To celebrate World Environment Day, we want to highlight some of the Natural Heritage Sites across Trinidad and Tobago.
- Rock Formation, La Lune, Moruga – Marac, the rural village between the Moruga foothills and Columbus Channel. The village expanded in the 19th century to accommodate the “contraband trade” between southern coastal villages of Trinidad, and their Venezuelan counterparts. Marac is notes for numerous oil seeps and mud volcanoes known by residents as, “the mud pit and the tar mine.” Over time, large rocks not belonging to Trinidad’s known rock formation, came down to the Marac River, clustering to form a “rock museum” that can be visited all throughout the year .
- Caroni Bird Sanctuary, Caroni Swamp, Caroni – Simon Ouditt Nanan, the son of an indentured family, lived in Cunupia near to the Caroni Swamp. On weekends during the early 1930’s, he took British aristocrats and French-Creole families on tours to the Caroni Swamp. In 1948, due to the concern about the decreasing populations of scarlet ibis, Simon and his son Winston, collected over 200 signatures on a petition to the Conservator of forests. This lead to the creation of a sanctuary for the scarlet ibis. In 1962, when Trinidad became an independent nation, the scarlet ibis became the national bird. The Caroni Swamp is also protected under the Ramsar convention – the intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources .
- Pointe-à-Pierre Wildfowl Trust, Petrotrin Oil Refinery, Pointe-à-Pierre – The Pointe-à-Pierre Wildfowl Trust was founded between 1966-1967 by engineer John Cambridge and aviculturist Richard Dean with three acres of land and one lake. In 1978, the Trust’s current president, Molly Gaskin signed on, and rejuvenated the work of the Trust, she added onto their mandate environmental education and public awareness. Available for viewing at the Pointe-à-Pierre Wildfowl Trust’s Heritage Museum is the Peter Harris collection of First People’s Artefacts. Today, the Trust is comprised of 14 acres of land and 2 lakes – it is home to 86 bird species and 40 different types of forest trees. There are 3 nature trails that go around the main part of the reserve.
- Main Ridge, Tobago – The Main Ridge is the oldest legally protected forest reserve in the Western Hemisphere. It took Soame Jenkins, Commissioner for Trade and Plantations, eleven years to convince Parliament to legally protect the forest reserve, because of pushback from plantation owners who used the timber freely. It was finally declared a protected area on April 13th 1776. This reserve contains thriving bird, mammal and reptile populations – it is estimated that the rainforest provides habitats for twelve to sixteen species of mammals, twenty-four species of non-poisonous snakes, sixteen species of lizards and two hundred and ten species of birds. The forest reserve is known for the White-Tailed Sabrewing Hummingbird that is rare and endemic to Tobago, which was declared an Environmentally Sensitive Species by the Environmental Management Authority in 2005.
- Little Tobago Island/ Bird of Paradise Island, Tobago – Little Tobago is a small island off the northeastern coast of Tobago. In 1909, Sir William Ingram brought the greater bird of paradise from its native New Guinea, about 45 juvenile birds were introduced to the island. After his death in 1924, his heirs donated the island to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. It is an important breeding site for the red-billed tropic bird, Audubon’s shearwater, brown booby, brown noddy and many other birds native to Tobago. The red-footed booby and magnificent frigate bird can be spotted from the lookout on Little Tobago. It is a popular site for snorkeling and diving.
- Angel Reef, Tobago – Angel Reef was once the largest brain coral known, but it has been damaged by bleaching, unsustainable tourism activities and storms. Today it is a popular site for diving and it is shallow enough for snorkelers.
- Goat Island, Tobago – Popular myth states that Goat Island was once owned by James Bond author, Ian Flemming. His estate and biographers deny any connection between Flemming and Tobago.
- La Brea Pitch Lake, La Brea – Also known as the eighth Wonder of the World, the La Brea Pitch Lake holds approximately 10 million tonnes of asphalt (the World’s largest commercial deposit of natural asphalt) which is mined and exported for use in manufacturing and road paving. It was called piche by the First Peoples, and Tierra de Brea, by the Spanish. In 1595, Sir Walter Raleigh happened upon the Pitch Lake, removed some of the pitch to save his leaky ships on his “journey” through the New World and quest for El Dorado. During the rainy season, warm sulphur pools are formed in the Pitch Lake by the rain water that collects in cracks and crevices. Residents of La Brea boast the healing properties of these pools to cure skin conditions and alleviate joint pains. The Pitch Lake is surrounded by flora and fauna; cashew trees, mango trees, breadfruit trees, water rose, nymph lilies and bird of paradise plant species grow in abundance. Herons, hummingbirds, sandpipers, kingfishers and ospreys can also be found around the Pitch Lake.
- Asa Wright Nature Centre, Arima – Established in 1967, the Asa Wright Nature Centre is one of the first nature centres in the Caribbean, founded by a group of naturalists and bird watchers, headed by Asa Wright. The AWNC has focused on education, conservation and ecotourism – their mandate being to, “protect part of the Arima Valley in a natural state and to create a conservation and study area for the protection of wildlife and for the enjoyment of all.” The main facilities are located on the old Spring Hill Estate, a former coffee/citrus estate.
Of course this list could go on forever – Trinidad and Tobago has no shortage of natural sites. Remember when visiting these sites to take care of them – walk with a garbage bag to take away any garbage you may create or encounter. Leave the place nicer for the next person who comes along and safeguard our heritage!
Happy Belated World Environment Day!