Barry and the Tobago 'Ark'

At Hermitage Bay, the Main Ridge descends into the Caribbean Sea.   Joanne Husain
At Hermitage Bay, the Main Ridge descends into the Caribbean Sea. Joanne Husain

Barry Lovelace had his sights set on a career in medicine when he had his eyes opened to the underwater wonders of his home island. He talks with Pat Ganase about the Ark that will encourage Tobagonians to appreciate and conserve the natural resources of the island, for inspiration and livelihoods.

The Tobago Alliance for Resilient Communities (TARC) is an NGO that will focus on communities; not just human villages but ecological communities. The communities of TARC will include people with common issues (social concerns, access to resources, special interests) and also the eco-communities of a rich natural environment, ridge to reef.

Patricia Turpin and I were originally part of the NGO Environment Tobago. In 2019, we received funding from the Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC) in Barbados to participate in a series of capacity development workshops. The thrust of the activities was for NGOs in our region to rethink their roles and redefine purpose. Access to grant funding is becoming more difficult, and NGOs need to be self-sustaining.

The recommended model for the NGO is social enterprise; working with people to encourage self-development. The directors of TobagoARC are Patricia Turpin, Angelica Harkoo and Barry Lovelace but the intention is to create a community of communities. Our membership will come from partner individuals and institutions that subscribe to our vision. We will form strategic alliances through MOUs. We will invite advisers who are willing to share expertise to become partners. We envisage a “place where people and planet prosper in perpetuity.”

Barry Lovelace, director of TobagoARC. 

Our mission is to enable and empower communities of Tobago and beyond to build resilience to climate change, enhance livelihoods through education and research, and promote healthy living, all in harmony with the natural environment.

The acronym is TARC but we call ourselves Tobago Ark (TobagoARC) to play on the function of an ark – drawing on the biblical story of Noah’s climate change event – to conserve biodiversity.

The pandemic had serious, life-changing effects on people everywhere. At the same time, the designation of northeast Tobago as a Unesco Man and the Biosphere Reserve (MAB) is our silver lining; it offers something to work on that encourages us to be integrated with the natural environment.

TobagoARC’s focus is the 15 villages within the MAB, but Tobago is one island without borders so there’s nothing to stop engagement with all communities, especially schools and children. One of our first projects is to document the MAB through a partnership with Faraaz Abdool and Sustainable Innovation Initiatives which has funded a six-month project for photos and stories. We are in discussion with a company to produce an inventory of energy usage in Charlotteville which will determine a possible configuration of alternative energy sources for the town.

Tobago Reforestation and watershed rehabilitation

Since January 2022, I am the chairman of the Tobago Reforestation and Watershed Rehabilitation Programme (TRWRP) which is the new special purpose company established by the THA under the Division of Food Security, Natural Resources, Environment and Sustainable Development. The mandate is to increase forest capital through reforestation to maintain watersheds and conserve soil and improve existing forests, initially on state lands.

From the Main Ridge on trail at Merchiston, through palms and bois canot, you can see Little Tobago on the horizon. 

Reforestation and Watershed Rehabilitation started as a national programme in 2004. In 2020, the new THA decided to incorporate a company. It aims to change the mindset of the programme from “unemployment relief.” We intend to train participants, and encourage them to develop skills and enterprises within the realm of forest and forestry products. There are industries to be made from bamboo; or composting; or revitalising cocoa.

The first agro-forestry project sees breadfruit as a tree crop, for soil conservation and food security. Every household on Tobago should be able to feed itself. We were gifted some young trees which were planted and distributed in the 15 Assembly districts. We are talking with stakeholders Centeno La Reunion Propagating Station and The Tree that Feeds Foundation (Jamaica and Florida), and using technology to create an inventory and monitor trees.

In the next phases, we talk to the farmers who are already expressing interest; and then we consider the value-added products. TADCO (Tobago Agribusiness Development Company) is looking at breadfruit as an alternative to wheat for flour.

Tobago heritage

I was born in Scarborough and grew up in Mt St George. My father was a tailor and my mother a home-maker: Theodora Lovelace is 94 now. I am the youngest of six; four brothers and a sister. I still live in Mt St George with my wife Paula and our nine-year-old daughter D’Vine Destiny Lovelace.

Deep in the Main Ridge, the road from Bloody Bay to Roxborough dips through dense avenues of trees. 

I studied Biology at Caribbean Union College, now the University of the Southern Caribbean (USC), heading to medicine. Dr Floyd Hayes was my professor of marine biology. He took our class on a two-week trip to Tobago. What I saw underwater at Buccoo and Charlotteville was mind-blowing. This was my island, my Tobago!

After graduation in 1996, I taught at Bishop’s High School, agriculture and integrated science at first form, for two years. In those years I taught Farley Augustine, Ancil Dennis and Kelvon Morris. I was on track to be promoted to teach the sixth form, when I was offered a natural resource management course for 18 months at the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies in Barbados.

When I returned to Tobago I met the founding director of Buccoo Reef Trust. There were no projects but he wanted to keep me close while I was finishing my thesis. The first project was Sea Moss Cultivation Research for which I was made project manager. I became education co-ordinator and developed Sun Sea and Sand, an annual vacation programme for students that is still running today. By 2011-2012, BRT was in decline; we had no funding.

With Pat Turpin’s Environment Tobago, we sourced and received a grant from PCI Media, St Lucia which promotes conservation through storytelling, for wetland education. Environment Tobago won the grant, and I was hired to organise field trips to wetlands.

We received funding for educational programmes in schools: we started with six schools and in two years, had 53 schools involved. That evolved into the Keep a Clean School Awards and continued until the covid19 pandemic lockdown in 2020.

I am still a part-time lecturer with USC, showing would-be teachers how to teach science. During lockdown I conducted a three-day workshop on line for teachers on the use of technology, social media, whatsapp, Google collaborative tools, Zoom, Google Classroom. We shared these skills with the Early Childhood Education unit in Tobago; and had some success with centres that were able to use the tools during the lockdown.

My passion is graphic design and content creation (video and audio and music). I am a first elder in the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Mt St George, where we have an active choir and a band. I am happy to have blended art and science, advocacy and enterprise.

TobagoARC allows me to use all that I have learned, to develop people for a sustainable planet. We will continue to cherish the natural land and marine ecosystems through education, reforestation and ridge to reef programmes. We will work with partners, communities and schools. We will actively engage and empower individuals and groups in co-operative environmental enterprise.


"Barry and the Tobago ‘Ark’"

More in this section