In the face of the COVID-19 crisis and a restriction on social gatherings in Trinidad and Tobago, the Environmental Policy and Planning Division within the Ministry of Planning and Development has been proactively organizing a webinar series to raise awareness of key wild pollinator species among the general public. This online effort is in line with the national action plan adopted at the BES-Net’s Caribbean Regional Trialogue on Pollinators, Food Security and Climate Resilience held on 4-6 September 2018, to promote the uptake of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ (IPBES) Thematic Assessment Report on Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production.
One webinar was held on 5 June 2020 in commemoration of the World Environment Day and led by Dr. Lena Dempewolf, who attended the BES-Net Trialogue. With special focus on pollinator biodiversity, Dr. Dempewolf provided the comprehensive overview of the local pollinator species present in Trinidad and Tobago, their roles and the types of threats they face, as well as the anticipated consequences. She also shared detailed insights on how people, such as private citizens, farmers and researchers, could join the government effort to protect wild pollinators and promote their pollination functions. This includes the joining of the iNaturalist initiative, an open online platform, whose creation originates from the discussions at the Caribbean Regional Trialogue. She encouraged the audience to participate in the data gathering on pollinator and pest species in Trinidad and Tobago and other islands in the Caribbean as citizen scientists.
Another webinar was held on 12 June 2020 on the importance of bats in Trinidad and Tobago with Dr. Luke Rostant, Wildlife Ecologist, as the main presenter. Dr. Rostant shared his in-depth knowledge about bats and their importance in the context of Trinidad and Tobago, and also touched on the question of bats and diseases. He emphasized the essential services provided by bats for flower pollination (e.g. Phyllostomid bats pollinate flowers of at least 360 species of plants) and seeds dispersal (e.g. Neotropical bats disperse the fruits of 549 species). The Carollia perspicillata is the most common fruit dispersal bats in Trinidad and Tobago and also found to be responsible of early forest regeneration.
In respect to bats and diseases, Dr. Rostant indicated that 61% of all human diseases and 75% of emerging diseases in the last decade are zoonotic in origin with horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus affinis) being the leading contender of SARS-CoV-2, a variant of COVID-19. He, however, stressed that the reason for the increase in zoonotic diseases is not bats, but rather the human being through the destruction of wildlife habitat resulting in increasing human-wildlife conflicts, as well as bushmeat hunting, poaching, and trafficking. He underscored the need to tackle COVID-19 and other zoonoses at its core by revisiting human relationship with nature.
These webinar sessions are contributing tremendously to increase people’s understanding of diverse pollinator populations in the country and improve their interaction with the respective species based on the adequate knowledge of their importance for the country’s biodiversity, local livelihoods and national socio-economic well-being.