(28 June 1997)
[Note: In late April and early May the Bureau's Regional Coordinator for the Neotropics visited several nations in the Americas and filed this report this afternoon on progress in the region. -- Web Editor.]
Trip Report: Guatemala, USA, Antigua and Barbuda, and St Lucia
(28 April - 17 May 1997)
Regional Coordinator for the Neotropics
Guatemala (28 April - 2 May)
The main objective of this visit was to make final arrangements with the Guatemalan Ramsar Administrative Authority for the Management Guidance Procedure (MGP) to be carried out in Laguna El Tigre next July.
Meetings were held with several people and agencies involved in the conservation of this area in the Petén province, as well as with personnel of the oil company which is active in this region. A short visit was organized to the site and it was agreed that two outside experts are necessary to take part in the MGP mission. One will concentrate on sociological issues, such as community participation in conservation and wise use of the area, and conflict management between the local people, the conservation agencies and the oil company. The second expert will be required to look at the impacts of the oil exploitation activities, how to monitor those impacts, and ways and alternatives to mitigate them.
The Management Guidance Procedure will be carried out in the last week of July, and information on its results and conclusions will be available not long thereafter.
In addition, the Regional Coordinator had the opportunity to discuss possible proposals to be submitted to both the Small Grants Fund and the Wetlands for the Future initiative with various individuals and organisations (Fundación Interamericana de Investigación Tropical, Defensores de la Naturaleza, Fideicomiso para la Conservación en Guatemala, Universidad de San Carlos, Centro de Estudios sobre Conservación). Additionally she met with staff of the Comisión Centroamericana de Ambiente y Desarrollo, to discuss future cooperation between both organisations at the regional level.
USA (5-9 May)
The main purpose of the visit to the USA was to attend the "Communities Working for Wetlands" workshop, organized by the Terrene Institute, and to discuss the functioning of the Wetlands for the Future initiative with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Department of State.
"Communities Working for Wetlands" resulted in a most interesting forum for exchange of ideas. While it was mainly of US interest, and very well attended, there was also some interesting input and participation from several countries from the Neotropical Region, most of them represented by institutions with projects funded by Wetlands for the Future.
Both oral presentations, displays and posters were extremely interesting and varied from erosion control methods in coastal areas, to enviro-friendly farming and restoration of wetlands.
Concerning Wetlands for the Future, considerable advances were achieved in improving the number and quality of proposals received and a more efficient disbursement of funds.
Antigua and Barbuda (12 - 13 May)
Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention in the Caribbean are limited to Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas. The lack of Caribbean countries among Ramsar Contracting Parties has been mainly due to the fact that until Brisbane 1996, the criteria for identifying wetlands of international importance has put a great emphasis on waterfowl numbers, leaving small island countries with the idea that they had strong limitations to include any of their wetlands - mostly coastal - in the Ramsar list. It is the Bureau's intention to concentrate the Regional Coordinator's efforts in assisting and promoting the Convention in the Caribbean during the next few years to ensure a good representation of this region at the 7th meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties in Costa Rica in May 1999.
Therefore, the main purpose of the visit to Antigua and Barbuda and St Lucia was to make first hand contact with the government authorities responsible for the conservation of wetlands, forestry and fisheries, and explain the new possibilities that Ramsar offers their countries as an effective tool for their work. Promotion of Wetlands for the Future was an important objective as well.
In Antigua and Barbuda, meetings were held with personnel of the Ministry of Tourism and Environment, the governmental agency responsible for the implementation of environmental conventions and agreements, as well as with personnel of the Forestry and Fisheries departments. A one-day trip was organized to visit Codrington Lagoon in Barbuda, and its nesting colony of Frigate birds. This lagoon is of great international importance especially as a nursery site for lobsters, which as adults are fished outside the lagoon in Barbuda but also in nearby Caribbean island waters. The socioeconomic importance of this resource adds to the biological and hydrological factors which make this wetland a unique one in the region.
The Regional Coordinator also met with members of the local NGO's, Environmental Awareness Group and the Island Resource Foundation.
Saint Lucia (14-15 May)
As in Antigua and Barbuda, meetings were held with personnel of the Ministry of Planning, Development and the Environment, as well as with personnel of the Ministry of Forestry. Visits were also organized to the St Lucia National Trust and Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI). During the visit to CANARI headquarters, situated in the south end of the island, the Regional Coordinator had the opportunity to visit Mankòtè mangroves an area managed by the local community and used for charcoal making and some timber extraction in a rational sustainable way. CANARI is helping the local community develop an ecotourism component in this site to provide them with additional income.
Additionally, a short visit was paid to the offices of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECD) to discuss possibilities for future cooperation among both organisations, in particular with its Natural Resource Management Unit.
It is possible that these two Caribbean states, Antigua and Barbuda and St Lucia, may soon become Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention, given the strong interest perceived from the government officials with whom the Regional Coordinator met. We look forward too to having Codrington Lagoon and the Mankòtè mangroves included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.