Today’s Green Antilles interviewee is Nikola Simpson, a Barbadian environmental and oceans advocate. Nikola, a Highly Commended Runner-Up for the 2018 Queen’s Young Leader Award, is a marine biologist and coastal manager by training. She is Director of Slow Fish Barbados and runs her own environmental sustainability consulting business, Caribbean Blue Consulting.
Please tell Green Antilles readers a little about yourself, about how you work with the environment, and what that work involves.
From as long as I can remember, I have loved the sea. No one day is the same for me as I work as a consultant on many different projects but all within the environmental sustainability, fisheries or ocean conservation field. Some days I work from home reading articles, analysing data, writing reports, searching for grants; other days I am on the beach or in the sea conducting research on the coastal zone, coral reefs, sharks, whales and other days I spend at schools or events giving talks on plastic pollution, fisheries, oceans and our environment in general.
What first sparked your interest in working with the environment?
Having grown up in an island surrounded by sea, nature was all around me. However at the same time I realised that nature was rapidly becoming degraded. Coming from a family of spearfishers, fishers and divers, I was introduced to the sea at a very young age and by about 4 was swimming off the East coast. One of the most vivid memories which seemed to solidify that I wished to work with the sea was when I was about age 7 and saw hundreds of wild dolphins in St.Vincent and the Grenadines. I felt excited, in awe, amazed and could not erase that memory. Up until now, I still feel similar emotions when I see wild dolphins, whales or sharks which is more rare but further adds to my fascination.
What do you find most satisfying about your environment-related work?
I really enjoy the education, awareness and outreach aspect of the work that I do. Even if one child seems interested, asks a question or I get a report from a parent saying now my child is telling me,” Mummy don’t use that plastic straw, it could kill a turtle”, then I feel as though I have helped make a change or had an impact. It is personally rewarding but feel better knowing that the environment is in good hands. I also feel satisfied when people see the interconnectedness of everything – our daily actions can have potential negative impacts not only on our environment but on our health and that of the economy too.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges these days for the protection and sustainable management of the environment in the Caribbean?
There is an exhaustive list of challenges (often exacerbated by human actions) facing our environment from land degradation, overfishing, unsustainable coastal development, land based sources of pollution such as agricultural run off, improper disposal of waste and sewage, poor water quality, plastic pollution, decline in coral reefs, climate change and the list goes on. However there are also institutional challenges including a weak governance framework, lack of legislation and enforcement and lack of political will.
What do you think are some of the bright spots and opportunities for the Caribbean when it comes to the environment?
Not all hope is lost. I think the bright spots and opportunities are in the form of the people. There is a small army of environmentally conscious and passionate individuals leading the shift that is happening and fighting to protect our environment. More and more individuals, businesses and organisations are starting to realise the impacts of their actions and trying to reduce them. If we all come together and make one small change, that will have a big positive impact. We may not be able to reverse the damage but we can prevent further damage from occurring.
What message would you like to leave with Green Antilles readers about why and how everyday people should help to protect the environment in the Caribbean?
From the oxygen that we breathe to the food that we eat, the transport that gets us around, the jobs that employ us, almost everything is produced or provided by the natural resources in our environment and oceans, whether directly or indirectly. We are all linked to the environment. If we continue our current actions, that same environment that supports us will be no longer and we could be no longer. No coral reefs. No fish. No beaches. No tourism. Every little bit counts. Make one small swap today – whether it be skipping the single use plastic straw, choosing a reusable bag, composting your vegetable scraps, supporting local and sustainable seafood, switching to reef and human safe sunscreen or turning off the lights. These small changes add up and we have the power to drive positive change.
[Interview responses have been edited for clarity/readability. Images: courtesy Nikola Simpson.]