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The Asa Wright candle in the window
Should such a designation ever exist, the Asa Wright Nature Centre would surely rank among the Wonders of T&T.
There are some who however believe that not enough support for this view exists among T&T policymaking circles.
This year, the centre, named for Icelandic founder Asa Wright, marks 50 years as a sanctuary for some of the country’s unique flora and fauna and as a magnet for naturalists from all corners of the globe.
The centre’s chairman Graham White believes the value of the facility exceeds its wellestablished reputation as a leading wildlife sanctuary.
“In 2017, we face a slump in the economy,” he says in a commemorative issue of The Bellbird—a publication of the centre.
“Not only are energy prices reduced but the entire industry is placing the planet’s climate in jeopardy. Nationally, we are again seeking avenues to grow our economy through new products and services.”
“Fortunately,” he notes, “AWNC has kept a candle burning in the window, demonstrating the value of natural habitats to our quality of life and as a sustainable economic activity.”
White continued to harp on the point when the centre hosted 50th anniversary celebrations at the Ortinola Estate in Maracas Valley last month.
Eco-tourism, White asserted, holds out promise as a serious focal point for economic diversification.
As he points out in The Bellbird: “We will continue to share our experience in ecotourism and expand our message of sustainable land use.”
The Asa Wright Nature Centre has been in the forefront promoting the value of “ecosystem services” such as the impact of sustainable forests on water harvesting, slope protection and reduced land slippage and urban flooding.
The first local president of the Centre, Ian Lambie, was elected in 1977 and went on, among other things, to a seat on the then T&T Tourist Board in 1982 where he actively promoted the country as an ideal destination for ecotourism.
“The word ecotourism was first used in 1983, long after the establishment of AWNC and after I had been assigned to promote ecotourism in Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.
“I think it is no mean feat to be ahead of the ecotourism bandwagon and to be promoting aspects of the green economy,” says board member, Steve Maximay.
The Icelandic connection meanwhile persists to this day, and several visitors from the Nordic island state were present for this year’s celebrations. They included Sigrún Ása Sturludóttir, grand-niece of the late AWNC founder who spoke about her aunt’s fondness for her adopted Caribbean home.
Ása Sturludóttir, a botanist who currently chairs the Asa Gudmundsdottir Wright Scientific Fund in Iceland, maintains contact with the centre. Also travelling with the team from Iceland was filmmaker Hrafnhildur Hanna Gunnarsdóttir, who is currently producing a documentary on Asa Wright.
Other testimonies at the Ortinola event came from attorney and honorary life board member, Christine Toppin- Allahar and renowned biologist/ policy specialist, Dr Carol James who chaired the board between 2004 and 2010. The occasion was moderated by former chairman, Dr Judy Gobin.
White laments the fact that “our lifestyle and entertainment have moved towards the indoor and virtual environment, at home or in malls and movie complexes” but reminded celebrants that “amongst these changes, the AWNC has remained a constant.”
It is, he says, “an institution rooted in the appreciation of natural history, advocating for conservation and sustainability of development.”