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IMA > News  > Carnival of the Sea

Carnival of the Sea

Lester W. Doodnath, Institute of Marine Affairs

The people of Trinidad and Tobago share a very special connection with our coastal and marine environment. Our coastal and marine environments provide us with numerous ecosystem services including spaces for rest and recreation. Our connection is realised in our wide and varied use of the resource for entertainment, built development, commercial/recreational fishing and petroleum exploitation to list but a few. Our seas and coastlines also serve as inspiration for our artistic and cultural expressions. Nowhere is this demonstrated more, than at the annual carnival celebrations.

In 2018 alone, there were Seatopia (Theatrical Kidz) and Scarlet Ibis, Do Not Eat Ah Food (Lee Poy-Moko Jumbie Mas) in the Junior Parade of the Bands. The adult competition was not left behind with the portrayals of Seaduced (Roam the Mas Band), Oceans Deep (Picton Folk Performing Company/Vibes Mas) and Devil and Deep Blue Sea (Crick Crack Traditional Band). In the individual categories, for the Queen Carnival competition, Savitri Hollasie portrayed ‘Salicia Queen of the Seas’ and Gloria Dallsing ‘Gem of the Oceans’. In the King category ‘King Lion; Predator of the Sea’ portrayed by Roland St. George; was a depiction particularly applauded by the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) given the need to highlight the presence and potential negative impacts of this marine invasive fish on our reefs in Tobago. What’s more, citizens remember fondly the 1979 production of Peter Minshall who won the Band of the Year title for that true mosaic of the sea, transformed into the art of mas in the “Carnival of the Sea.”  And in 1983, Minshall’s King “Man Crab” which also captured the King of Carnival that year from his band “River” spoke metaphorically on greed through technology. The populace is no doubt looking forward to 2019’s depictions many of which may perhaps go on to become a  treasured part of the national memory and psyche for years to come.

Truly, it is through the creative lens of the mas that the sea can come to life on the carnival stage as it is through our conservation efforts that nature’s canvas of colour and beauty under the sea can continue to be an inspiration for the mas.

As the nation gets ready for the greatest show on earth, however, there is a growing concern over the potential harmful impact that elements of the carnival celebration may be having on our seas. Carnival and its associated activities generate tons of litter mostly in the form of plastics. Much of these plastics find their way to the ocean and become a threat to marine life such as sea turtles, seabirds and cetaceans (whales and dolphins). A Plymouth University study indicates that plastic pollution affects at least 700 marine species. It causes the death of more than a million seabirds every year, as well as more than 100,000 marine mammals. Additionally, microplastics (plastic particles smaller than 5 millimeters) such as carnival glitter and microfibers from synthetic textiles made from plastics, are becoming a cause for great concern. Microfibers and microplastics’ widespread distribution in large quantities and their possible harmful effects on the world’s ocean are now being investigated. Glitter much like other microplastics is finding its way into the human food chain as it is being ingested by many commercial species of fish and crustaceans.  And there are global studies that point to these plastic particles also making their way into the drinking water of billions of people around the world.

The extent of marine pollution impacting our waters is among some of the new areas of research that the IMA must embark on in the near future. Already our work is pointing to some stressors in our marine environment. In 2019, the IMA will publish the second State of the Marine Environment (SOME) Report.  This publication paints a current picture of our marine and related environment and speaks of increased pollution, decline in coral reefs and seagrass beds, alterations in mangrove areas and impacts on fisheries resources. This SOME suggests the need for relevant policy and legislation to enhance our coastal and marine governance framework in a bid to aid Trinidad and Tobago’s journey to sustainable development and use of its coastal and marine resources while simultaneously protecting the integrity of critical systems and the services they provide.

Our marine and coastal environment support life on this planet and on our beloved twin-island states as we know it. We in turn must protect her if we are to continue to enjoy her benefits. Healthy oceans and seas not only provide a livelihood for many in fishing, tourism, transport and petroleum exploration to name but a few; it support human life itself. Our marine environment:

  • provides over fifty percent (50%) of the oxygen we breathe and stores fifty percent (50%) more carbon dioxide than the atmosphere;
  • helps to regulate our climate and weather patterns, transporting heating generated at the equator to the poles.
  • offers food security and its biodiversity supports the development of pharmaceuticals; and it
  • protects our coastlines from storm surge, sea level rise and inland flooding.

If we don’t want to lose these many benefits, we must engage in activity that protect our marine and coastal environment. We must adopt more environmentally friendly habits and change our approaches in every sphere of national life; carnival being just one. What would happen if we took an eco-friendly approach to the staging of this national festival and the making of mas? The National Carnival Commission is already leading the way and in 2019 has proposed two awards to help with the greening of Carnival:

1. An Indigenous Award to incentivize the use of local talent, industry and materials, awarded to both juniors and seniors category in all areas, costumes should have at least thirty percent (30%) indigenous materials such as bamboo, calabash, jumbie beads, donkey eye, reeds, dried flowers, mud, pitch and so on; and

2. ’D’Green award which seeks to promote awareness of the environment and rewards the use reused and/or recycled /upcycled materials.  Judges will look at the ability of bandleaders to use materials that damage the environment to make art. They will also look at the band and individuals to see if they leave garbage, such as confetti, after their presentation

Some of our bandleaders like designer Alan Vaughan, the main visionary behind the Moko jumbie band Moko Sõmõkow is stepping up to the challenge with a presentation this year based on the book Palace of the Peacock by Wilson Harris. He is incorporating sea grape leaves, clubmoss dried whole plants, sea coconut fruits and pods of the flamboyant, puni and fine leaf trees in his presentation His costumes can also be reused or recycled after Carnival.  Citizens all are urged to consider what they can do this carnival to reduce the incidents of our waste finding its way to our seas.

Here are some considerations for enjoying a greener carnival this year:

  1. Use glass/metal/paper or otherwise reusable drinking containers;
  2. Recycle plastic bottles, aluminium cans and glass bottles;
  3. Reduce your use of single use plastics and support vendors serving food and drink in bio-degradeable containers;
  4. Place your litter in specially provided containers or walk with it until you find a proper place to safely dispose;
  5. Use environmentally friendly and biodegradable materials for costumes; and
  6. Encourage another to adopt eco-friendly habits too.

Carnival is here again! Enjoy the mas, but let’s do it safe and green to save our blue!