|Environmental Protection in the Caribbean||
|Environmental Protection in the Caribbean||
Kippy Gilders is the newest intern for the foundation Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) and will coordinate a three-month Wetland Outreach Campaign. She has been a sailor her whole life and, from June 2013 to July 2015, circumnavigated the globe. Having grown up on St. Maarten and being environmentally active throughout the years, she went on to complete a Master’s degree in Environment and Resource Management at the VU Amsterdam. With high season in full swing, this internship is the perfect opportunity to put her environmental knowledge and sustainable boating experience to use as our waters are bustling with tourists and marine traffic.
Tell us about yourself
Since the age of two I grew up on St. Maarten attending the MAC and St. Dominic High School. My parents met while my mom was living and working in South Africa. My father was sailing around the Indian Ocean at the time and they decided to sail away together. They got married in Seychelles and sailed as far as Thailand before going back across the Indian Ocean to Mayotte, where I was born. They continued around Africa, along the coast of South America and up the Caribbean chain. When we came across St. Maarten we decided to settle down. Until I was nine years old we lived on our boat in the lagoon before eventually moving to land and throughout the years I continued to sail and participate in regattas on the island.
I completed my Bachelor of Science at the University College Utrecht (UCU) with majors in Life and Environmental Sciences. While back on the island I came across the incredible opportunity to circumnavigate the globe with Ready. Set. Sail!. As this had always been on my bucket list I decided to take a break from academics and commit myself fully to this endeavor. With just two years scheduled to sail around the world, I was aware that approximately half of this time would be spent at sea with little or no connection to the rest of the world. When we were on land we did our best to organize clothing and food donation drives, beach cleanups and participate in reef research. After this life- changing experience I was very excited to move to Amsterdam to complete a Master’s degree.
What did you study for your Master’s degree?
I studied Environment and Resource Management at the VU Amsterdam. This programme is very internationally oriented and open to students from all disciplines. This creates a fascinating multidisciplinary atmosphere to train the next generation of environmental decision-makers to find solutions for societal problems related to natural resource depletion and environmental change. Essentially, this degree outlines how to consider all aspects when designing a management scheme - a sustainable future is one where the economy, society and environment are equally important.
What topic was your thesis on?
I was accepted to complete my thesis research in Micronesia through The Nature Conservancy. Small island communities in this part of the world are highly threatened by the impacts of climate change, especially sea level rise as many of the islands are only a few meters above sea level. Therefore, these communities must either adapt to their changing environment or migrate to higher grounds. The research for my my thesis evaluated how the community could harness the environment to adapt to climate change.
For example, rather than investing money into constructing seawalls to reduce the effects of sea level rise the community could invest their time to plant and restore mangroves along the coast. Constructing a seawall would require an initial investment, maintenance, eventual replacement, and often makes the situation much worse if not properly executed. However, healthy mangroves would prevent coastal erosion, reduce storm waves, and replenish fisheries along with a multitude of other benefits. Methods such as mangrove restoration are referred to as ecosystem-based adaptation and are gaining popularity due to the significant amount of co-benefits to the environment and society.
How did you come across this intern position?
With the last few years being a whirlwind of sailing and studying, I decided to return home to St. Maarten after my Master’s degree. I would like to do what I can for this island before looking for work internationally so when I heard about this position I was very interested because it combines my two greatest passions - sailing and the environment. This campaign, running from January to March 2017, is funded through the Be the Change Foundation (http://bethechangesxm.com) and mobilized by the EPIC Foundation.
Why should we care about wetlands like the Lagoon?
Sustainable practices are necessary as the lagoon is essentially a closed ecosystem. With limited recharge from the open sea, whatever is placed in our lagoon is likely to stay there and build up over the years. With the rapid development of the island, we have concentrated large numbers of people around our wetlands without providing proper infrastructure like sewage lines to keep waste out of the water. Therefore, businesses and homeowners should be aware that their wastewater flows into our ponds and lagoons.
I believe that people who live on boats are some of the more environmentally conscious as they can directly observe the repercussion of their actions and a single boat on its own has very little impact on the environment. However, a group of boats such as a fleet of regatta competitors or a full marina will have a much more dramatic effect and should be particularly conscious of their actions. Thus, it is especially important to promote sustainable practices this time of the year when our waters see the most marine traffic.
In short, how can we be more environmentally friendly?
Businesses and homeowners should have proper functioning septic systems or other disposal methods which should be pumped out when full. In a similar fashion to houses, most boats also have tanks to contain wastewater and perhaps the most significant way for boats in the Lagoon to be more environmentally friendly is by using Slurpy, the sewage pumpout boat. This service is provided by the EPIC Foundation through The Business Point after a survey in 2008 demonstrated that there was a demand for such a facility. In areas where boat communities are dense and there is a lot of urban development, high concentrations of sewage causes algae growth. This algae growth and decay consumes oxygen and causes the death of marine life, leaving algae as the dominant life form. Certain corners of the Lagoon (i.e. Cole Bay corner) already exhibit these conditions.
How will you be spreading the word of environmentally friendly practices?
For the most part I’ll be assessing and raising awareness for Slurpy the pumpout boat by conducting a short survey and being present at cruising and racing venues around the island. I will also be promoting the Blue Flag for Boat Owners campaign. This allows individual boat owners to participate in the Blue Flag programme by signing a pledge stating that they comply with the Blue Flag for Boat Owner's Environmental Code of Conduct. This has a number of commitments such as “Not throwing litter into the sea or along the coast”, “Not releasing toilet water into fresh waters, coastal waters and sensitive areas” and “Using the most environmentally friendly products that are available and work efficiently”. Lastly, I will be organizing events to raise funds in support of conservation and education related to the Simpson Bay Lagoon and reaching out to businesses and citizens to increase awareness of practices which help to protect our precious remaining wetlands.
Establishments who are interested in partnering with EPIC to become more environmentally conscious and boat owners who want to commit to the Blue Flag pledge can contact Kippy at: firstname.lastname@example.org. To schedule an appointment with Slurpy call on VHF Channel 10, phone on +1 (721) 544-315, or email at email@example.com. For more information surf to www.epicislands.org.