Dickey International Internship, Final Report

Caribbean Environmental Health Institute � Castries, St. Lucia

Kristian Lau '04

For over 20 years, the Caribbean Environmental Health Institute (CEHI) has served as the major source of technical and scientific information on environmental health issues in the Caribbean. It is an international organization that provides technical and advisory services to its sixteen Member States in all areas of environmental management. In addition to providing a diverse range of laboratory services, the Institute provides environmental consulting and training services and is considered to be the major coordinating environmental health institution among Caribbean states.

This summer, with the help of the Dickey International Internship program, I was able to work as a technical intern at the CEHI office located in Castries, St. Lucia. During my two months at the institute, I worked on two major projects, water quality monitoring and cleaner production, as well as several smaller projects. CEHI granted me full flexibility in what I could work on at the Institute, and so I did a combination of field, lab, and office work.

After an initial orientation session and introductions with the entire CEHI staff, I was thrust into my first task which was planning a workshop entitled "Coastal Zone Management and Environmental Monitoring of Industrial Waste Activities," a workshop that would be held in late November at the CEHI offices. Initially, I thought this task would be easy, after all it was just a small two day event, but I quickly learned how much work was involved with planning a training workshop. Proposals had to be written to obtain funding and research needed to be completed on institutions and existing coastal zone management plans. The agenda of the course had to be laid out, media materials had to be created, and we needed to make sure that we invited the right participants so that all key stakeholders were represented. I especially enjoyed participating in the group planning meetings in which we spent several hours hashing out ideas, going over logistics, and finally developing a work plan and list of tasks that needed to be completed. The team oriented nature of the projects was made clear by my project manager, Reggie, who noted how most of the time, no one person is necessarily an expert in any of the projects. Only through collective brainstorming and the combined efforts of everyone involved could even the simplest ideas take shape.

            The group planning process was made even more apparent during my second week in which CEHI hosted their annual strategic planning session. Each year, CEHI has a meeting where it defines its goals and objectives for the following year, and produces a concrete work plan for next year's activities that it must present to its board of overseers. The session lasted one week, and the first two days consisted of senior CEHI staff meeting with environmental ministers and other relevant stakeholders to brainstorm critical environmental issues facing the Caribbean region. It was amazing to meet with officials from a wide range of environmental interests and observe what each organization/nation considered to be the main issues that CEHI must address in the near future. The latter part of the week consisted of meetings with all the staff in CEHI, in which the ideas and objectives from the first two days were turned into actual programs. I got a great exposure to the capabilities of CEHI and how obscure objectives such as "building capacity for hazardous waste management" were turned into tangible work plans and programs.

 

Project One - Water quality testing (lab/field work)

            Over the course of eight weeks, I conducted water quality tests with CEHI technical staff at several different sites throughout St. Lucia. Below is a list of the hotels and other sites which I had the opportunity to visit, which should give a good indication of the broad range of sites that I worked at.

Hotels

-       Sandals Halcyon, Grande St. Lucian, and La Toc

-       Rendezvous Resort

-       Anse Chastanet

-       Royal St. Lucian Resort and Spa

-       Rex St. Lucian

-       Jalousie Hilton

Other sites

-       Construction site at Paradise Beach

-       Anse Mamin, hiking/biking area near Anse Chastanet resort

 

A typical site visit at a hotel would include collecting samples from the pools, water tanks, taps from several different locations, and wastewater treatment facilities if the hotel had them. Tests onsite would include pH, chlorine content, temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, all of which were conducted using sophisticated meters and colorimeters. All microbial tests were conducted back at the lab, which made it critically important that we took good samples from each source and kept the samples on ice to protect it from the intense St. Lucian heat.

My favorite place that we conducted work at was a construction site located on the north eastern coast of St. Lucia. The site was to become a luxurious timeshare apartment complex adjacent to a pristine cove and Paradise Beach. We had to come in to conduct basic water quality tests using samples from several testing spots spread throughout a mangrove swamp located in the middle of the construction site. What made the task difficult was that July in St. Lucia is the rainy season, and the summer rains effectively turned the swamp into the largest mud pit I've ever seen. I'll never forget trudging through thick, knee deep mud with oversized boots, collecting water samples from test pipes in the humid heat. Alvin, one of the lab techs with me, was humming as we went along, obviously having a good time with no apparent problems with the mud, while I continually got stuck and had to be pulled out. But the work was fun, and we finished the work early so we could relax under a nearby straw hut before heading back to the CEHI offices.

            In addition to field work, I also had the opportunity to work in CEHI's lab, one of most sophisticated environmental labs in the region. I tested samples for certain microbes such as E. coli and also worked with state-of-the-art instruments such as the Atomic Absorption Spectrometer, which is used in the detection and quantification of heavy metals in a variety of media. CEHI receives sources from all over the region, and I observed the CEHI technical staff conduct tests that ranged from drinking and recreational water analysis to industrial and sewage effluent testing.

 

Project Two

            The second major project I worked on was a program called Cleaner Production, which according to the United Nations Development Organization, is "an integrated preventive strategy applied to processes, products and services to increase the efficiency and reduce the risks to humans and the environment. For processes, cleaner production includes the efficient use of raw materials and the reduction of emissions and waste at the source." The strategy is different from "end of pipe" solutions in that it focuses on reducing waste throughout the process instead of trying to control pollution after it has been produced. Conceived by the United Nations Development Organization, cleaner production is implemented through cleaner production centers, several of which are already working in other parts of the world. CEHI is gearing up to be the host organization for a Caribbean region cleaner production center, and is planning to host a strategic planning session on cleaner production later this year.

            I conducted research on how cleaner production applies to the small and medium businesses of the region, with a specific emphasis on the tourism sector. I worked closely with Camille Roopnarine, a sanitary engineer, on writing the framework for a survey to collect baseline data from small and medium sized businesses in the region. I also created a PowerPoint presentation on the basics of cleaner production that would be used in the strategic planning session. The project was challenging, and was especially interesting to me given my interest in industrial ecology and sustainable business practices.

 

While I learned a great deal from my work at the Institute, I also learned much about eco-tourism and environmental conservation from conversations with coworkers and interactions with local St. Lucians. The people of St. Lucia are an incredibly vibrant, passionate group who are friendly and easy to talk with. Outside of work, I had plenty of time to meet people from several different Caribbean islands including Trinidad, Jamaica, and Barbados. As an environmental studies major, I took a particular interest in the eco-tourism opportunities that were available and participated in several adventures such as turtle watching and nature hikes that were completely run by local communities.

One tour in particular, the Desbarras turtle watching tour, exemplified the concept of eco-tourism and community involvement. Completely run by the local community of Desbarras, the turtle watching tour runs daily, bringing in tourists and other adventurers to the sandy shores of

Grande Anse beach on the eastern coast for a night of turtle watching. The tours bring in much needed revenue to the community to support the maintenance of schools and infrastructure while at the same time protecting the turtle population from poachers. My tour guide, a young St. Lucian named Moises who also works in the Agriculture department for the St. Lucia government, passionately related to me the importance of eco-tourism to the community, and how he has seen the community's attitude toward the environment turn from one of apathy to one where every member now has conservation as a priority. Tours such as these are sprouting up throughout St. Lucia, and are often times being partly sponsored by the St. Lucian government.

Overall, my internship experience was very rewarding. I had the opportunity to work in close collaboration with experts in a broad range of disciplines and learn how a regional environmental institute functions. CEHI is not a large organization like the EPA but it is at the forefront of environmental policy and programs for the Caribbean region. The strength of its personnel and commitment on the part of the regional community towards sound environmental policy made this experience enjoyable and well worth two months of my summer. I only wish I had more time to work on long term projects like cleaner production, which often span more than two years from proposal to completion. My work at CEHI helped me define what interests me in the broad discipline of environmental engineering, and helped me narrow my honors engineering thesis topic to the subject of industrial ecology.

 

Kristian Lau '04 is an Engineering Sciences and Environmental Studies double major. He has participated in two off campus programs, one to Mexico on a Spanish LSA, and one to South Africa on the Environmental Studies FSP. He went to Costa Rica on the Tucker Foundation alternative spring break service trip, and served as a Freshman orientation trip leader the past two years. On campus, he is a member of the Dartmouth chapter of Engineers Without Borders, the Ultimate Frisbee Club, and the Dartmouth Outing Club. In the next few years, he plans to continue his studies in environmental engineering, and with the future goal of becoming an environmental consultant.