WETLANDS - TOWARDS THEIR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

 

Trinidad Guardian

January 31, 2000

Page 18

 

Wetlands comprise about six percent of the Earth's land area.  They are considered to be among the most threatened ecosystems because of their susceptibility to both human and natural stressors.  Wetlands, including mangrove ecosystems, are often regarded as marginal lands that serve no purpose.  Their importance is often unrecognized.

With World Wetlands Day due to be observed on Wednesday February 2, NICOLA GHOURALAL, Information Officer with the Institute of Marine Affairs, notes that a close look at the complexity of wetlands may help us understand the importance of putting proper management tools in place, so that these special areas may be sustainable developed, and where necessary, preserved.

 

Wetlands of T&T

 

Trinidad and Tobago has several mangrove dominated coastal wetland forests.  These are the Caroni Swamp in Trinidad and Bon Accord Lagoon in Tobago.  Nariva Swamp, a largely freshwater system, with herbaceous species, is another type of wetland found in Trinidad.  Wetlands play a pivotal role in the environmental dynamics of the coastlines of our country.  Unfortunately, demands of development often override the need for conservation and many of these wetlands are in danger of being degraded or destroyed.

 

Wetlands serve vital environmental functions.  They function as aquatic breeding grounds and nurseries for salt and freshwater organisms, especially several species of commercially important fish.  Mangroves provide essential nutrients for juveniles as well as protection during the critical stage of their development.  It is estimated that two-thirds of the commercial fish caught in Trinidad and Tobago inhabited mangroves during some stage of their development.

 

Wetlands provide habitat for different species of wildlife.  The Caroni Swamp has well over 160 species of birds, including our national bird, the scarlet ibis.  Nariva Swamp is home to the endangered manatee.  Other wetland dwellers in clued caiman, crabs, snakes, cascadura, black conch, capuchin and howler monkeys.

 

Mangroves often act as a buffer against wind and heavy rains and offer shoreline protection and stabilisation.  Wetlands are important land builders and protect the coast from erosion by interrupting the transfer of energy from waves and trapping mud and silt from river discharge.  By extension, they control water quality of the near shore water by trapping pesticides, heavy metals and inorganic nutrients.  Turbidity in near shore waters is lessened, and in areas where these ecosystems exist adjacent to one another, protection of reef and seagrass bed systems is possible.

 

Though wetlands have important functions, they are subject to, like all other ecosystems, human and natural stressors.  Rapid coastal development in areas such as Westmoorings and Point Lisas, have caused developers to reclaim land which formerly supported mangroves.  In other islands such as Barbados, colonial settlers cleared mangroves in the 1600s in order to establish what is now the city of Bridgetown.  Wetlands are often used as landfills.  The Beetham Landfill is an example.

 

In Portmore, Jamaica, a productive mangrove system that also served as a catchment area for a local river system was filled in to provide homes for 80,000 persons.

 

Rapid development and population increases, have led to the need to produce more food.  Food production in the form of rice farming, takes place within the Nariva Swamp, a 6,234-hectare wetland.  Water channels within the swamp were re-routed and bush fires have become more prevalent.  An increase in the use of pesticides could be, in the short and long run, detrimental to the aquatic flora and fauna.

 

Over harvesting of fish and shellfish leads to a decrease in populations, especially if the activity is not managed and conducted within the designated season.  Natural stressors include hurricanes and cyclonic storms and can physically damage the mangroves by uprooting them.  This also leads to increased rates of erosion.

 

The realization that a wetland can be more useful to humans in its natural state, rather than filled in or in some way altered, has led to increased interest in the conservation of wetlands.

 

The Convention for the Conservation of Wetlands of International Importance (especially as Waterfowl Habitat) drawn up at Ramsar, Iran in 1971 has been the main convention that calls for international protection of wetlands.

 

As a signatory to the Convention, Trinidad and Tobago was bound to designate a site for protection.  The Nariva Swamp is this country's one Ramsar site, through other wetlands are at present being considered.

 

Consistent monitoring of wetlands, flora and fauna and wetland-related research into toxicology, ecology, hydrology, geology and socio-economics related to the area are also part of the IMA's work.

 

The IMA's 6th Annual Research Symposium, which took place in July 1999, featured the research of the IMA on aspects of the Nariva Swamp.  The IMA was contracted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Marine Resources to conduct an environmental impact assessment.  This study will form the basis of a Management Plan for the area.

 

Trinidad and Tobago also has a Wetlands Committee, which was formed as a result of Ramsar's obligations and several organisations, both governmental and non-governmental, have taken responsibility for conservation and sustainable management of these ecosystems.

 

The Institute of Marine Affairs, for the past seven years, has collected seasonal data twice a year on the structure and productivity of the Bon Accord Lagoon mangroves.  This data is then sent to the Data Management Centre of the Caribbean Coastal Monitoring Productivity Programme (Caricomp) in Jamaica.

 

It is important to understand the uniqueness of wetlands.  Management tools can be implemented in order to sustainably develop and conserve these rich natural resources.  Wetlands can be used as a tourism product  - eco-tours have been promoted as the next best thing in the tourism market.

 

Properly managed, non-invasive recreational activities such as bird watching, kayaking and nature walks can also help it the preservation of such areas.

 

The Caroni Swamp has supported boat tours for years.  Watch towers for avid bird watchers have also been constructed using all-natural materials.  Regulating their use by making wetlands national parks is another way to manage these fragile ecosystems.

 

Public education and awareness is important if we are to create greater public awareness of wetlands and their value.  Degraded wetlands can sometimes benefit from rehabilitation.  The replanting of mangroves is one option and a current research project supported by the private sector aims to determine the effectiveness of this approach over a small, well-defined area.

 

Sustainable development and conservation are important for the very survival of our wetlands and for the maintenance of the delicate balance of life that exists within these special ecosystems.  Contrary to popular belief, wetlands are not wastelands, but areas that are critically important to our survival.

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WETLANDS OF T&T

AREA

TYPE OF WETLAND

SIZE

ha

 

TRINIDAD - NORTH COAST

 

Scotland Bay

Fringe mangrove

<1

Maracas

Freshwater swamp forest

25

Tyrico Bay

Freshwater swamp forest

1

Las Cuevas

Freshwater swamp forest

3

Yarra River

Freshwater swamp forest

1

Marianne River

Freshwater swamp forest

15

Grand Riviere

Annual flood plain

1

 

TRINIDAD - EAST COAST

 

Matura River

Estuarine mangrove

5

Balandra River

Estuarine mangrove

<1

Salybia

Freshwater swamp

4

North Oropouche

Fishing pond / Freshwater swamp forest

170

North Manzanilla

Estuarine / basin mangrove

<1

Manzanilla Windbelt

Estuarine mangrove

44

Mouville

Estuarine mangrove

22

L'Ebranche

Estuarine mangrove

47

Ortoire River

Estuarine / basin mangrove

110

Nariva Swamp

Freshwater marsh / freshwater swamp forest / estuarine mangrove / palm forest

6234

 

TRINIDAD - SOUTH COAST

 

Los Blanquizales

Basin mangrove / fresh water marsh

840

Moruga River

Estuarine / basin mangrove

33

Guayaguayare

Estuarine mangrove

23

Rustville

Estuarine mangrove

102

St Hilaire

Estuarine mangrove

<10

 

TRINIDAD - WEST COAST

 

Bayshore / Diego Martin River

Estuarine mangrove

 

Chaguaramas

Estuarine mangrove

<1

Hart's Cut

Estuarine mangrove

<1

Cuesa River

Estuarine mangrove

<1

Mucurapo

Estuarine mangrove

3

Sealots

Estuarine mangrove

<1

Caroni Swamp

Estuarine mangrove

3278

La Cuesa / Waterloo

Estuarine mangrove

<1

Orange Valley

Estuarine mangrove

<1

Couva / Carli Bay

Estuarine mangrove

171

Lisas Bay

Estuarine mangrove

26

Claxton Bay

Estuarine mangrove

92

Central Claxton Bay

Estuarine mangrove

<1

Marabella

Estuarine mangrove

660

Guaracara

Estuarine mangrove

110

Godineau Swamp

Estuarine mangrove

<2

Rousillac Swamp

Estuarine / basin mangrove

110

La Brea

Estuarine / basin mangrove

<2

Guapo River

Estuarine mangrove

33

Irois Bay

Estuarine mangrove

15

Icacos

                Estuarine / basin mangrove

330

 

TOBAGO - WINDWARD

 

Petit Trou

Lagoon fringe mangrove

15

Little Rockly Bay

Estuarine mangrove

2

Big Bacolet Bay / Minister Bay

Estuarine mangrove

>1

Fort Granby

Estuarine mangrove / freshwater marsh

2

Lucy Vale

Wet pasture

>1

 

TOBAGO - LEEWARD COAST

 

Friendship

Bay fringe / basin mangrove

2

Kilgwyn

Basin mangrove

12

Bon Accord Lagoon / Buccoo Bay

Lagoon fringe / Basin mangrove / Freshwater pond

50

Buccoo

Freshwater marsh

15

Courland Bay

River

2

Black Rock Pond

Freshwater pond

3

Parlatuvier

Annual Floodplain

1-2

Bloody Bay

Annual Floodplain

<1

 

 

 

 

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