A Guyanese national and resident, Ms Annette Arjoon has become synonymous with the Guyana Marine Turtle Conservation Society. This is one of the first and most successful conservation NGOs established in Guyana. The agency’s main work has been concentrated in Shell Beach, a 100-mile ecosystem in the northwest coastal region. It encompasses mangrove forests, inland swamp forests and savannahs. Most of the turtle nesting beaches in the world harbour only one or two species but Shell Beach is the main nesting habitat for four species of endangered marine turtles: green, leatherback, olive ridley and hawksbill.
Sea turtles are part of the marine and beach systems, both used by humans for a variety of activities. The extinction of turtles would affect these activities negatively. As project co-ordinator of the business development division of the agency, Ms Arjoon was founding secretary of the organisation, which was incorporated in 2000, and has been tireless in her efforts to protect the turtles and their environment. Thanks partly to this work, Shell Beach is slated to become a protected area.
She publicises the work of the agency through emphasising education, working with Government, the media and private enterprise to raise awareness about the turtles and the threat to their ecosystem. She has successfully lobbied the Ministry of Fisheries to impose a yearly no netting zone on sections of the nesting beaches to reduce incidence of drowning of marine turtles.
One of her most outstanding contributions was the transformation of the people and communities in the Shell Beach area from subsistence turtle hunters to turtle protectors. The Amerindians of Guyana have traditionally used turtle eggs and meat for food; it has taken a lot of work to bring them to the point where they can see this same animal and its environment as a source of income and means of moving towards financial self-sufficiency. Ms Arjoon has established annual environmental training for the communities to monitor the beaches and the turtles and act as wardens to tag turtles and protect the eggs.
She has facilitated the start up of North West Organics, which produces cosmetics and food products from traditional materials. This has led to communities’ taking local ownership and running the businesses successfully on their own. The success of these projects has led Government to place expanses of tropical rainforest under indigenous communities’ control. This helps them to maintain their supply of non-timber forest products to meet their production needs as well as to safeguard the biodiversity of the areas.
Ms Arjoon is also managing director of Shell Beach Adventures. This is a commercial eco-tourism firm. She uses it as a teaching tool for wildlife conservation and sustainable tourism.
Over the past seven years she has earned prizes for her environmental work from the Commonwealth Foundation, the UN, the Guyana Chamber of Commerce and the private sector in Guyana. Ms Annette Arjoon is one of our laureates for Public and Civic Contributions. She shares the prize this year with Mrs Claudette Richardson Pious.