Protecting “the birds and the bees”

December 20, 2021

Often small, easily overlooked, but so very important. Have you ever thought about a world devoid of bees, butterflies, birds and bats? 

Perhaps thinking about that ‘what if’ scenario is necessary, as the reality would shock anyone into appreciating the value of these organisms. Plant productivity depends on the role undertaken by these beneficial organisms, performing this ecosystem service that is critical to our existence. A new local project, BES-Net TT was recently launched with the objective of improving how we conserve and manage these important organisms - our pollinators.

The importance of pollination and pollinators

Trinidad and Tobago has a rich diversity of plant and animal life, or biodiversity. The islands are home to over 3000 species of plants, some enjoyed for their exotic beauty and some reared as crops for horticulture and food production, alongside other non-native plants. Pollinators are animals that assist plants in reproduction, by transferring pollen grains – which bear the male reproductive material – to the external female plant parts. Pollination is a first step in the process that leads to fertilization, fruit and seed production and hence, plant reproduction. These pollination agents are therefore a critical aid to plants that are unable to self-pollinate or rely on pollination by wind or other means.

Pollinators are however facing tremendous challenges, locally and globally. Their natural habitats are experiencing alteration and destruction through fires, quarrying and development for urban expansion. Indiscriminate use of broad-spectrum insecticides on farms and in homes also negatively impacts their populations. This has serious economic consequences on food security and livelihood activities related to plant production. Local studies have demostrated that the complete loss of pollinators can reduce the production of hot peppers by 88.1%, cucumbers by 96.5% and ochroes by 86.2% . 

Already experiencing periodic crop losses due to climate change and its attendant weather extremes, any other source of negative impact on food production in Trinidad and Tobago needs to be addressed with corrective action. BES-Net TT, a new project launched on December 15, 2021 and focused on pollinator conservation and management, is therefore very welcome.

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Availability of sorrel for traditional Christmas drinks in Trinidad and Tobago is dependent on our pollinators.

Background on BES-Net

The Global Policy Centre on Resilient Ecosystems and Desertification (GC-RED) is one of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Global Policy Centers. GC-RED manages the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Network (BES-Net), a capacity sharing “network of networks” initiative that promotes dialogue and cooperation among science, policy and practice communities for effective biodiversity and ecosystem services (BES) management, contributing to long-term human well-being and sustainable development. In partnership with the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP/WCMC), the first phase of BES-Net initiative (2016-2020), or BES-Net I, has been contributing to the capacity building work of the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).  

In 2018, during BES-Net I, Trinidad and Tobago, through the Environmental Policy and Planning Division of the Ministry of Planning and Development, was represented at a Caribbean Regional Trialogue in the Dominican Republic. This meeting discussed the status of pollinators in the region and their importance to sustainable food production and climate resilience, how the challenges of invasive pests and pathogens, land-use changes and pesticide use can be addressed. The Trialogue generated possible response options and recommended action plans.

Trinidad and Tobago quickly implemented some of these actions, initially centred upon public awareness exercises on pollinators. The public was encouraged to observe pollinators and identify them using a free, online application, iNaturalist. By uploading photographs of the pollinator to the app, an individual gains expert assistance in identifying the organism and contributing to a pollinator database. Workshops were hosted for local beekeepers, to raise awareness of threats to bees and to conduct demonstrations on methods for successful species conservation and livelihood management.

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Field scientists setting up an insect sampling trap as part of the BES-Net project.

Current project focus

In late 2019, the German Government signed an agreement with UNDP marking its contribution to the UNDP Trust Fund Funding Window for Nature, Climate and Energy; this led to financing of BES-Net TT. Trinidad and Tobago received funding from this BES-Net Solutions Fund for the current 2-year project, which will undertake several activities, including research on pollinators, continued public awareness and engagement exercises and work with researchers and key stakeholders in Government and civil society. 

Expected project outcomes are improved scientific information on our local pollinator species, a monitoring protocol to enable periodic assessment of the status of pollinators, recommendations towards policy improvement, and educational materials to enhance public awareness and improved actions for pollinator conservation. Of particular focus are local stingless bees, which currently suffer from a lack of public knowledge but have the potential for development of the local honey industry.

Looking ahead

At the project launch, representatives of EPPD, UNDP and BES-Net Global all noted the importance of this project for Trinidad and Tobago and its global contribution to pollinator conservation. With a strong emphasis on public involvement, engagement and benefits built into this project, it is hoped that the next time you see a butterfly, bee, bat or bird flitting around the flowers of our trees, shrubs and food plants, you appreciate the role they are performing, and do your part to keep them alive in our environment.

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For more information on the Trinidad and Tobago component of BES-Net TT, please contact:

BES-Net TT Project Management Unit

Environmental Policy and Planning Division, Ministry of Planning and Development

Level 7, Tower C, International Waterfront Complex,

Wrightson Road, Port of Spain

e-mail address: besnet.tt@gmail.com

 Visit the project webpage at: http://biodiversity.gov.tt/index.php/bes-net.html

Follow on Social Media:

https://www.facebook.com/besnet.tt/

https://www.instagram.com/besnet.tt/

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Column from T&T's Business Guardian - December 16, 2021.