Five Big Things About Our Little Tobago Adventure
Have you ever had the pleasure of meeting a lazy barracuda? Have you seen the long tail streamer that came very close to beating the scarlet ibis to the title of our national bird? How about viewing the remains of the largest brain coral in the western hemisphere? Three hours spent on and around the island formerly known as Bird-of-Paradise Island was enough for an adventure that will live long in my memory. The following are five things about our experience that all Trinbagonians should be aware of.
Our adventure began at the dock of the Blue Waters Inn in Speyside Tobago. There we met our tour guide for the day, Zolani ‘Z’ Frank of Frank’s Glass Bottom Boat Tours. The view from the Blue Waters Inn jetty was amazing but it held no comparison to what lay ahead on our journey.
1) The Geography of Little Tobago
Little Tobago, formerly known as Bird-of-Paradise Island, (11o 18’N 60o 30’W) is a hilly, starfish shaped island situated roughly 2.4 kilometers west of the town of Speyside. It is approximately 100 ha in area, generally consisting of steep slopes rising to 137 m above sea level. There are no streams or watercourses, the island has only one spring that is dry for several months of the year. As a result, vegetation on the island can be mostly described as deciduous seasonal forest. Two of the most notable species of flora on the island are the Large Ground Anthurium and the Texas Mandrone (Naked Indian Tree).
On Little Tobago we encountered many Large Ground Anthuriums. They were found on the ground and on the branches of trees. The plant is noted for its interesting method of gathering nutrients. Its leaves are positioned in such a way that it traps falling foliage thereby ensuring its survival on the predominantly limestone island. The Naked Indian Tree is so dubbed because of its interesting exfoliating bark. When the older layers slough off, the newer bark is smooth and can range from white to orange through shades of apricot to dark red.
2) THE WHITE HOUSE OF GOAT ISLAND
When travelling to Little Tobago via Speyside you will first happen upon Goat Island. This ten acre landmass lies just west of the Angel Reef, a popular scuba diving site that boasts one of the largest brain coral specimens left in the world. The island’s most identifiable characteristic is the large white house located at it’s the center. Some residents of Speyside report that the White House on Goat Island is the former home and retreat of Ian Fleming, the author and creator of the James Bond series. However, these claims were disputed in an article done by Canada’s National Post. Within said article, Fleming biographer, Andrew Lycett stated that the writer did not own an island. Even though this legend has proved false, The White House of Goat Island is still truly a marvel to behold.
3) ANGEL REEF, JAPANESE GARDEN AND THE FRIENDLY BARACUDA
On our way to Little Tobago we sailed over Angel Reef and Japanese Gardens. Through our glass bottom boat we spied a wondrous variety of marine life. As their names suggest, the reefs are a veritable garden of angelic splendor. They consist of both hard and soft coral which play host to beautifully varied array of fish and other aquatic animals. We saw Groupers, Jacks, Sergeant Major fish, Parrot fish, Trumpets, and luckily an adolescent hawksbill turtle. By far the most interesting spectacle in this reef complex was the largest brain coral found in the western hemisphere. This single colony is comprised of millions of individual coral animals and is a sight to behold. Sadly, the colony has seen better days, a large portion of its bulb is now considered dead and Zolani expressed concern for its continued existence. After our tour of Little Tobago we were given the opportunity to snorkel over Angel Reef. There we were treated to an uninvited guest, a particularly large barracuda lazily drifted off the reef and came in for a closer look at our expedition. Needless to say, this signaled the end of the day’s water activities.
4) Birds of Paradise Island
Before our ascent to the look out on little Tobago, Zolani informed us about the storied past of the island.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the island may have been occupied at some time by “First People” groups. In a population survey done in 1790, five “Amerindian” individuals were reported on the island of Little Tobago. However, further archaeological study is needed to fully understand the nature of this early human activity.
The island became a cotton plantation of some significance in the latter half of the 18th century. The planter, a Scotsman, erected a wooden house and quarters for the enslaved Africans he used as a source of labour.
The island was purchased in 1983 by Sir William Ingram. As an avid environmentalist, Sir William introduced the Greater Birds-of-Paradise (Paradisaea apoda) to the island in an attempt to save the species from overhunting for the plume trade in its native New Guinea. After his death in 1924 the island was sold to the government of Trinidad and Tobago as a wildlife sanctuary. The birds survived on the island until at least 1958 when they were filmed by a National Geographic crew. There are no reliable records of their existence on the island after 1963 when Hurricane Flora hit the island and the population is thus presumed to be extinct.
Photograph of the Red-Billed Tropicbird in flight
5) Bird watching at the Lookout
A short hike to the highest point on the island resulted in a spectacular ocean view that spanned the entire distance of our journey from Speyside. The steep cliffs in view hosted a variety of seagoing avifauna. We were lucky enough to glimpse species like the Audubon’s shearwater and Brown Booby. In my opinion the most magnificent was the Red-Billed Tropicbird. Its black and white feathers and red bill made it a candidate for our national bird but as we know, the scarlet ibis was victorious in that regard.
These were just a few of the things we did and saw on and around Little Tobago. The flora, fauna geography and history of the island are all exceptional aspects of our heritage that should be protected. This experience was something that I won’t soon forget!
About the Author
Ashleigh John Morris is currently a researcher at the national trust. He is also graduate student at the University of the West Indies pursuing a master’s degree in history. His interests include art, archaeology and environmentalism.