Tobago as an ecological destination


Yachts at anchor in Pirates Bay during the January 2020 season. -Pat Ganase

Research and study are intrinsic to current trends in ecotourism; Is Tobago ready? The Unesco Man and Biosphere designation for the North East Tobago region presents an opportunity for all of TT to be forward thinking. Pat Ganase reports on the first steps.

What’s in it for me?

Is this the response of most Tobagonians when told that northeast Tobago has been designated by Unesco as a region of man and the biosphere (MAB), a site of learning in nature where research, science and innovation could lead to nature-based solutions to improve human life?

Aljoscha Wothke, key technical expert on the government’s candidacy for UNESCO MAB Governors, said, “Tobago is starting to get the hang of it. It is the best tool currently available for economic development. Many international organizations are interested in northeast Tobago. I am very excited for the next steps which include management plans, all aspects of training including governance, funding and integration of community actions. We have a three to four year window and if we can progress quickly we can build to last a long time.

Faraaz Abdool, an ornithologist and conservationist, moved to Tobago because he believes in Tobago’s potential as a model of sustainability.

“This designation is a most worthy honor not only for Tobago, but for the entire country. The wild northeast end of Tobago is a place of breathtaking beauty. Man and the biosphere increase the visibility of our country as an ecotourism destination,” said Abdool.

One of the reefs in Pirates Bay. – The Maritime Ocean Collection

It is hard to imagine a more idyllic, healthier island, a place of nature at sea or in the tropical forest. Tobago was granted MAB designation in October 2020 based on the area that includes and surrounds the Main Ridge Forest Reserve, which has been protected since 1776 to secure the tree cover that guarantees rainfall over Tobago. The region covers 83,488 hectares of land, 68,384 hectares of ocean; countless species of flora and fauna, many of which are on the endangered species list and some of which are only found in Tobago. The 10,000 inhabitants of the villages surrounding the Moriah site at Belle Garden are essential and necessary for the conservation and development of the region. What’s in it for them?

The health of the Biosphere’s support systems directly affects the health of the population; it must be managed, maintained, preserved by those who live here, conscious, caring and well-informed people. Not all are construction projects. They include basics like clean water, electricity from renewable sources, and extend to relevant education and access to funds, in the immediate context of climate change and conservation. Here are some initial steps.

Nautical Tourism in Charlotteville

For decades, sailors sailing the Caribbean have found refuge in Man o War Bay in northeast Tobago. In the calm and pristine bay of Pirates Bay they drop anchor and stay for weeks, landing for provisions, fresh vegetables, freshly baked bread, cold beers and freshly caught fish. In order to protect the reefs of Pirates Bay, passing yachts will be offered specific anchorages.

Planting and managing moorings in safe locations among the reefs of Pirates Bay is a project of the Environmental Research Institute Charlotteville (Eric). These moorings should be available by July. Here’s how it will work: Visiting sailors can access and book berth on a website. When visiting yachts registered with TT Customs, they can be referred to Eric for mooring assignments. A portion of rental income will go to the Charlotteville Police Youth Club to help vulnerable members of the community; the club will also offer yacht tourism products as a social enterprise: catering and other services (land transport, laundry, tours, etc.)

Village tourism

The heritage and culture of Tobago’s villages must be preserved, not only in the annual festivals, but in the story that can be told in the many ruins of great houses, watermills and processing sites. Tobago was the beauty of the Antilles because it was beautiful and economically productive: sugar cane, cocoa and, at one time, the breadbasket of Trinidad. The Tobago Historical Society has documented sites so that the past informs the present. The Castara Tourism Development Association has created a comprehensive product that involves all providers: accommodation, rainforest tours, bread, yoga, beach parties, fishing and reef diving.

Laughing Gulls invade the seine for the catch at Man o War Bay in Charlotteville. –

Preserve abundant life in the ocean and in the rainforest

As human populations grow, the “let it go” approach to maintaining natural ecosystems may no longer be viable. It is important to manage what and where we fish, or what we grow and use on the agricultural plots at the edge of the forest. In recent years, the beauty and degradation of coral reefs around Tobago has been highlighted through online tools such as Underwater Earth and the Maritime Ocean Collection. Divers report proliferation of invasive lionfish on reefs eating juvenile native species; some have taken to catching lionfish and are encouraging consumers to enjoy this delicacy. Artisanal anglers in Charlotteville and Roxborough are now going further afield to find schools of wahoo, mahimahi (dolphin), albacore or flying fish once abundant in territorial waters. Knowing what’s there – in the rainforest and in the seas – is key to protecting and managing future stocks. This is the education Tobago needs.

Special education

In many MAB villages of Tobago, schools are located on or near the beach. Think of Speyside, Castara, Parlatuvier. How many graduates learn to swim, fish or become marine biologists? How many young foresters are botanists or birdwatchers or keep detailed species records? Where are the last stands of indigo – the crop that was heavily planted for export from Tobago? Where is the best land to grow food and what crops does the biosphere need most?

Sustainable bank

Financial services are necessary for people who want to build homes or businesses that are biosphere-friendly, sustainable, green, efficient, and educational. What about a bank that offers financing for solar panels; innovative green business, sustainable farming and fishing practices, student loans for conservation and environmental studies?

And the arts

Steps into the Purple Economy (Creative Sector) is underway to showcase the work of artists from the MAB region led by students from Speyside High School. The first initiative follows an art route along the main road in northeast Tobago, showcasing more than 20 artworks, some of which will depict popular diving and dive sites.

Tobago’s unique biosphere will be an integrated ecosystem in which man will play his essential and productive role, safeguarding the home he shares with all land and sea creatures. There is something for everyone: farmer, fisherman, creative, cook. This requires the support of all TTs and collaboration between institutions, especially the government. Above all, Tobagonians must aspire to shape their special space and preserve our nation’s unique man-made and biosphere reserve.

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