Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Day After

After much anticipation, we finally had our island wide beach clean-up. I couldn’t sleep the night before. I think Anja described the feeling best when she compared it to throwing a birthday party in elementary school when you invite the whole class to your house, but you’re deathly afraid that no one will show.

After breakfast, we went to the marine station at a quarter to 9 with plans to prep materials before everyone arrived, but to our surprise we were greeted by a dozen boys aged 5 to 14 waiting for us on the porch. The small army yelled, “You’re late! When’s the beach clean-up starting!” We sent them off in groups with gloves and bags. As the morning progressed more people continued to emerge to help.

The first half hour was incredible with boys and girls running up with wheel barrels full of glass bottles and trash. Adults all around the island swept up and loaded down the kids who brought the garbage back to the marine station to be sorted. Some of the tourists and the US highschoolers doing a study abroad with Monkey Bay and Tobacco Caye Marine Station came out to help too. Christian opened up some coconuts for fresh coconut water. Chop and Alvin, the cook at Paradise, manned the BBQ grill. After the BBQ, Captain Coach took the kids out to South Water Caye as a treat. This morning Captain Fermin loaded up all the trash and recycling on his boat to go to the mainland. His boat, “Fully Loaded” was truly fully loaded.

Working out on Tobacco Caye, my feelings oscillate between a desire to make sweeping systemic improvements and recognizing the power of small actions. The beach clean-up was very small-scale, but it was an idea that originated in the community. We helped organize and the station paid for the supplies and some food, but it was really on the community to participate…and they did. It was fantastic to see everyone stepping in to do their part.

Working Together

We’ve had several people on the island mention how they wish the island worked together more. When we were on the mainland meeting with government officials and non-profits who have worked with TC in the past, they all said there was a lack of leadership on the island that made working with the community difficult. As I’m getting to know people here I’m recognizing all these individual skills and strengths. I’m also noticing that some of them have common concerns and aspirations, but instead of talking and collaborating with one another, they go off and try to do their own thing.

Anja, Margaret and I are talking about organizing an island-wide beach clean-up day. I know, not terribly original, but we are hoping to make it a day for the community to come together. During our week on facilitation at DPMI, we learned that one of the most important things a facilitator can do is create a safe environment for sharing. I’m hoping that with this simple, shared goal of cleaning up the island, we might create an atmosphere where people can take pride in their island and talk to others about common goals.

At the same time, we’re starting to research the feasibility of some of the needs the islanders have mentioned, specifically a safe-swim zone by the dock, mooring buoys, solar energy, and waste disposal. We’re also looking into better signage on the island about the reserve. Most of the tourists coming to TC are only here for a day or two and we’ve found overwhelmingly that many of them don’t even know that they are in a marine reserve. There’s a $15 conservation fee, best practices for snorkeling or diving in the area, and restrictions against fishing for lobster and conch in certain areas and during certain seasons. However, most tourists don’t know about these guidelines and end up unwittingly breaking rules and harming the reef. The current signs are outdated, faded or placed badly…one is actually on the backside of a building.

Well….the 1 reader of my blog out there….I feel like I should apologize. This blog has become more of me thinking aloud about issues on the island and although these things are incredibly interesting to me, I worry sometimes that they’re quite boring to others. Honestly, even most enviro geeks aren’t as excited about waste disposal as I am. I fear I am becoming the boring spouse who comes home at night and can’t stop droning on about work….and it’s not even the juicy workplace gossip (cause there IS plenty of that going on the island!) You’ll have to track me down for the details on that.

Garbage Island

So excited about our meeting today! The last couple of days I was thinking to myself how I wished there was a mechanically skilled person on the island, someone who would want to be trained on maintaining solar panels and water catchment systems and maybe someone who understood how to prevent erosion on the island. Then today we met Gerald. Gerald, the maintenance guy for Paradise Lodge…who is also building his own island from trash! Yes, the mystery of what happens to the trash on the Tobacco Caye has been solved.

Yesterday, I spoke with Samuel, the maintenance guy at Tobacco Caye Lodge about trash on the island and he described how it’s sent out to build up an island not far from us. Today, we spoke to Gerald for a good hour. He described how he’s layering bottles, mud, cardboard, plastic bags, bagged trash and sand to build up an island. He’s installed piping to deal with methane gas release and has started planted coconut trees. He is running off a generator right now, but he’s repairing broken solar panels from the Blue Dolphin Lodge so that he can have solar on his island soon.

He also showed us how he’s started to build up a beach outside of Paradise Lodge. By strategically placing sandbags perpendicular to the edge of the coast, he’s managed to build up about 10 feet of beach. He also described how a conch and wire basket system could be used to do the same thing at different parts of the island. He’s a natural tinker. Since he was a child he’s enjoyed fixing things, taking them apart and figuring out how they work.

He tells us that the solar panels on Paradise Lodge are fully functional, but 10 of their 16 six-volt batteries don’t work anymore, so they’re not able store the energy they need and they need to use the generator part of the day. When we went over at 11:30am, the functioning batteries were all already fully charged. If they had new batteries, they could be running completely on solar. The problem is each battery costs about BZ$450 plus shipping. I’m digging around to see if there’s a possible grant.

Over the summer, during classes with DPMI, we talked quite a bit about how community development is often focused on what’s lacking or needed and how we need to recognize existing assets. We’ve been on the island for about 2 weeks now and  we’re starting to seek out the quieter people, like Gerald, who we haven’t had a chance to meet yet. How many others will have surprising personal projects?