Planning and Development Minister, Camille Robinson-Regis takes part in a mangrove rehabilitation exercise in Brickfield, Couva

North East Tobago’s recent prestigious designation as a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve stands with 25 other similar sites across the globe which on Wednesday October 28, 2020 joined the world network of 714 Biosphere Reserves inclusive of the Comoros Islands, Luxembourg and Cabo Verde.

In 2019, The Honourable Camille Robinson-Regis, Minister of Planning and Development, as part of her mandate for the environment, realised the potential of this award for Trinidad and Tobago and appointed the Department of the Environment within the Department of Infrastructure Quarries and the Environment of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) as the focal point for the UNESCO application process.  The Minister extends congratulations to the people of Tobago and the THA for having successfully gone through the process and achieving the Man and Biosphere designation. 

According to Minister Robinson-Regis, “Such a designation has financial benefits for tourism, and although the sector is down 70% globally in 2020 due to COVID-19, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, a healthy global tourism sector is worth $1 billion to $1 trillion US.  Trinidad and Tobago’s environmental resources place us in a strategic position to reap fiscal rewards once global travel fully opens up again, especially in niche eco-tourism markets.  Government is also exploring activities now that will allow us to creatively reach tourism markets across the world while ensuring that we adhere to COVID-19 protocols and still maintain the safety of our citizens.” 

The Minister also highlights that in addition to tourism, there is also the economic potential of the various functions that our ecosystem services play.  According to Trinidad and Tobago’s 5th National Report of Trinidad and Tobago to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 2017, T&T's resources are valued in the region of US $100 million per year in terms of soil protection, water purification services as well as recreation and tourism-based activities.  The ability of this country’s watersheds to deliver water of good quality (water purification services) is valued at approximately TT$520 Million or US$88 million annually.  Trinidad’s Northern Range provide soil retention services that are valued as high as US$622 million annually. 

Another regulating service provided by forests is carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere. This service provided is valued at approximately US$1,088 per hectare per year. This carbon removal service is highest in wetland areas such as the Caroni and Nariva swamps in, as well as in Trinidad and Tobago’s forested ecosystems. In Tobago, the mangrove swamps and seagrass beds, especially in the southwestern portion of the island, are important providers of this service.  Forests on hillsides also provide flood prevention services, valued in T&T at approximately US$5 per hectare per year. Taken together with other services such as erosion control, water purification, flood protection and the provision of sustainable timber, the ecosystem services provided by this country’s forests are estimated to be worth at least US$2,195 per hectare per year.

The Government is taking advantage of these benefits by promoting the preservation and management of T&T eco-system resources through programmes like the UNESCO Tobago North East Man and Biosphere Reserve.  The Government also collaborated with the FAO on a 4 year Improving Forest and Protected Areas Management project which supported Tobago’s UNESCO designation and also did work in communities around protected areas in Trinidad and Tobago. A survey conducted revealed that T&T’s activities from protected areas brought in revenue of over TT $18 million from 2018 to 2019 to communities in and around Protected Areas (PAs).

The table above from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO/UN) 2019 Report on the Socio-Economic Study related to Protected Areas in Trinidad and Tobago.

Understanding the financial value and the earning potential of our biodiversity resources, the Government has continued to initiate policy reforms aimed at preventing biodiversity loss and improving the management Trinidad and Tobago’s protected areas (PAs). 

Our efforts are receiving international attention as being among the best in the world.  We at the Ministry of Planning and Development are working with the mantra ‘Environmental Pride is National Pride’ as we strive towards attaining the Sustainable Development Goals related to environment i.e. climate action, life below water and life on land.  Trinidad and Tobago’s National Development Strategy, Vision 2030, emphasises as Theme 5 ‘Placing the Environment at the Centre of Social and Economic Development’, and we are living this belief for the sustainable development of Trinidad & Tobago.

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