15th January 2018, Providenciales, TCI – The Turks & Caicos Reef Fund (TCRF), the only active environmental non-governmental organization in the Turks & Caicos Islands, and SWA Environmental, a TCI-based company, specializing in sustainable environmental management through scientific research, environmental impact assessment and support for environmentally appropriate development projects, have been awarded a grant, under Cornell University’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise’s Sustainable Asset Management Program (STAMP), to assist people on South Caicos, and other interested persons, in establishing ecotourism businesses on and around East Caicos. The grant, entitled Assessing the Viability of Alternative and Improved Livelihoods in Sustainable Tourism at the East Caicos Key Biodiversity Area, includes two workshops, fieldwork and the development of business plans, using stakeholder participation.

In association with the grant, a preliminary workshop will be held on South Caicos on February 6th 2018 at the South Caicos Ocean and Beach Resort. All members of the public who are interested in starting an ecotourism business are invited to attend. Participants will be asked to provide feedback on how they use the natural environment on East Caicos, where they go, ideas for ecotourism businesses and any challenges that the foresee. The project team is encouraging everyone on South Caicos, and others who would like to start an ecotourism business, to take part. Participants will be given a $50 stipend to compensate for their time and input.

“Fishing for conch, lobster and commercially attractive fish species is the primary livelihood of the population South Caicos; however, fish, conch and lobster stocks are declining, and traditional ways of living are becoming increasingly difficult. Strategies to diversify the South Caicos economy towards ecotourism would reduce dependence on traditional fisheries and improve qualities of life,” said Kathleen Wood of SWA Environmental, who also functions as the volunteer Research Director for the TCRF. “By working with local stakeholders, such as fisherfolk, DECR, chefs, homemakers and others, we will develop viable business plans for ecotourism opportunities, making sure that conservation serves to protect the interests of both people and the environment.”

The outcomes of this project will include up to five business plans for ecotourism ventures and will integrate with research already conducted at East Caicos by TCRF and SWA Environmental. Ongoing support for establishing ecotourism businesses from TCRF and SWA Environmental will also be provided. Don Stark of TCRF said, “the addition of stakeholder input and participation in environmental decision-making is critical to ensuring appropriate conservation management and sustainable uses for the East Caicos ecosystem.

“TCRF works with government and the private sector with an aim of sustainably conserving TCI’s unique natural resources for the benefit of all the people who rely on them and for generations to come,” Don Stark of TCRF concluded. “We are working on several projects, such as dive moorings, scientific research and coral nurseries, to meet this aim. Conservation cannot be successful if it does not benefit people. By helping to develop and support viable ecotourism businesses, we can ensure that TCI remains Beautiful by Nature, while at the same time serving the needs of people.”

Anyone with questions about this project can contact Don Stark or Kathleen Wood at donstark@tcreef.org and kw@swa.tc. Everyone is also encouraged to become a member of the TCRF to help preserve and protect the environment of the TCI. You can become a member by going to the TCRF website www.tcreef.org/donate.html - or by contacting Don Stark by phone (347-8455) or the above email address.

About TCRF

Founded in 2010, the Turks & Caicos Reef Fund is the only active environmental advocacy organization in the TCI. It is an all volunteer-run organization that provides funding for education, research and conservation programs to individuals, organizations and agencies that help to preserve and protect the environment of the Turks & Caicos Islands. Our goal is to have at least 85% of all funds raised through voluntary contributions from divers and snorkelers visiting the Turks & Caicos Islands directed to the Fund’s programs.

Anyone wishing to donate or assist the TCRF in any way can contact them through their website, www.TCReef.org. Scuba divers visiting the islands are encouraged to make a $10 donation through the purchase of a dive tag that can be attached to their dive gear to show their support. Snorkelers visiting the islands can show their support through the $5 purchase of a pink or blue silicone wristband. A complete list of outlets for TCRF merchandise can be found on the organization’s website.