax for this service, (children half price), and invoices the tour company either weekly or monthly. This management option generates revenue and employment, as well as boosts private sector involvement. It also provides a visitor control mechanism and minimises the involvement of the Forestry Department in the day to day operation of forest tours.

Between November 1st, 1995 and July 31st 1996, a total of 1,859 tourists visited the Des Cartier trail generating US $19,825 in revenue for the Forestry Department. During the same period expenditure on the trail amounted to US $6,450 for maintenance, and US $8,225 for trail supervision and guiding. This left a profit of US $4,775.

Since the US $10 entry fee levied by the Forestry Department represents only one-fifth of the total amount (US $50) charged by the tour company we can multiply income raised by the Department by a factor of five to determine the total amount contributed by the trail to the Saint Lucian economy over its first nine months, namely US $99,125. This figure represents a fairly sizeable input into the island’s economy, but more importantly virtually all of it remains in Saint Lucia as the tour companies are locally owned, the bus drivers are native Saint Lucians and the food provided on the tour is prepared by small indigenous concerns.

The Forestry Department estimates that this figure should treble or quadruple once the trail is operating at capacity.

In May 1996, RARE Centre for Tropical Conservation contributed to funding other trails in Jamaica, Turks & Caicos, Belize and Nevis and it anticipates funding an additional three or four in the next few months. If RARE Centre can prove that its trails are an effective mechanism for linking local economies to the environment, then it will consider establishing a loan fund which will be open to local Governments and the private sector for financing trail development in the future.

Family Planning Initiative

The health of the global environment and population control are inextricably linked. This is particularly evident in small island states such as Saint Lucia where a burgeoning population is placing tremendous stress on a finite natural environment.

Saint Lucia has an estimated population of 138,000 (1993) - which has doubled over the last fifty years. While employment, migration and a high death rate eased this burden in the past; improvements in the care of the elderly, declining infant mortality and changing overseas immigration policies have exacerbated the problem in recent times.

Rapidly rising populations place enormous pressure on the ability of the country to gainfully employ, and therefore satisfy the material expectations of its people. Using available data and current projections, Saint Lucia’s population is expected to exceed 200,000 by the year 2015.

The Saint Lucian government has realised this and has set itself the goal of stabilising the country’s population growth in order to ensure favourable conditions for continuous development.

RARE Centre has realised it too, and has funded a twin track approach to the problem through:

  • a radio soap opera
  • an enhanced field-based outreach program for the Saint Lucia Planned Parenthood Association (SLPPA).

RARE Centre believes that the radio soap opera will bring about a major positive change in Saint Lucian attitudes and behaviour toward family planning. The SLPPA outreach program will reinforce this change.

In 1995, RARE Centre undertook a comprehensive analysis of literature and legislation pertaining to human values, male-female relationships, and the use/non use of family planning in Saint Lucia. This research was supplemented by conducting focus group interviews and a questionnaire survey. The survey was completed by 1% of the sexually active population of the island, while the focus groups involved approximately 0.5% of the same target group.

The data gained from this research has been used to write and produce a 260-episode radio serial drama that airs daily on Radio Saint Lucia. Apwe Plezi [the soap opera’s title is taken from a commonly used proverb which translated means “After the pleasure comes the pain”] is a truly Saint Lucian undertaking. The entire production staff and cast are all Saint Lucian and the recording is carried out on-island too.

Apwe Plezi addresses a full range of issues such as drug abuse, spousal abuse, teenage pregnancy, the use of family planning and the role of the family. Since initiating the production of Apwe Plezi, RARE Centre has conducted more than 30 focus group meetings around the island and a questionnaire sample of 0.1% of the population. Responses to these surveys have indicated that Apwe Plezi is growing in popularity and is receiving wide acclaim for addressing issues that affect the daily lives of each and every St Lucian.

Other project components will more specifically improve the field-based outreach of SLPPA and reinforce gains made by the soap opera. Components include provision of a 4WD Mitsubishi Pajero equipped with a PA System, VCR and television monitor, as well as five illustrative billboards that assist SLPPA outreach officers making their presentations; and training of SLPPA field staff in communications skills.

Working with local people and local organisations in the fields of conservation marketing, trail development and family planning, RARE Centre is proud to be playing a small part in helping them to help themselves.