Sustainability no longer is just a catchphrase in the Caribbean. The efforts of Caribbean nations have come a long a way from the days of just asking hotel guests to reuse bath towels and resorts touting the use of gray water in their landscape irrigation.
With the celebration of Earth Day this Saturday, a day that marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970, I took a look at what's happening on various islands.
In the Cayman Islands, sustainability measures encompass the protection of the spectacular coral reefs that fringe the islands, so much so that strict laws prevent cruise ships from dropping anchor in the reefs off Grand Cayman.
Increasing emphasis is put on low-rise construction of beachfront condos and the use of solar energy in new resorts. The "greenest" hotel on Grand Cayman is Lighthouse Point Dive Resort, the first ecoresort in the Cayman Islands entirely powered by renewable energy.
Last year on St. Kitts, Sustainable Travel International — an organization that works with governments, nongovernmental organizations and communities — launched the Heart of St. Kitts Sustainability Charter and Foundation to identify a coalition of local businesses committed to sustainability and to provide funding for community-based projects.
Rail to Trails was one of the first projects undertaken, an effort to restore and convert the old sugar railway into a hiking and biking trail.
Built between 1912 and 1926, the railway was used to transport sugarcane from the island's sugar plantations to the sugar factory in the capital city of Basseterre. After the decline and eventual closure of the sugar industry on the island in 2005, the 13-mile segment of railway from Basseterre to Sandy Point along the west side of the island remained unused.
The foundation worked with locals to convert a section of that rail track into a path used by locals and tourists to explore a part of the island not usually found on a tourist's itinerary.
Another project underway is work with a waste management partner to help St. Kitts develop a recycling program aimed to reduce pressure on the island's only landfill.
In Antigua, the John Hughes Community Mill Hunt Tour was launched in March as part of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism as declared by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The tour includes a moderate hike to six sugar mills in the John Hughes community in Antigua to learn about the role that sugarcane played in the island's history.
In June, the southwestern section of Antigua will be declared a Green Corridor, stretching from the Sugar Ridge Resort and Spa to the village of John Hughes to commemorate a number of hotels in that corridor that are green-certified or engaged in green practices.
Turtle conservation is a big deal in the Dominican Republic. Various programs teach locals and visitors about the importance of protecting these endangered species.
Turtle Village Trust in Trinidad and Tobago carries out monitoring and protection of turtle nests on the beaches during nesting season.
On a recent visit to Nevis, I was impressed with the Nevis Turtle Group (NTG). Volunteers help monitor the nesting beaches, tag sea turtles and work with local schools to involve children in sea turtle-related activities.
The NTG works with local hotels to incorporate turtle watching into their tourism programs, including the Kids for All Seasons Center at the Four Seasons Resort that has been working for more than 10 years with NTG on a hands-on program that focuses on Nevis' endangered sea turtles.
In Dominica, management of the Three Rivers Eco-Lodge embraces a sustainable lifestyle. Sun powers the entire property, water supply is pumped from the river using solar water pumps, all kitchen and garden waste is composted to grow as much organic food as possible using no chemicals, and a pickup truck used by the property runs on used vegetable oil to reduce harmful emissions.
Guests at the lodge are encouraged to help pick produce at the organic farm and participate in community workshops about renewable energy and good environmental practices.
Sustainability was the focus of a recent workshop in St. Lucia organized by the Caribbean Tourism Organization and the UNWTO.
The goal was to explore ways to make Caribbean destinations and the region more sustainable and globally competitive.
Participants agreed that the focus had shifted from marketing a destination's tour product to more emphasis on the visitor experience.
Kathleen Pessolano, one of the UNWTO representatives at the workshop, pointed out that "developing authentic experiences requires destinations to understand themselves their unique culture and features and to build on those strengths."
Participants took the learning process from the classroom into the field on three study tours to St. Lucia attractions.
They split into groups and visited Fond Latisab Creole Park, Lushan Country Life Nature Park and Sulphur Springs and Volcano to assess visitor access, safety and security, visitor satisfaction, local employment and measures in place to reduce energy, water and waste consumption.
The conference was not a one-off, according to Bonita Morgan, director, resource mobilization and development, CTO. "The Caribbean has an ongoing, long-term commitment to sustainability because it enriches lives and communities, protects environments and celebrates the region's unique heritage," Morgan said.