Horizon at Sandy Point

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Three marvels before breakfast!

Mt Plaisir, Grande Riviere. Turtle watching expedition. Expectations high. In the daylight, we surveyed the new route of the big mouth Grande Riviere, inches from the picket fence that was once seen "way up the beach" exposing roots of the hundred year old almond trees. And also exposing turtle nests in cross section where the eggs could be plucked by corbeaux or dogs. As it turned out, the significant other turned in after dinner and I decided to stay on the porch elevated above the wide mouth river.
Guest rooms hover above the new bed claimed by Grande Riviere,
tree roots exposed, a sand bank between river and sea

Turtle nest exposed by the meandering mouth of Grande Riviere

Tiny turtle egg on the beach

Pitch black night. Pinpoints of ships' lights on the horizon. Eyes wide to catch light reflected from the waves crashing in a ragged line, peering to catch shadow on shadowed sand, searching for movement of black on black. And to fall asleep to the crescendos of the tumbling surf.

At daylight, time to see the beach on the morning after the night. Camera in hand, I rush to beach. The tracks are written in the sand, a crumpled untidy counterpane. Impressive in the dawn light, so many of them, snaking this way and that, light or deeper impressions, some more deliberate than others, like the footprints of a dancing party. Do we need to see and touch and feel to know what happened here under cover of darkness?
Turtle tracks must tell of their size, weight and speed!

Quick and direct to the sea.

Track on track on track

Can you tell if this track was made coming up or going back?

Each turtle track must be distinctive like a foot print!

At the western end of Grande Riviere beach, two turtle combers are out, clipboard in hand and a large basin to collect hatchlings that may not have made it to the water in the dark. But the corbeaux are there too, looking satisfied by their first breakfast of eggs raided from upturned nests, and a few hatchlings for dessert. There are so many nesters that some invariably dig up nests made earlier in the season. The king corbeaux spread their wings on a tall tree stump.

Red head king corbeaux who take tribute in baby turtles!

One of the turtle watchers is Marcia, the turtle watch woman who had administered permits for access to the beach the night before. She says they counted 70 turtles on the beach overnight. The collection of hatchlings in the morning is a month-old project, in which any hatchlings on the beach at dawn are protected during the day to be released in the water at dark. They are also attempting to monitor viability and the types of predators during the daytime hours - I am sure it is more complex than this gist. It indicates to me that as well as protecting the turtles, there is a measure of observation and science involved, which bodes well for the people and turtles.

Almost to the end of the beach, the two women turn back. No turtles out this morning, they declare. Looks like I have to be satisfied with tracks, I think, disappointment hovering like a cloud. They turn back, I walk on.
No turtles on the beach, she said.

Everywhere this untidy sand reveals deliberate tracks to and from the ocean. I convince myself I don't need to see a turtle to feel its presence. I imagine the size of the turtle making each track. A hopping corbeau. A flick of sand and another flick. And a sandy heaving. A very large turtle. Sandflies all over. A wound on her shoulder. And she's facing the wrong way! No sign of nest. Her powerful front fins are rotating the sand, making two deep holes. Wondering if I could possibly turn her in the right direction, I continue to the end of the beach.
Can you see this turtle's magic maze?

Joy to the sea!

Going home

The second turtle, has a deep circular notch on the front fin. Notchie I name her, is sideways to the sea and still as a rock. I still have time I think to reach the rock at the end of the beach.

Notchie with her notched right fin

The circle maze dance

The sea comes up to meet her

The third turtle, the littlest one, is highest up the beach. She is slowly turning in a big circle but not yet facing the sea.

Turtle Little 

She turns to the tide

Almost there!

A big splashy welcome from the ocean!

I watch each of these fabulous creatures for a few minutes. The heavy breathing, the fins like shovels sinking and turning the sand. The slow circling towards the lip of the beach. Here, each turtle pauses before slip sliding towards the surf. At the edge, another pause, a heavy indrawn breath, a farewell to the land before that graceful glide into the welcoming sea.

After each of the three marvels has returned to her watery home, I walk slowly back, the rising sun dazzling.

I see turtles everywhere. Are we walking on more turtles than can be imagined - the stars of the sea, numberless as the grains of sand. Their cycle of life inexorable as the tide, as long as there is sea and sand and jellyfish.

The last turtle leaves the western end of Grande Riviere beach - around 7 am, June 25, 2012

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Negative image as a business driver

In an article in the Business Guardian last week ( the CEO of the National Quarries Company says that the quarrying industry in Trinidad and Tobago is a literal "gold mine." He does admit, however, that the industry here has a negative image. And were it not for this "negative image", he is sure we could have a "billion dollar industry" creating a virtual "gold rush."

Mr Mitra Ramkhelawan, the Quarries' CEO, has all the business figured out - elevating the production from basic construction materials - sand and gravel - to high end products such as frac sand for lifting oil and gas, and beach sand. He has estimated a 500% profit on frac sand, and concludes that "we should try to find the highest value for that material and not just use it as a basic commodity as we do in T&T.”

It seems to me that as a businessman, Mr Ramkhelawan has the right instincts, but a very limited view of leadership, responsibility or vision. For as other bigger businesses have typically neglected to acknowledge in their business plans, and then hastened to accommodate when it might be too late,  there remains that thorny question of "negative image."

It is extremely disconcerting that the causes of the negative image mentioned three times in the newspaper feature seem to be of no concern to the business operator. It would be richly productive for him if he could open his mind to the whole of his business - not just the sand and gravel to US dollars part. Like oil and gas, or even a monoculture like wheat or corn or GM potatoes, a quarry must take into account its immediate environment, its fenceline environment, neighbouring communities and the benefit of the nation.

To exploit any resource so exclusively (be it oil, ore, water, or sand and gravel) is to destroy everything else that may have depended on it for life and survival; as well as to negate any other opportunity that may have arisen out of that environment. Call that negative image if you like. Such death, such loss, may indeed be incalculable, in comparison with the 500% return on investment from the rock.

To be sustainable, every business today must count all the costs of the operation - whether these are actually to be paid for, or not. And businesses that are already in existence must be called upon to develop a conscience, to incorporate measures for social responsibility, sustainability and proper resource management. They should be required to have a plan for their effects on surrounding  communities, whether these are communities of people, plants or animals and earthworms. They should be required to have "exit strategies" that include remediation and replanting of exhausted areas. 

It is easy to say that quarrying has one of the smallest carbon footprints of any industry in Trinidad and Tobago today, especially when no one bothered to count what was there in the first place or to estimate how those losses have been compounded since then. But now that we know better, isn't it time that quarrying got with the programme. Today, being a responsible operator should require on-going dialogue with all stakeholders, continuous surveys, as well as strategies for remediation; all of which should be demanded by regulatory oversight.

Yes, negative image is a very important business factor, not to be dismissed as if it were an act of God, or beyond the business's control. It can be assuaged by communications, by public relations. It can be patched up by community relations and social investments, but it needs to be considered as a whole. Generally, it can only be addressed effectively if there is vision and leadership to ensure that the profits today are matched by guarantees for sustainable tomorrows. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Power and words

What do you mean - ban gay marriage? So that means that your church will not marry two persons of the same sex. That is your institution's right, but surely an enlightened community - the state? - has to uphold the higher universal right of people to seek and find their own paths to contentment - granted, without infringing the rights of others.

When a powerful institution such as the church condemns gays (in marriage) or any other group of citizens, it entrenches attitudes and creates the justifications that cause their believers/ followers to revile and do harm to others. Yes, words can harm. In certain communities, hating the homo has led to worse than verbal abuse, to physical attacks, to murder. Such attitudes have caused the most unnatural of acts - parents who ostracise or abandon their own children.

In normal English, catholic means "all-embracing" or "universal." With reference to the church, its aspiration - in keeping with the teachings of Christ - is to be an inclusive community of souls. But the church has always imposed limits - those who were not baptised; those who were divorced; and the infidel or heathen, under which category other world religions fall. This is certainly in keeping with most - maybe all - religious systems whose exclusions are those not born to, not aware of, or not accepting, their doctrine.

As churches, as associations or groups, institutions have the right to exclude, to determine the rules that define their community, keep their members in check, that mark them as different or special... Again, under universal law, without infringing the rights of others. Do institutions realise that they do infringe and hurt with the power of opinion?

We recognise the power to amplify and influence as the power of media, but tend to ignore the institutions that use or insinuate the media to promote their doctrine.

As an infinitely more literate thinker, John Fowles, wrote: "It is because men want to be good and do good that (the church) has survived so long; like Communism, it is inherently parasitical on a deeper and more mysterious nobility in man than any existing religion or political creed can satisfy." This deeper and more mysterious nobility in man was not created by the church but used by it. (My italics)

And this: "We may reject some of these (other philosophies) as we might reject certain houses to live in; we cannot reject them as houses for anyone else to live in, we cannot deny them utility in part, beauty in part, meaningfulness in part; and therefore truth in part."(John Fowles, The Aristos)

And so it is with respecting those who choose their partners differently.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Some reflections from retirement

Maracas on a Wednesday!
For forty years, I've worked outside the home. In hindsight, I don't believe the work mattered as much as   the way it has shaped me, what I made of it. That it provided an income for the family, and allowed me to interact with and influence some people was significant only to me. And at the end of the day, memories accrue from  the people who were there with me. Pat's passage - with episodes in publishing, advertising, government, national airline, banking, political party, media and energy - is a particular bunch of people whose lives remain entwined in mine.

Somethings I have learned. From the newspaper: how to read a newspaper in ten minutes - to gather the information useful to me; dipping deeper in some stories, checking ads, seeing the flow not just day to day but paper to paper, paper to tv to radio to facebook. Seeing the people behind the stories and understanding they have lives too - which they bring to their jobs.

From the airline: how much it takes, in people time effort technology, to put and keep a plane load of people in the air, how much we take for granted in a transportation system that defies gravity!

From the government ministry: how like a ministry is the country - the hierarchy of power stratifications entitlements, how resistant it is to change creativity initiative innovation. so easy just to sink into the system and go with the flow.

From publishing: everyone can be an author but publishing is a craft that applies collective collaborative thinking to polish an individual effort. If you want to be an author, make sure you have an honest publisher.

From banking: money is the commodity not a value system; and like any other company, a bank runs on the values of the people who work there.

From energy: who gets the gold expects to rule the world.

In general, good humour is hard to find; mostly you have to bring it with you, and use that to tickle it out of others. That even if the kids made you late, the dog was sick and the car wouldn't start, it's better to bring a joke to the workplace than a sour face.

I still wake up at the crack of dawn. It's always been the most pleasurable time of day - that hour when the dark turns to grey and the sun slants through the green hill. That hour of seeing the world new again. That hour in which walking the dog now runs me into the day.

Keeping each other fit!