Media gets education in biodiversity

Jerry George was among the presenters at the two-day workshop about the role of protected areas.

Jerry George was among the presenters at the two-day workshop about the role of protected areas.

When was the last time you saw a wasp, a group of butterflies near your home, fireflies lighting up the night, guppies in the rivers or even a bunch of grasshoppers frolicking in a nearby grassy area? Not a popular question on facebook, twitter or even the news, but something to ponder on nonetheless as are the many questions surrounding our lost mangroves, forest areas and rivers and some of the plant and animal life which are disappearing from those areas.

With so many issues on crime and politics confronting the local media and by extension the local populace nowadays it may come as no surprise that such subjects and “biodiversity” may not be seen as newsworthy, sensational, “sexy” or even headline news by many. But what with the closing of a year plagued by natural disasters internationally, regionally and even locally? What with the impact of the earthquake in Haiti, the floods in Pakistan and China and even hurricane Tomas right here in Saint Lucia? These all helped make 2010 an exceptional year for natural disasters, killing 295,000 worldwide and costing $130 billion. The last time so many people died in natural disasters was in 1983, when 300,000 people died, mainly due to famine in Ethiopia reports the AFP. But still unaccounted for are the millions of species of plant and animal life that are lost each year due to natural and man made disasters, pushing even our own existence closer to the brink as we struggle to sustain our water, food and medicinal supplies.
While these disasters, their impacts and death toll have made for compelling headlines in 2010, not so the havoc wreaked on the environment by mankind.

The underlying nature of these disasters has provided further proof on global warming and climate change issues. But they have also pointed out that the worst enemy to mankind is man. In comes the term “biodiversity” which simply put is the number and variety of organisms found within a specified geographic region. But it is not so much the term and its understanding that is need for concern, but human activities, such as direct over-harvesting of species, introduction of alien species, habitat destruction, bad farming practices, poor waste management and pollution. These activities have resulted in dramatic losses of biodiversity with some animal and plant species become rarer some nearing extinction.

Some examples right here in Saint Lucia are the whiptail lizard, iguana and St Lucian parrot which are all protected species and habitats and protected areas like Maria Island and the Praslin Bay a former home of migratory birds, which has been sold out to hotel development.

It was against this backdrop that on Monday January 10 and Tuesday January 11, 2011 the OECS Secretariat hosted the first of a series of seminars on the role of protected areas in biodiversity conservation for the media here in Saint Lucia. The seminars will continue throughout the OECS territories between the months of January and February 2011.
The Saint Lucian seminar was held at the Bay Gardens Inn and was based on the OECS Protected Area and Associated Livelihoods (OPAAL) project. The seminar brought together presenters and resource persons, managers and PR people from protected areas as well as representatives from the ministry of agriculture and fisheries.

Though the turnout by local media practitioners was low, Tecla Fontenard, communication specialist of the OPAAL project, says she was happy that overall it was a  good seminar one with healthy and informed discussions and good interaction.
“Coming out of the OPAAL project which is coming to an end one of the major activities that was suggested as a priority in that regional awareness strategy was called a media awareness initiative that would be targeted at the media,” Fontenard told the STAR. The idea she says is to lobby the media as a major target audience so that they could become educated and get strengthened in terms of biodiversity conservation and protected areas.

One of the Biodiversity experts who was a presenter at the two-day seminar was Dr Maria Protz who made presentations on the importance of biodiversity and protected areas to the news media, starting levels of awareness, selling and pitching good stories on the subject, and the making of a media tool kit on biodiversity. Protz who is a consultant with the OECS, under the OPAAL project told the Star that the tool kit is expected to be vey comprehensive.

“This will include sources, a list of resource persons, photos and a glossary among other things because we recognize that the journalists have a lot of challenges when it comes to covering biodiversity issues and activities.

“This is not always seen as important and interesting so the tool kit is expected to make it as easy as possible for journalist to cover issues more accurately and effectively,” Protz says.

Another presenter was Jerry George who made a compelling presentation on evidence based journalism and making stories relating to biodiversity more palatable and with human interest angles.

Karetta Crooks-Charles, communications officer of the Pigeon Island Park participated in the seminar and thought it went very well. “In as much as I am with the National Trust, this has reenergized me as to the importance of biodiversity and just looking at it from different angles and how many more stories I can produce was very refreshing,” Charles says. “What I want to see more now is the media houses no longer taking these issues for granted because they generally affect us all,” she added.

Raymond O’Keiffe of the OECS Newslink also attended the workshop and described it as a defining moment for journalist here. “Clearly this should guide us as to how we treat biodiversity and how we think and become part of efforts to manage our environment effectively and efficiently and to sensitize the general public as well by putting these issues on the front burner,” O’Keiffe said.

Voice reporter Rae Anthony thought the workshop was great and that she learnt quite a bit over the two days.

“I was assigned to this workshop and didn’t think the whole subject of biodiversity would have been something that would have kept my attention at first, but I must say the presenters were very good and I did learn a lot,” Anthony intoned. She says the seminar will definitely play a significant role in her coverage of such issues in the future.
Apart from discussions and presentations a key component of the seminar was a tour to the Pigeon Island Park (a protected area) to observe its water and land based biodiversity and multiple uses as a park.

Participants who came from the STAR, RCI, The Wave, the Voice and the Mirror were also required to prepare a short media piece on their findings. At the end of the workshop, they also signed a pledge with a declaration to give more regular coverage to issues relating to biodiversity and the environment.

It is the hope that this year and in the years to come that the subject will become just as important as the reporting on crime and politics, because to not do so some say may be just as criminal at best or allowing the public to drown without the option of offering them a life vest even.

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