Trinidad and Tobago’s Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services set to earn T&T foreign exchange

Tuesday October 17, 2017.
Biological diversity provides stability and sustainability to natural systems. The Honourable Camille Robinson-Regis would like to announce that the 5th National Report of Trinidad and Tobago to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which was recently approved by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago provides an overview of the economic importance of ecosystem services supported by the country’s biodiversity. Recent research has shown that several national and cultural services have significant economic values which contribute to this country’s economy and are beneficial to our nation. The loss of regulating services such as soil erosion, water purification, coastal protection, and flood protection will increase our vulnerability to natural and manmade hazards.
One of the important ecosystem services that contribute to human well-being is the provision of a clean, reliable supply of freshwater. Trinidad and Tobago derives at least 88% of its freshwater from natural sources (ground and surface water); and the ability of this country’s watersheds to deliver water of good quality (water purification services) is valued at approximately TT$520 Million or US$88 million annually. The 5th National Report also highlights that forests can reduce sediment export into rivers by as much as 53%. These are important planning considerations which are undertaken, especially in the context of hillside development and the work of the Town and Country Planning Division.
The forests in Trinidad’s Northern Range provide soil retention services that are valued as high as US$622 million annually, representing as much as 6.8% of central government’s annual revenues. Intact forests on steep slopes (30 – 50 degrees) can also help to reduce soil erosion by as much as 95%. Another regulating service provided by forests is carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere. This service provided is valued at approximately US$1,088 per hectare per year. This carbon removal service is highest in wetland areas such as the Caroni and Nariva swamps in, as well as in Trinidad and Tobago’s forested ecosystems. In Tobago, the mangrove swamps and seagrass beds, especially in the southwestern portion of the island, are important providers of this service. Forests on hillsides also provide flood prevention services, valued in T&T at approximately US$5 per hectare per year. Taken together with other services such as erosion control, water purification, flood protection and the provision of sustainable timber, the ecosystem services provided by this country’s forests are estimated to be worth at least US$2,195 per hectare per year.
The coastal ecosystems and their biodiversity, namely coral reefs, mangroves, wetlands, and seagrass beds, also play an important role in protecting our shorelines. The 5th National Report highlights that almost the entire length of Tobago’s coastline is dependent on coastal ecosystems for some type of protection. This study also indicated that the value of shoreline protection provided by coastal ecosystems for Trinidad and Tobago ranges between US$3 and US$133 per hectare per year. Aside from protection services, coastal ecosystems also support recreation and tourism-based activities, valued at up to US$390,428 per hectare per year.
Another underappreciated service of biodiversity is pollination which has tremendous economic value to the success of crops such as cucumbers and hot peppers. According to the Report, the benefits of pollination to the national agriculture sector was estimated to be up to TT$65 Million or 31% of the value of agricultural goods produced in this country in 2012.
As the Minister for Planning and Development, with responsibility for the environment, I would like to stress that biodiversity supports local livelihoods across the country and as an income earner helps to reduce poverty especially in rural areas. Activities such as fishing, agriculture (for example in the Nariva Swamp), turtle watching, and tours of the Caroni and Nariva swamps and the Buccoo Reef can greatly assist in supporting the well-being of our communities. It is evident that we must make every effort to protect our biodiversity in order that we not lose the economic value of these services which can have a tremendous affect on our quality of life. We must all strive to protect our biodiversity so we can protect our future because environmental pride is national pride.