May 2018

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There are reefs off Trinidad?

“It's a surprise to many, but yes there are coral reefs around Trinidad,” says Jahson Alemu I who has spent more than ten years investigating human impacts on tropical coastal and marine ecosystems. Most recently his dissertation study focused on Tobago reefs. “The largest reefs off Trinidad can be found at Salybia Bay in Toco and around Chacachacare. More widely distributed are coral reef communities which can be found along the east coast, along the north coast and parts of the northwest peninsula such as at Macqueripe.

“These reefs provide important nursery habitat for many ecologically and economically important fish species (including snappers, parrotfish, jacks and groupers), and support a wide diversity of species including sea turtles, rays, sea cucumbers, octopus, lobster and sponges.”

Dr. Farahnaz Solomon, a marine biologist and co-director of the NGO SpeSeas, believes that an understanding of how marine ecosystems contribute to livelihoods can stimulate positive changes in the way we use ocean resources, and effect policy. She says, “Coral reefs are often only appreciated for their beauty and bountiful biodiversity. Teeming with life, they are regarded as ‘rainforests of the oceans’ as they cover only 0.1% of the seafloor, and yet provide shelter for about 25% of all marine life. What is more important to know, this biodiversity is responsible for productive fisheries and thriving recreation and tourism sectors where reefs occur. Even ‘non-reef’ species may use the reef and associated systems to have their young or for protection during their larval and juvenile stages. Through all these services, reefs contribute significantly to human well-being.”

Dr Anjani Ganase, environmental columnist (Tobago Newsday), blogger ( and marine scientist who specializes in mapping ocean ecosystems, encourages us to look beyond our own shores to the connectivity of Caribbean coral reefs. She has recently written, “Tobago (and Trinidad) is fairly isolated. … To add to this isolation, Tobago’s coral reefs are frequently washed by fresh water outflows of the Orinoco River, which limits the number of coral species and other reef creatures that can successfully live here. Our closest potential supplier of new coral larvae is Barbados, which in turn may receive from other islands farther north, up the island chain.” She speculates that the re-population of most Tobago (and Trinidad) reefs may occur mainly through self-recruitment. This means that Tobago’s reefs are unique but also vulnerable. We may have very limited reef recovery after an island-wide disturbance to our coral reefs.

“Regional coordination of coral reef protection is crucial for the longevity of Caribbean reefs. …The damage to the reefs of Puerto Rico and the Virgin islands by hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017 may prove a major blow to the reseeding of reefs of surrounding countries. We need to learn to maintain and boost our marine assets. Let us build the connections with the ocean and our reefs,” she concluded.

“Our decisions in everyday life also have a part to play in the conservation of coral reefs,” says Dr Amy Deacon, lecturer in Zoology and Science Communications at the UWI St Augustine, and member of the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalist Club. “We can each help to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change; use energy-saving light-bulbs, turn off lights, and walk, bike, car-pool or take public transport whenever feasible.

“More directly, we can all try to reduce, reuse and recycle more. Avoid single-use plastics, such as straws, styrofoam boxes, plastic bags and bottles. Food vendors may look at you strangely when you refuse a straw, but they usually are willing to pack your food or drink in your own reusable container once you ask nicely. Use eco-friendly detergents or natural cleaning products like vinegar.

“Whether buying from the supermarket, fish market or a restaurant, we can try and make more sustainable choices. Certain fish species are especially overfished on our reefs, and others are caught with methods that damage the reef environment. In general you should avoid parrotfish, snapper, grouper, shrimp and shark.”

Amy is also Secretary of the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists’ Club, a partner in IYOR T&T. Central to the Club’s mission are getting out and enjoying and appreciating nature, however, it is important to do so responsibly: “If you are lucky enough to get the chance to dive or snorkel, remember never to touch the corals and try not to stir up the sediment by putting your feet down as this can smother corals. Just swim past and enjoy their beauty. If boating, anchor in sandy areas so as not to damage the reef. Finally, learn more about coral reefs!”

So, how can we experience reefs? Jahson says, “To truly experience a coral reef you must get wet! Most of our coral reefs are located off Tobago, and glass bottom boat tours offer the opportunity to view and snorkel the Buccoo Reef and Speyside's Angel Reef. For the more adventurous, you can learn to SCUBA dive. At Toco and Chacachacare, the reefs are shallow enough to snorkel.”

Anjani, a member of the XL Catlin Seaview Survey team which pioneered public on-line access to views of coral reefs around the world, says, “For those who prefer to stay dry, XL Catlin Seaview Survey photographed coral reefs for you to do ‘virtual dives’ on amazing reefs from your computer or smart phone. You can visit these reefs in Australia, Indonesia, or the MesoAmerican Barrier Reef, at the Global Reef Record: or on Google: .”