The figure shows how the yearly economic value of the lagoon changes over time for the three management scenarios. It clearly demonstrates that, compared to a business-as-usual scenario, the economic value of the lagoon will be much higher when installing a sewage treatment plant, or when conducting mangrove restoration. At the current rate of degradation and with no protective actions taken, the value of the lagoon is projected to be zero by 2050.

Proper management benefits the environment, society and the economy.

On April 13, The Weekender introduced three Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam students – Anne Molenaar, Sem Duijndam and Hanna Fralikhina – who had come to the island to research the value of Simpson Bay Lagoon for the island’s community from various angles: social, environmental and economic. EPIC sponsored the research, along with the Towle Foundation.

The students, pursuing their Master’s degrees in Environment and Resource Management, were also working as interns for Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC), and the research formed the basis for their graduation theses.

Molenaar returned to the island recently in order to present the group’s findings, and has been meeting various private, governmental and non-governmental organisations on both sides of the islands, as well as making the rounds through various media outlets, in order to share the data with everyone concerned.

From unacceptably high levels of nitrate-nitrogen and bacteria, to reports by residents of bad smell and mats of algae, to the economic degradation based on a cost-benefit analysis, the results were clear.

From every angle – Planet, People, and Profit – the studies show that action is urgently needed, to save the deteriorating lagoon which is being impacted by heavy development, wastewater pollution, and overexploitation.

Mangrove restoration or the installation of a sewage treatment plant would counter the downward trend. These actions would even transform the lagoon from the current value of US $20 million per year, to $28 or $31 million, respectively.

In general, residents supported action being taken, and were even willing to pay, if they knew it would make a difference. Both positive environmental behaviours and a willingness to pay some money were linked to survey respondents’ education- and income-levels, as well as access to recreational activities on the lagoon.

However, the business-as-usual scenario came with a stark and ominous conclusion: The economic value of the lagoon would drop from $20 million per year, to $0 per year, by 2050 if no protective actions are taken, according to the projection.

More details are available for anyone interested. The full research reports can be found on the EPIC website under “Publications”. A handy policy brief has also been compiled, blending and summarising the findings of the three studies into one report, and highlighting the most important results and recommendations. The hope is that policymakers and the concerned public will be encouraged to read the more concise version, and take action accordingly. The brief will be made available on the same webpage.

A printed policy brief was presented to various stakeholders during the recent meetings, including Minister in charge of the Environment portfolio, Chris Wever. The Minister met with Molenaar twice – once as part of a meeting with the Green Initiatives group – and said that he appreciated the insight, backed by hard data. He told The Weekender in an invited comment that he plans to share the policy brief with the ministry, and discuss a way forward.

The students have graduated in the meantime, and are looking forward to working in the field. Molenaar is considering working in French Guyana or St. Maarten, and Fralikhina in Amsterdam. Duijndam is working for the university and looking for the right PhD opportunity. Impressively, he graduated Summa Cum Laude, and the best in the history of his master programme.