Ladies and Gentlemen, I am pleased to welcome you to this press conference on the environment. The Department of Environment has arranged this press conference as a means of highlighting public awareness concerning matters that impact our existence in harmony with our surroundings. I am pleased to have them join me here today.
This Ministry is generally referred to as the Labour and Immigration Departments, but I am particularly glad of being afforded the opportunity to highlight the significance of Anguilla’s environment in our national sustainable development, culture and history. I take this opportunity to give this portfolio equal importance as Labour and Immigration. It is my intention to treat all my portfolio, human rights, physical planning, gender affairs, information and broadcasting, with the same enthusiasm.
There is much that we at the Ministry and indeed the Department of Environment would like to share with you and the general public at large. Let me first say that it is our deepest hope that such interactions with the media will enhance the sense of ownership of the Anguillian people for protecting and preserving the very precious and fragile environment of our island, an environment that is critical to our sustainable economic advancement and social development.
I will thank the Director of Environment and the Permanent Secretary for briefing me on the state of the environment upon taking up office and keeping me abreast almost daily on the emerging challenges, opportunities and changes. As a result I have been able to rekindle my appreciation for the hard work done by this team as well as the staff of other natural resource management agencies.
Moving forward, I wish to make some brief remarks about the state of Anguilla’s Environment, some regional and international partnerships and commitments. This will be further elaborated on by the Director’s report on the activities being done by the Department of Environment for the period December 2009 to January 2011.
State of the Environment Report
· An environmental Assessment Report Summary was prepared by the staff of the Department. In early 2006 and since then it has been updated annually. Consistently the reporting has shown that Anguilla’s environment, especially its coastline, remains vulnerable to natural disasters as much as from runaway developers acting beyond the scope of their planning permission. And I say that with some reservation as to who is the one really responsible for such destruction.
Restoration of few sites such as the pond by Meads Bay opposite Malliouhana Hotel, Sile Bay Beach and windward-point beach remain top on the challenges for the department.
Most importantly is, that very little is needed to sustainably manage Anguilla’s environment in an attempt to ensure that environmental degradation does not become synonymous with our development and progress.
· The report remained incomplete due to absence of a complete picture of changes and challenges faced locally; and this requires a commitment and contribution from other agencies with some environmental remit. Moreover, it requires the cooperation of hoteliers and staff to share with the department the changes being observed as well as the practices on the beaches.
· Looking to the future, it is anticipated that all departments and stakeholders with some responsibility or remit for the natural resources of Anguilla, will be able to share more information, on the changes being observed in the environment. This is something that policy such as the National Environmental Management Strategy (NEMS) already caters for, and for which will be addressed by the end of 2010.
· At this time I will briefly outline some environmental concerns I will have already started to address with the Environmental Department and other related entities.
Sand mining at Windward Point; we are aware of the fact that persons have much leeway to develop their private lands, but what has transpired at Windward point is clearly an environmental disaster for which, when the studies are complete, may very well be causing further damage along other sections of Anguilla’s busy coastline. Damage mitigation may prove expensive.
The department has made some progress and we will continue to look at ways in which we can protect and restore the Crown lands at Windward Point.
Sile Bay has been a sore since the removal of the Sand Dune. I recently made a visit there with some of my colleagues and staff of the Departments of Environment and Physical Planning. Restoration efforts are being reviewed currently with the hope that in the near future some restorative action can be taken, despite the fact that it will take some years before we can actually see any sign of progress in the area. Nature has its own rate of doing things.
The Corito Disposal Site has a management plan and I will be looking into ways in which we can effectively and economically enhance management of waste at the site. Additionally, I know the Department of Environment through its public awareness initiatives will be looking at ways in which the public can assist by reducing and recycling their waste at home even before it reaches the site.
Waste from hotel, be it sewage, garden or office waste, is a growing concern and I will be reaching out to hotel managers and staff to ensure they follow existing policies and legislation as well as good waste management practices that will enhance the image of Anguilla instead of degrading it. There were a few instances of hotels not ensuring that the waste which leaves their compound reach Corito and not left on other people’s land to fester vermin and pests.
I know the Department of Environment and the Department of Health Protection through its Environmental Health Unit have collaborated on such issues many times in the past and they are still actively working on these problems.
Pesticide management is not yet a problem for the Anguillian public but current trends suggest there is need to be proactive in managing the use of pesticide before things get out of hand.
That is why for the first time since the formation of the department, International Pesticide Week (Sept 27 – Oct 2) will be observed this year. A pesticide workshop will occur in October and not the week itself, due to conflicting travel challenges..
In addition to this, I will be pushing to ensure that appropriate modern legislation is approved by end of 2010 to address this, and the many other challenges dealing with environmental protection, mainly pollution issues.
Clearing of coastal lands and leaving them bare for extended periods of time especially during the hurricane season is something we hope the department can educate the public on. There are several large pieces of private lands adjoining the beach which have been fully stripped of the vegetation cover. This poses several challenges as it pertains to run off of soil into the coastal reefs and sea grass beds. Our coastline is the mainstay of our tourism base economy and we need to ensure that the best practices are in place.
Construction of buildings almost in the sea does not support sustainable development in the region where hurricanes are prevalent and may even contribute to the loss of the adjoining beach areas. The department will be reviewing all such practices and updating me on how we can move forward in light of what has already taken place.
Reports on Past and ongoing Initiatives for 2010
· Report on the environmental damages caused by the passing of Hurricane Earl
The Department of Environment went about the island after the hurricane and made some initial assessments. A more detailed review will be done with finance department when they all meet with the several hotel managers in the coming days and yet further reviews will be done as several government agencies share and discuss their individual findings. Ultimately this is a long process for which some the evidence of the damage may not be known for months to come.
So far though, the damage appears to be minimal in most areas. There were few vulnerable spots such as the Meads Bay areas, Windward Point and upper Shoal Bay where beach loss may be exacerbated for the long term.
· EXCO recently approved …… acres of land in the Valley for the department of environment to use as a scientific and research Reserve. The director will give some details on this.
· EXCO recently approved Trade in Endangered Species Act (TESA) 2009 and regulations, and the Biodiversity and Heritage Conservation Act (BHCA) 2009. The regulations will be completed soon.
· Government Ministers are also discussing what we hope is to be the final stages of a Bill for the Environmental Protection Act.
· Anguilla’s Heritage
Heritage tours have been started by the department as part of the implementation process of the BHCA. Several senior staff members of government were the first to go on tour and this was followed by teachers. The goal is to ensure that every Anguillian experiences the rich and unique heritage of Anguilla. Eventually it would even be branded as a tourism heritage attraction. Sites visited included the Fountain Cavern and Big Springs.
· Invasive species project is a comprehensive review of the invasion of exotic species, their impacts on the unique biodiversity as well as the economy of the island and developing effective eradication policies for the various species.
· Little Scrub Project – An Environmental and Conservation Assessment
Ongoing towards identifying and protecting species unique to Anguilla or the region. We have already started similar effort here on the mainland of Anguilla.
· Grant writing training workshop
This was geared towards helping government and NGOs as well as Community Based groups access more funds to do more locally
· Near Completion of the Climate Change Policy for Anguilla as well as an implementation strategy
Climate change will continue to be a big focus for the department in the coming months. Small Island Developing States such as Anguilla are in the forefront of the impacts of sea level rise and coastal degradation.
We have several activities such as climate change impact modeling mapping by the GIS Unit and the Met Station. But most important of all is the completion of a Climate Change Mitigation Plan for Anguilla. We hope to have this completed by the end of the year so that we can take more coordinated and comprehensive steps by 2011.
· Soils Amelioration Project
As most of you would know, this project is geared towards assisting farmers with practices and strategies to enhance soil fertility, protect soil, reduce the amount of water used and get more produce at a higher quality. The Departments of Environment and Agriculture just moved into the second stage of actually preparing the test plots and starting the comparative crop scheme.
· Island Monitoring
Environmental management is not an 8-4 job nor does pollution and environmental degradation occur between these hours. It happens anytime anywhere. Whilst the department will continue to do its job to continue monitoring the island development, resource use and waste disposal at all levels the department is strongly dependent on the support given by the media and the public.
The Open House in January 2010 as well as the Nature Fest in June allowed for the public to get more engaged with the staff of the department and learn a bit more about its mandate. We will be looking for further opportunities to reach out to the public in similar manner.
The department continues to encourage members of the public to call us at 497 0217 or email us at email@example.com to submit their reports, observations or concerns. We have responded to numerous queries in the past with regards to waste disposal, erosion, fires… the department also continues to work with other agencies such as Health Protection, Agriculture, Fisheries, Disaster Preparedness and others.
· Staffing in the Department
The department has grown since its inception in 2006 and we are comfortable the compliment of technical staff is what it needs now and in the future. It has considerably expanded its staff with engineering and more technical skills to better review and mitigate against the potential impacts; Mr. Clint Lake is currently pursuing a degree in Coastal Engineering and Miss. Sharmer Fleming who just returned with a degree in Environmental Management, is on her way back to complete her masters in Climate Change and Sustainability.
We look forward to when the economy picks up, providing the department with some support staff to assist with the implementation of its new legislation and policies.
· The Department recently held discussions with the ministers on a road map for the Environmental Protection Act (EPA). The Bill for the Environmental Protection Act will address the Environmental Impact Assessment, pollution prevention/control and mining challenges. Government is committed towards this bill and its goals and we hope to be discussing its passing in the House of Assembly in the near future.
Notes on Upcoming Activities
· CITES training
This CITES training workshop will commence on September 21. We will be having representatives from UK and US Custom’s Departments. The workshop will have two sessions; one for enforcement officials and another for the public and importers.
The first session will target the entire staff from the customs department, some from immigration, port authority, police, AG chambers, Fisheries, Environment and Agriculture. Anguilla needs to be able to deal with international trade of products and specimens from plants and animals and it is through this need that we are having these sessions.
The second session will target wildlife and plant importers, pet shops, conch exporters and other members of society towards preparing them for the international rules and regulations aligned with such imports and exports and the processes or avenues they can take to ensure speedy and timely clearing of their items through Customs.
· The First pesticide workshop will be in October. We are expecting Mr. Guy Mathurin from St. Lucia to join us on island to assist with the training all pesticide users should have; from the hotel industry to the farmer.
· Teachers and Biodiversity initiative
This is a long term initiative geared towards supporting teachers who have to deal with courses and lessons where students need to learn about Anguilla’s environment. It is supported by the Biodiversity and Heritage Bills and the department along with partner agencies will be working with schools and teachers over the long term to make more materials and information available.
Teachers will thus be able to give their students a better exposure to Anguilla’s environment through literature and interactive participatory hands on activities.
I wish to thank you the media, and indeed the general public for the support given towards ensuring that Anguilla’s environment gets the daily attention it needs. I know the good rapport the public has with the department and it is that very good and supportive interaction which keeps the department informed as well as ensure that the activities, policies and focus of the department are primarily on the health and progress of the Anguillian people.
Let me conclude by publicly re-affirming my commitment to the care of the Department of Environment, and that as the Minister for this portfolio I will ensure that Anguilla’s environment will receive the political support necessary to maintain its intrinsic value.