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Protecting what you love: marine conservation in Trinidad and Tobago with Ryan Mannette

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“It’s hard to love what you don’t know. And it’s very hard to protect what you don’t love”

Ryan Mannette (pronouns: he/him), is a multi-talented and passionate ocean lover, who works in both an environmental department at the Water and Sewerage Authority in Trinidad and Tobago as well as a marine scientist for SPESEAS, a non-profit organisation dedicated to marine conservation and community engagement. Ryan shares his journey that led to the creation of SPESEAS, their achievements and plans for protecting Trinidad and Tobago’s beautiful marine life into the future.

Protecting what you love: marine conservation in Trinidad and Tobago with Ryan Mannette | #itsawildlife

ISLAND LIFE

Ryan grew up on Tobago, the smaller of the two islands and has always had a close connection and love for the ocean. He remembers that from a young age, he would spend most days at the ocean –

“My dad would take us to the beach each morning, drop us off, and then he would go to work and come meet us back at the beach where we would stay until probably two or three in the morning and then go home and repeat the next day. So, I literally grew up at the beach, and it’s very close to my heart.”

Trinidad and Tobago are paired islands within the Caribbean with an economy and culture connected closely with the ocean. Ryan explains –

“Trinidad and Tobago is essentially an archepelagic state, meaning that we have a lot more ocean than land in our area – so most of our existence depends on the marine environment”

Most of Trinidad and Tobago can be considered coastal and everything has some connection to the sea. And yet the ocean environment is under risk from climate change, pollution, loss of coastal mangrove forests that provide important filtration services as well as the general presence of humans in the marine environment, anchoring boats or walking on the reefs.

“I think in the last 20 years they’ve stopped a lot of those things, but coral reefs take a long time to recover and with the added stress of pollution in the environment, it takes even longer. And then, of course, when you add the climate change, warming waters to the equation, everything needs a lot longer to bounce back again”

Because of this compounding impact of stressors on the marine environment, Ryan suggests a strategic approach to repairing the underwater world –

“It’s very important that we pay attention to exactly what is happening and try to identify all the issues and see if we can one by one, eliminate as many stressors as we can to give the environment the best chance it can to recover.”

Ryan is passionate about the marine world, and this helps him stay positive about finding solutions.

“Between when I was a child and now, I can actually see the negative changes that took place and that’s not a long time. I’m 40 years old now and I feel motivated to try and get it back to how it was, or at least slow down the negative impacts.”

“I now have a four-year-old son, and I would like him to have the kind of experiences that I had growing up. If we continue along the path we are going without making positive changes, then by the time he’s old enough to appreciate the environment, it may not have much left to appreciate. So that’s a driving force for me personally”

SPESEAS

SPESEAS is an non-profit marine conservation organisation that is dedicated to doing marine research, education, outreach, and advocacy of government policy for the marine environment. Their mission is to get citizens of Trinidad, Tobago and the wider Caribbean region more sensitized to marine issues and what they can do to have a positive impact on this environment.

In terms of how SPESEAS started, a lot of credit goes to Dr. Diva Amon, a world-renowned deep-sea biologist from Trinidad who was working abroad, doing research studies and came back home and didn’t like the lack of general awareness for ocean issues. She put a call out to anyone interested in having a chat with her about what could be done – and the group formed.

“We brainstormed on it and decided the best course of action was to form this organization to direct our passions through this and generate broad impacts in the community”

Initially a group of five passionate ocean-lovers, SPESEAS was comprised of a marine turtle expert, a coral reef expert, fisheries expert, deep-sea biologist, and a general marine scientist and GIS specialist, Ryan.

“We had a diverse team and decided let’s form this organization and use it as an avenue – because we all had ideas about research projects or things that we wanted to do, or messages we wanted to get across in order to try our best to make these changes that we thought needed to be made.”

(RE)-CONNECTING PEOPLE WITH THE OCEAN

There is a familiar saying, out of sight out of mind, and while many people on Trinidad and Tobago are close to the ocean, many people don’t go into it very often. Ryan explains –

“There was a huge disconnect between what exists in the ocean and what people know about the ocean. So, our initial goal, or one of our first projects was to try and bridge that gap.”

Ryan found that a lot of people in Trinidad and Tobago had never been snorkelling or diving, so they’d never seen beneath the ocean surface.

“It’s kind of hard to love what you don’t know, and it’s very difficult to want to protect what you don’t love.”

This was the driver behind a project called The Maritime Ocean Collection (maritimeoceancollection.com), a partnership with Underwater Earth in Australia and the Maritime Financial Group. The project was basically a Google Street view of the coral reef surrounding Trinidad and Tobago in 360O images.

“Our hope was that this project would bring home to the average person in Trinidad and Tobago what we have as our resources in the environment here. And once they see what we have – the corals, turtles, sharks – maybe it’ll bring home the message that this is actually worth protecting.”

“And persons will be more likely to take steps as individuals to help protect it, but also to lobby for the bigger changes that we can’t make as individuals around policy and industry.”

“Individuals have very little influence in some of those things but if we bring our voices together, we can make changes”

Ryan and SPESEAS do a lot of work around engaging children from communities across Trinidad and Tobago by showing them the wonders of the underwater world. He explains,

“We want to make sure that not just the policy makers understand these things, but the younger generation, because those kids will one day grow up to be the leaders in our country. And if we start from young and reach enough of them, then hopefully in a generation’s time we would have leaders who are a lot more in tune with the environment.”

“Policies can shift, and we’ll be in a much better place to preserve what we have and possibly even restore what we’ve lost already.”

TAKING ACTION FOR THE OCEAN

We asked Ryan what are three of the most important changes we can make in our lives to better support our marine life, wherever we are in the world:

  • Reduce our waste

“If you take an inventory of what kind of waste you produce each week, you quickly realize that you can actually reduce that quite a lot by making some very simple changes. For example, use a water filter instead of buying bottled water”

  • Reduce our emissions by driving less

“In terms of your vehicle usage, if you can afford, buy a hybrid or electric vehicle to cut down on our emissions. Or otherwise, try to drive less by carpooling and stopping unnecessary trips in your vehicle – because everything we do on land goes back to the ocean sooner or later.”

  • Let your voice be heard

“If you are passionate about something and you really want to make a change, it is important to contact your local representatives, your councillors and politicians. Let them know that you are passionate about this and interested in change because the public outcry is powerful.”

And if you don’t see any organisations that already exist to support your cause – consider starting your own just like Ryan did!

KEEP IN TOUCH

Want to hear more from Ryan or find out about SPESEAS? Tune into the podcast to hear our conversation. You can also follow his adventures with SPESEAS on Instagram @speseas_tt, Twitter @speseas, Facebook @speseas or their website. You can also get in touch via email info@speseas.org or Whatsapp and Signal: +1-868-689-7327. You can donate to support the amazing work that they do at SPESEAS or enquire about volunteer and advocacy opportunities on the website.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Ryan wanted to acknowledge the five original founders of SPESEAS, himself, his wife, Dr. Michelle Cazabon-Mannette, Dr. Farahnaz Solomon, Dr. Diva Amon, and Dr. Jahson Alemu, and all of their hard work and energy. Since then, SPESEAS has expanded to include Dr. Anjani Ganase, a coral reef ecologist, Jessica Sadler, a local artist, Susanna Mohammed, a social media expert, Charlotte Tom, a climate change and sustainability expert, and Kelly Mannette, Ryan’s sister who is also a marine scientist, marine educator for youth and director of the Buccoo Reef Trust in Tobago.

“All members of SPESEAS have our day jobs and dedicate a lot of time to developing this organization and getting our projects done around these as we are so passionate. We would not be here without the dedication of the members, as well as the support of the public and our volunteers in our fundraising and education campaigns. And that’s been key to the success of everything we’ve done so far.”

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