Ministry of Planning and IMA take action to protect Mangrove forests

Trinidad and Tobago has not been immune to mangrove loss. Globally, over 50% of mangrove cover has been lost in the last 50 years. Much of the mangrove forests in  Trinidad and Tobago have been impacted by human activities, and are now projected to be negatively affected by sea-level rise especially where they are starved of sediment and/or constrained on the landward side by built development – a process known as coastal squeeze. 

Mangrove coverage declined in Trinidad by 252.4 ha (3.3%) from 7686.6 ha in 2007 to 7434.2 ha in 2014, while in Tobago it declined by 16.6 ha (7.8 %) from 212.7 ha in 2007 to 196.1 ha in 2014. 

Declines over the 7 year period were recorded in Caroni Swamp and this was primarily due to erosion on the seaward side, and large areas of mangrove die-off north of Blue River; Godineau Swamp - as mangroves were cleared to facilitate a highway; and at Cuesa River in Chaguaramas, Guaracara River, Marabella and North Claxton Bay due to development. In Waterloo, mangrove loss has resulted because of severe coastal erosion. In Tobago, notable decline was observed in Buccoo Bay, while minor declines were recorded in Little Rockly Bay, Louis D’or, Minister’s Bay and Petit Trou Lagoon. 

While these may seem like small declines, the impacts of mangrove loss are significant. With an estimated 80% of all socio-economic activities and 70% of our population located near the coast, mangrove protection is vital for the safety and livelihoods of our communities. 

The Ministry of Planning is taking action to reduce the threats to and promote sustainable use of mangrove forests. Through the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA), and in collaboration with the University of the West Indies (UWI), workshops and a demonstration project is being undertaken with farmers to show them alternatives to using fertilizers and pesticides, with the hope of reducing pollution from agricultural runoff in the southern side of the Caroni Swamp. Farmers often use these agrichemicals, and runoff containing these pollutants negatively impact mangrove forests. 

The Planning Ministry is also working to strengthen the protection and management of these vital resources. Through the Improving Forestry and Protected Areas Management in Trinidad and Tobago (IFPAMTT) project, management plans have been developed for six pilot protected areas: Northeast Tobago marine area, Main Ridge Forest Reserve, Matura Forest and coastal zone, Trinity Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, and two wetlands containing mangrove forests - the Nariva Swamp and coastal zone and Caroni Swamp. This project has resulted in the allocation of more resources to effectively enforce protection of these areas.

The IFPAMTT project recently saw the conclusion of a socio-economic survey on the status of forests and protected areas in Trinidad and Tobago, which included the mangrove forests at Caroni Swamp and Nariva swamp. This survey, which focused on the 6 pilot protected areas, has put a monetary value of 18 million+ TTD to the benefits that can be derived from effective and sustainable management of these resources from just those areas.

The Ministry of Planning recognizes the capacity of mangroves to offset carbon emissions by capturing and storing carbon dioxide and through the IMA, in collaboration with the UWI, is undertaking work to measure carbon sequestration of our mangrove forests and to put a monetary value for this service. This work is aligned to Trinidad and Tobago’s National Development Strategy Vision 2030 which though Theme V -  Placing the Environment at the Centre of Social and Economic Development, makes environmental protection and conservation an essential pillar of our developmental trajectory.

Without these critical interventions by the Ministry of Planning and the IMA, loss of mangrove forest can result in increased threats to human safety and increased damage to shorelines from coastal hazards such as erosion, flooding, and storm waves and surges. Mangrove loss can decrease coastal water quality, reduce biodiversity, eliminate fish and crustacean nursery habitat, adversely affect adjacent coastal habitats, and eliminate a major resource for human communities that traditionally rely on mangroves for numerous products and services.  Furthermore, mangrove destruction can release large quantities of stored carbon and exacerbate global warming trends. 

Minister in the Ministry of Planning and Development, the Honourable Cherrie-Ann Crichlow-Cockburn, in her new role emphasizes the Government’s commitment to safeguarding Trinidad and Tobago’s environmental resources for future generations.

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