Feature – Trees: The Circle of Life Towards Establishing A Green Economy

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Trees have a critical role to play in the establishment of a green economy. Not only are they a natural way to conserve energy, but they also offer protection for the land and marine environments.

In explaining their importance, Project Manager of the National Botanical Gardens, Nigel Jones, said: ???Trees work 24/7. They provide a wide range of non-food products and services. They provide wood and wood products; [and] make milk production higher. They are good for privacy and relaxation. They trap dust which is a key agent in the cause of asthma; and reduce noise levels, and wind speeds.???

And, come September 22, Barbados will join the rest of the world in celebrating World Arbor Day under the theme: Trees the Circle of Life. Local celebrations will get under way on Monday, September 23, and run throughout the week climaxing with an Arbor Day Expo at the National Conservation Commission???s headquarters, Codrington, St. Michael, on Saturday, September 28, beginning at 10:00 a.m.

It is a known fact that trees sustain life through the production of oxygen. Mr. Jones pointed out that an acre of trees accounted for enough oxygen to serve 18 people 24 hours a day, seven days a week annually. ???The Amazon Forest generates 20 per cent of the oxygen content,??? he said.

However, the power of trees extends beyond providing oxygen to maintain life. During an interview with the Barbados Government Information Service, Mr. Jones explained that trees had the ability to store carbon in large quantities, in the form of cellulose which constituted the starches to form wood.

???Carbon dioxide impacts steadily on the greenhouse effect and global warming, [while] nitrogen, another greenhouse gas, speaks to global warming also. It is a chain link???there is a domino effect,??? he said.

But while trees play an important role in balancing the greenhouse gases, they are also critical to water augmentation in terms of increasing the amount of water in the country???s aquifers and water distillation. ???The trees prohibit direct contact between the soil and rainfall. The canopy of the trees blocks the water which runs down the plant body to the waiting soil,??? Mr. Jones noted.

However, he warned that when trees were not there to prevent direct contact between the soil and rainfall, this created a situation known as rapid runoff. ???What happens is you get a lot of pollutants particularly fertilisers and pesticides going into the marine environment. When this happens, you find that not only is there a negative impact on the coral reef and fish population but most of the benefits like the organisms living at the bottom of the sea [such as] sea eggs, shell fish, wilts, conch, sea grasses and so on, they will be stressed. And, as the enrichment continues from runoff with the fertilisers, then the algae community within the water body [would] continue to proliferate,??? he explained.

He added that this then created a situation of rapid depletion of oxygen within the water system, and resulted in fish and other organisms being unable to survive.

In reducing the runoff, trees also have a critical role to play in soil stabilisation, and erosion control. The project manager explained that trees ???broke wind speeds??? which would otherwise blow away the top soil and increase the possibility of flooding.

Mr. Jones pointed out that trees also provided a useful habitat for wild life, such as nesting sites for birds, and an area for bees to collect their nectar which could lead to more pollination and increased fruit production.

At the same time, he added, live and dead wood in a forest or gully systems provided an abundance of food for termites. ???This is very important. When you see termites in trees leave them. If you cut down the trees they will come into your homes. Trees allow termites to feed in their natural environment,??? the plant expert advised.

Meanwhile, the cooling effect trees have cannot be ignored. In fact, Mr. Jones said simply planting a tree to the east and west of office buildings could save businesses money on energy bills. ???The walls are kept cool continuously and you use less air conditioning. This is an energy saving measure,??? he said, adding that by so doing, there would be little contact between the sun and the walls.

He explained that trees created their own micro climate. ???Recently, there is emphasis on planting trees in urbanised areas. This is to break-up the concept of heat islands,??? he said.

Mr. Jones pointed out that heat travelled laterally, and noted that dark car parks, roads, and buildings, allowed heat to build-up in The City, thereby making it uncomfortable to shop.

His solution to beat the heat is: ???Keep trees in The City and plant them in strategic locations to break-up the heat islands. [That way] you can achieve temperatures two, three or four degrees cooler and make it more comfortable for people.???

Overall, Mr. Jones stressed that trees are an integral part of obtaining a sustainable Barbados, and noted that it was important for everyone to recognise they were indeed ???The Circle of Life???.

julia.rawlins-bentham@barbados.gov.bb

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