Balancing nature preservation with human needs
Nicosia Smith Stabroek News - Georgetown
Crabwood project may be one solution
The Guyana Marine Turtle Conservation Society (GMTCS) is
embarking on a project that will help balance the need to preserve
the environment with the needs of residents in the Shell Beach,
The 84,000 euros Tropical Rainforest Project (TRP) aims to map crabwood trees in the area from the mouth of the Moruca river to the Waini river mouth and promote them as generators of several nontimber forest products.
The project is to precede the implementation of the proposed Shell Beach Protected Area (SBPA) in the North West, Region One (Barima/Waini). Over the years, the GMTCS has incorporated its conservation goals with the sustainable management of resources in the North West District.
Sponsorship for TRP comes from the NCIUCN (the Netherlands International Committee for the World Conservation Union) and was implemented on February 1 and ends on December 31, 2006.
The SBPA falls within the Guyana Protected Areas System (GPAS) project expected to get started in May, with the SBPA and the Kanuku mountains being the two pilot sites. Funding for this initiative comes from the Global Environmental Fund through the World Bank and Conservation International (CI) among other donors. "The forest ecosystems of the Guianas are a geologically ancient, biologically rich and diverse area.... This ecoregion has international recognition for its conservation importance," says Annette Arjoon, co-Founder of GMTCS, and the TRP project coordinator.
According to a GMTCS document, the lowland areas of the region provide habitat to several genera of endemic trees. These include the Greenheart (Chlorocardium rodiei), Ituri wallaba (Eperua grandiflora), Soft wallaba (Eperua falcata) and Mora (Mora excelsa).
The document says the coastline of Guyana is also of high international ecological importance and has been identified among the Global 200 priority ecoregions. In addition, the coastline comprises a broad belt of mangrove forests stretching from the border of Guyana with Venezuela through coastal Suriname. This serves as nesting, breeding or feeding grounds for various species of birds and sea turtles, as well as spawning and nursery grounds for many commercial and valuable fish species.
Arjoon says the main threat to the tropical rainforest in the region comes from small scale illegal logging. But the focus species in the TRP project, 'crabwood', is believed to be widely distributed.
Even though its value as a nontimber forest product (namely making crabwood oil) is recognised, the species is still widely utilised as timber because of its beautiful characteristics, she says, with demand for its use in furniture production.
Among the TRP's objectives are to conduct education and awareness sessions aimed at the conservation of natural resources within the proposed SBPA; to provide training to targeted stakeholders on the management of forest resources through participatory and collaborative approaches and to ensure that all activities are gender balanced and the integration of gender into all policies and plans is implemented.
Nine persons from the North West and Waini area completed training this month through the Iwokrama Rainforest Centre as forest rangers at a cost of US$40,000, who in turn will be educating persons in the various communities about environmentally friendly habits. Of the 84,000 euros, the bulk is being used for training and less than 20% for administrative costs.
Under the project, these rangers are also tasked with documenting village tales and natural sites in particular communities that will eventually be used as tourist attractions and will provide another form of income.
Crabwood oil production
Within the proposed SBPA, the residents of these communities have few job options.
The main employment comes from harvesting 'heart of palm' from the manicole tree. The French-owned company, Amazon Caribbean buys the 'heart of palm' for export. Apart from this industry, there is fishing and farming.
When the 'heart of palm' is being harvested mainly by the Warraus, one of nine Amerindian tribes, they also harvest crabwood seeds that fall to the forest floor and sell these to a small crabwood oil plant in Third Lagoon, Waini for additional income. Apart from the Warraus, the Caribs and Arawaks are the other tribes found mainly in the North West.
But user conflicts have manifested in an increase in the number of illegal chainsaw operators harvesting crabwood trees, compromising the availability of seeds for crabwood oil production, says Arjoon.
As a result, the Warraus who harvest the seeds have to travel greater distances. Thus, the urgency for the development of a comprehensive map of crabwood trees, to serve as a co-management tool and to guide national policy.
At a recent meeting in Third Lagoon, Waini with residents, it was noted that many homes and kokers in the area are built from crabwood since it is easily accessible and easy to transport. This is despite much longer lasting types of woods being available.
Maria Gonzalves, who operates the small crabwood oil plant in Third Lagoon and employs at least three women, said in a recent interview that crabwood oil production can help improve the standard of living for many women, since they make more money than farming. Eleven men and women harvest the seeds and are paid up to $1,000 per bag of seeds.
One gallon of oil takes seven hours to produce and Gonzalves says it is not easy work.
The processing involves boiling the seeds after which they are left for a period and then cracked, the pulp dug out and kneaded until the oil comes out. The GMTCS assists Gonzalves in finding markets and the organisation is seeking funding to improve the packaging so that it can compete regionally and further afield. The oil is bottled for massaging purposes and as an insect repellent both being retailed for $1,400.
Last August, at 'Guyana Nite' the product was launched and further promotional exercises continued at the Caribbean Gift and Craft Show in Barbados. The oil also has export markets in St Lucia while Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel purchases the products.
According to information from GMTCS, compounds in the oil known as limonoids promote circulation to the skin and relieve pain and swelling. It was also added that the bark and leaves are used to reduce fever and can be used in a tea to inhibit worms, as a wash for skin problems and as an insect repellent.
Also in the North West is Shell Beach, host to the endangered marine turtles.
Thanks to greater awareness, hunters such as Audley James of Almond Beach have stopped hunting and are now using sea shells to make wind chimes and manufacturing crabwood oil soap. Other residents are making decorative baskets from used fishing nets or doing commercial fishing or farming. And again, the GMTCS is the distributor for many of these products which can be purchased at its Le Meridien office.
Lorraine France of Almond Beach, who was recently trained through TRP as a ranger is a firm believer that the turtles can contribute income to their community as a tourist attraction and not as meat. Stabroek News spoke with France during a visit to Third Lagoon. France was born in Moruca but moved to Almond Beach when she married her husband 20 years ago. The beach population is now over
100 after a period of no permanent residents.
She says the majority of the residents, herself included, engage in commercial fishing since "that is fast money." Apart from her fishing activities, she also has 15 acres of coconuts, and farms pumpkins and watermelons. She sells the produce at the Kumaka market (three miles from the Mabaruma township), which is several miles away.
Other coconut farmers on Almond Beach also produce copra. In 2001, the GMTCS secured a market with Guyana National Edible Oil Company to purchase copra produced by local farmers and continues to assist farmers to find markets.
The Shell beaches which stretch from the mouth of the Waini River to the mouth of the Pomeroon River play host to at least four species of marine turtles, namely the Leatherback Mata Mata; the Green Betia; Hawksbill Carey and the Olive Ridley Taracay. The female species of these turtles come ashore to nest.
During a visit in early March, coFounder of GMTCS Dr Peter Pritchard, a sea turtle expert, reported that the challenges of turtle conservation are still very much alive.
"Guyana's beaches change so fast that we always find it necessary to conduct a low level aerial survey of the entire NorthWest coast (about 100 miles) to determine which beaches have been lost to erosion and which are building up and becoming more suitable for turtle nesting activity," Pritchard says. The GMTCS field team was headed by Audley James and Romeo de Freitas, together with Pritchard. In general, he says, "the beaches that were the best last year namely Kamwatta and Luri have changed to the point that Kamwatta no longer is significant for nesting, and Luri is losing ground but is still important... But we saw the frame of last year's camp about to slip into oblivion in the ocean, silent testimonial that the sea always wins in the end." He says another area is the main challenge for 2005 since this is now a magnificent, tenmile stretch of clean, newlydeposited shell that offers splendid nesting potential. (Editor's note: the name of the beach has been omitted from the story in a bid to protect the turtles' nesting grounds.)
Some nesting tracks of green and hawksbills had already appeared by early March. The problem is that this beach was subject to heavy poaching by groups of turtle hunters in well over a dozen separate camps in 2004, says Pritchard.
This year, the gameplan is to have patrol base camps together with lookouts at various other areas. In this way, they hope to ensure, just by their presence, that turtle poaching will be very low this year, and that, by having multiple camps, they will gather better data on the actual numbers of turtles.
It is also being planned to have several beaches legally declared as no fishing zones during the key months of the 2005 season, to prevent incidental drowning of turtles, both mature and immature. In a hopeful sign, Kevon Wong, 20, an employee of GMTCS who is based at Mabaruma, said he has seen a tremendous decrease in the open sale of turtle meat and eggs at the Kumaka market.