While some countries are known for their grand architecture and visitors traverse the pathways of the city to photograph the statuettes perched on every corner, Trinidad and Tobago is not one of these countries. Yes, these islands have a few beautiful architectural pieces, especially in Port of Spain, but the main attraction is the lush greenery. The surrounding nature invites you in and drives you into the realization that the untouched world around us is the greatest miracle we could ask for.
Over the last few months, I have been grateful to receive this knowledge straight from the source, the forests. Trinidad and Tobago offers an endless variety of trails ending in bubbling rivers bursting with life, rainforests teeming with a rainbow of birds, and waterfalls you have to crane your neck to catch sight of! In Tobago, especially, the beaches are awe-inspiring, with light sand and clear water, sparkling an aquamarine in the sunlight.
However, despite all this beauty, Trinidad and Tobago has certainly not reached a country-wide environmental consciousness. Specific parts of the country— such as the highly tourist-populated beaches of Tobago, the nesting sites of the leatherback turtles in Trinidad, and the popular hiking trails — have come ahead of the rest in encouraging recycling and environmental safety. Nevertheless, the majority of the country does not seem particularly discouraged by the thought of tainting the beautiful landscape with crumpled cans, used bottles, and non-biodegradable items.
Often, I find myself carrying a trash bag or an empty soda cup for blocks without seeing a single garbage bin. Even around my dorms and on our campus, it is difficult to find recycling bins and trash cans on every corner as I am accustomed to at home. I realize that in America I feel that I am a particularly environmentally aware person with a strong sense of friendliness for our plant friends. It seems that I may not be as aware as I believed myself to be. In America we barely need to raise a finger to find a recycling bin ready for our plastics, or a trash can ready for our Styrofoam In Trinidad and Tobago, the processes have not yet taken place to set up a country-wide recycling system to spread awareness about conservation.
Although people are educated about the necessity of recycling and the consequences of littering, I notice that without the proper availability of resources to aid in this (such as recycling bins every block or trash cans on each street corner), it is impossible to expect people to walk miles with their trash in their hand, simply to lay it alongside the sidewalk when it becomes too much of a burden!
On the other hand, students at UWI take great pride in stepping out and helping with environmental cleanups when asked. This leads me to believe that most people are searching for a way to be more conscious (in all truth, no one enjoys kicking trash out of the sidewalk during an afternoon stroll), but struggling to find it! When the Matura Bay Cleanup fliers went out, advertising a volunteer opportunity at 6 AM on a Saturday, an unbelievable amount of people went! At my university, with a slightly larger population than UWI, we could not have even a third of the participation that I found here. Students worked in the early hours of the morning, picking trash off the bay that leatherback turtles most often nest on in Trinidad.
I know the importance of being environmentally aware. This week, I was lucky enough to experience a rare event— the nesting of the endangered leatherback turtles. Around midnight on Friday, from our campfire on the beach, we watched as a turtle slid onto shore and made its way slowly up to the softer parts of the sand on Paria Bay. This 2,000 ton creature found an easier path up the sand to dig a nest in which to lay over 120 eggs. Why? Because this beach was clean of trash! However, a local relayed to me the problems of littering on the beach. The baby turtles, already unprotected and highly vulnerable, hatch and must find their way to the water. With so much garbage and litter clouding the beach several more turtles die than they should, as their path is obstructed.
While Trinidad and Tobago could certainly improve in regards to cleaning up litter and increasing the availability of recycling and trash bins, one thing I would definitely bring back home with me is the health conscious behavior. Yes, this climate offers an advantage to those seeking year-round hiking adventures. The United States has a decent climate for the pursuit of outdoors adventure for at least 7-8 months of the year, and yet the majority of social activities take place inside! I enjoy how Trinidad and Tobago pays great attention to the natural beauty of the world around us and encourages a healthy set of physical activities involving the fresh air and lush foliage.