Geography and climate

Trinidad and Tobago is a twin island nation in the south of the Caribbean. Trinidad, the larger of the two islands, is home to the national government and capital city, Port of Spain. The country of Trinidad and Tobago is fortunate to be to the south of the Atlantic Hurricane Belt, although there have been flood and wind damages from storms that passed to the north of the country in recent years. Tobago is located about 40 km northeast of Trinidad. Across the small island there are 15 watersheds with a land area of approximately 300 km2 (74,054 acres); within this land area there is a total of 15km2/5% of land suitable for development. Tobago has a tropical climate and receives between 1,250 mm of rain in the south and 3,800 mm in the main ridge. The island is characterised by rugged terrain with low mountains. The highest point is Pigeon Peak, near Speyside, which reaches 576 m (Baban, Ramsewak and Canisius, 2009).

Socio-economic and political status

Up slope coastal tourism developmentThe population of Tobago was just over 54,000 in 2000 and its economy is focused primarily on tourism. Much of the tourism development is located in the southwest near Crown Point, however growth in the north, around Speyside and Charlotteville, is increasing recently. Current tourism revenues come from a large influx of domestic tourists travelling from Trinidad; 49 times more Trinidadians visited Tobago in 2009 than British tourists (Government of Tobago, 2010. pg. 17). The sea bridge connecting Trinidad to Tobago increased the ferry arrival by 165% from 2001 to 2008 as a result of an expansion of the ferry service and recently there have been increasing domestic air services as well (Government of Trinidad and Tobago, 2010).

Local tours to the Buccoo Reef are the most popular for these tourists. Tobago is also home to the oldest protected rainforest in the Western Hemisphere and birdwatchers flock from around the world to see birds in their natural habitat.

The Tobago House of Assembly (THA) is a semi-autonomous government body with responsibility for many government agencies in Tobago. The national government in Trinidad maintains primary responsibility for national laws and regulations while the THA has an enforcement role within Tobago. The relationship between the THA and the national government is one which has implications for all actors operating in Tobago from tour operators, to fisherfolk and is one which will surely affect climate change adaptation projects as well. Despite the national economic focus on oil production, Tobago itself remains highly dependent on tourism revenues and the receipt of oil revenues as allocated by the national government to the THA.

The Tobago tourism industry centres on activities which use in the coastal zone, including the coral reefs and beaches. The 42 beaches on the small island have historically attracted both domestic and international visitors. The tourism industry accounted for 31% of Tobago’s GDP in 2004 and growth projections for the industry indicate that tourism will continue to be a significant economic sector in the future (WTTC, 2004). Furthermore, tourism in Tobago provides the many employment opportunities to residents. In 2008, 60% of the workforce in Tobago was employed in tourism (Burke, Greenhalgh, Prager, and Cooper, 2008).

Figure 1: Tourism arrivals in Trinidad and TobagoTourism arrivals in Trinidad and Tobago that slowly increase from 2002 to 2005, and then slowly decrease to 2009

Source: Central Statistics Office, 2009 as cited in Government of Trinidad and Tobago, 2010

Employment in Tobago is available in a range of industries; however the majority of residents work either in government, for the THA or in tourism. Many Tobagonians operate small guest houses as a primary source of income or as a supplement to their household income. The reef tour industry has also provided employment opportunities to Tobagonians in positions such as tour guides, boat operators or tour sales people. While the island has seen a decline in international tourist arrivals in recent years, the guesthouse and tour operation revenues resulting from domestic tourists continue to provide income for the small island’s population (Government of Trinidad and Tobago, 2010).

Natural environment

Tobago’s dependence on tourism means that the quality of natural resources is also important. “…coral reefs are the mainstay of tourism, and terrestrial development related activities are having a direct impact on these vulnerable ecosystems” (Williams, 2003, as cited in Baban, Ramsewak and Canisius, 2009). In a recent study conducted on coastal water quality, ecologists identified that the most considerable source of nutrient pollution is improperly treated sewage (Louis et al., 2006 as cited in Beharry-Borg and Scarpa, 2010). Other sources of coastal water pollution include runoff due to increasing deforestation, agriculture and urbanisation activities.

Fish catch in PlymouthThe Buccoo Reef Marine Park was created in 1973 as a no-fishing zone. The health of the coral reef has been impacted by tourists walking on the reef during reef tours, damage has occurred from boat anchors and coastal development has led to sediment deposition on the reef (Mallela, n.d.). These practices have since been halted to allow for regeneration of the reef and locals have reported improvements in reef health in recent years. Many threats still exist, however. Continued development, sewage discharge and illegal fishing pose significant challenge to the health of the reef ecosystem.

Fisherfolk report declining fish catches and broadly attribute this decline to oil exploration activities around Tobago, changing currents that have brought unusually large amounts of seaweed, warmer sea temperatures and increasing numbers of fishers. Historically, the flying fish industry has been a large part of the fisheries industry in Tobago, therefore, recent declines in flying fish stocks is of great concern for local fisherfolk.

CBVA Study Site: Crown Point to Plymouth 

Engineered coastline with pink flowers in the foreground and blue ocean in the background. A tiki hut and table hovers in the centerIn Tobago, the study area where ParCA is focused includes several communities located on the south-western coast between Plymouth and Crown Point. This is where much of the Tobago tourism development are located including the international airport, restaurants, accommodations and tour operators who conduct land and sea tours to, for example, the Buccoo Reef. The high density of development in this area is a stark contrast to the mountainous ridges and tropical forests found further to the north-east of the island.

South-west Tobago is close to many popular scuba diving sites and snorkelling on the Buccoo Reef is another popular activity. Pigeon Point Heritage Park is a popular area for picnics, beach visitors and is also commonly used for events, such as the annual Tobago Fashion Week. The neighbouring Nylon Pool and No-man’s Land peninsula are other coastal features.

Climate Change Vulnerability

Tobago Crown Point MapClimate change impacts have already been experienced in Tobago and these climate changes have implications for the natural environmental processes, as well as the economy. Coastal erosion has changed beach profiles around the island and in the Pigeon Point area specifically. Protective actions are already being undertaken by individual property owners and to stabilize public infrastructure. These actions reduce vulnerability by slowing the process of coastal erosion but can be expensive to construct and maintain.

The vulnerability of Trinidad and Tobago is a result of a few key factors. First is their reliance on a narrow selection of natural resources, mainly forests, agriculture and fresh water as well as the generally fragile economy (EMA, 2001, pg. 37). In the First National Communication on climate change the national government acknowledged the need for more comprehensive assessments of sectoral vulnerabilities, but noted that the country is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise (SLR). Nevertheless, the two islands are relatively sheltered from extreme weather events and have an industrialized economy which could provide greater opportunity for climate change adaptation investment (EMA, 2001).

The fishing industry in Tobago has showed signs of vulnerability in recent years as well. Flying fish, red snapper, dolphin (mahi mahi) and king fish are popular food among locals and tourists. The reduction in the fish catches in recent years (Ministry of Food Production, Land and Marine Affairs, 2010) creates vulnerability among the fishing community and demonstrates a change in the marine ecosystem as well. The cause of this ecosystem change is likely a result of multiple pressures from the fishing and tourism industries, as well as other development processes in and around the island of Tobago.

The greatest vulnerability in Trinidad and Tobago is to flooding and the history of poor building codes generates a concern if the islands were ever to be hit by a storm or hurricane (EMA, 2001). However, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) have created disaster management plans are working on disaster preparedness and public education on an on-going basis (EMA, 2001).

Erosion from a storm eventCoastal Protection with a dock in the background