inauguration Ceremony of the UNESCO-designated North-East Tobago Biosphere Reserve on June 7, 2022 - Minister P. Beckles

Address by

THE HONOURABLE PENNELOPE BECKLES

Minister of Planning and Development

at the

Commemoration of World Environment Day 2022

And the Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the UNESCO

Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme

Highlighting the Progress and Opportunities Relevant

to North-East Tobago – Man and the Biosphere Reserve

 

Good morning.

I am indeed delighted to be here with you as we commemorate World Environment Day, 2022, by joining the network of Biosphere Reserves in celebrating UNESCO’s 50th Anniversary of Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme.

 

Nature provides humans with numerous tangible benefits from diverse ecosystems, including food, water, medicinal resources and fibre. Nature also provides less obvious services upon which we are equally dependent, such as nutrient cycling, pollination, erosion prevention and carbon sequestration, just to name a few. Nature also provides spiritual, recreational and mental health benefits, as well as inspiration for culture, art and design, abundantly manifested in man’s creativity world-wide.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Caribbean, inclusive of its island states and continental states such as Guyana, Suriname and Belize, is a renowned biodiversity hotspot comprised of several forest types, swamps, savannahs, coral reefs, sea grass beds, and island-endemic species, all critical to the economic sustainability of the region.

 

The North-East Tobago Biosphere Reserve forms an integral part of the rich biodiversity of Trinidad and Tobago, and also encompasses one of the oldest legally protected tropical forests in the Western Hemisphere, the Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve, created in 1776.

 

Although Hurricane Flora damaged the forest in 1963, the forest has recovered and is rich in biological diversity and is an important watershed. The vegetation of the Main Ridge is described as Tropical Rain Forest with most of the forest reserve being lower montane rain forest.

 

The Reserve provides a habitat for many endemic wildlife species, such as the Trinidad Motmot and the Tobago greenlet, as well as for 210 birds, 16 mammals, 24 snakes, and 16 lizards. It is the main habitat of the White-tailed Sabrewing Hummingbird which was declared as an Environmentally Sensitive Species in 2005, and also home to one of the country’s National Birds, the Rufous-vented Chachalaca or Cocorico (Ortalis ruficauda).

 

The Main Ridge is also an increasingly important contributor to the tourism industry and has a number of recreational uses. It is an important income generator to the surrounding villages of Eastern Tobago, and it continues to contribute to the socio-economic development of Tobago. Accordingly, in April 2007 Cabinet agreed that in accordance with the provisions of section 41 of the Environmental Management Act 2000 and Rule 3 of the Environmentally Sensitive Areas Rules, 2001, the Main Ridge Forest Reserve, Tobago be declared an Environmentally Sensitive Area.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, the North-East Tobago Biosphere Reserve is a critical intervention that seeks to generate sustainable green and blue economic activities beyond tourism, including fisheries, agriculture, cultural heritage promotion, and scientific research and education, resulting in increased and more diverse livelihoods attained in ways that are more in harmony with the natural environment. In addition to supporting livelihoods and food security, diverse, better integrated production systems will also increase environmental resilience, especially in the context of severe climate events.

 

From a policy perspective, it ties in to our National Development Strategy, Vision 2030, Theme 5 – Placing the Environment at the Centre of Social and Economic Development, particularly with regard to the goal of improving natural resource management.

This integration of communities, stakeholders, and national Governments within such a planning framework can be described as a central tenet of the Man and the Biosphere Programme.

 

Our biological resources are of great importance to all sectors of our society, mainly through agriculture, fishing, recreation, tourism and culture. In our rural communities economic activities derived from the wild flora and fauna include hunting, fishing, and craft, tour-guiding and other nature-based activities. In Tobago, nature tours to the Argyle Waterfall, forest trails, and visits to marine turtles’ nesting sites and coral reefs, generate revenue for associated individuals and communities. Nationally, our five (5) terrestrial species of game animals also support a hunting industry worth hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, and our fauna (particularly tropical fish, reptiles and birds) and flora, are also prized in the lucrative international pet and horticultural markets.

 

Our biological resources also play important roles in coastal protection and water availability. Biological resources are therefore a source of essential ecological goods and services and must be managed in ways that ensure their sustainability.

 

Despite their importance, biological resources face a number of challenges, including growing population pressures, industrialisation, and unsustainable utilisation. Trinidad and Tobago is also confronted with the degradation of its natural environment resulting from deforestation through over-exploitation of forest resources, forest fires, slash-and-burn agricultural practices, quarrying, squatting, inappropriate irrigation and land use practices, and deficiencies in coastal zone management, amongst others.

 

We therefore need to take appropriate steps to protect our communities and their associated economies from these environmental threats and impacts, by ensuring that our biological resources are managed in a way that maintains all their components and processes.

 

The Ridge to Reef (R2R) approach is a ‘‘whole-of-ecosystem” or integrated approach to freshwater and coastal area management emphasising the inter-connections between the natural and social systems from the mountain or ‘ridges’, through coastal watersheds and habitats, and across coastal lagoons to the fringing ‘reef’ environments.

 

Given the close inter-connections between terrestrial, aquatic and coastal ecosystems, the integration of freshwater watershed management and coastal area management is essential to foster effective coordination in the planning and management of freshwater use, sanitation, wastewater treatment, pollution control, and sustainable land use and forestry practices, whilst balancing coastal livelihoods and biodiversity conservation, against a backdrop of hazard risk reduction, and climate variability and change.

 

I believe it is obvious to all of us that wise use of the environment is not incompatible with Trinidad and Tobago’s push towards diversified economic and social development. The 2018 National Environment Policy (NEP) articulates the priorities determined by the people of Trinidad and Tobago as critical to achieving environmental sustainability and ultimately, sustainable development. The Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme is in alignment with the objectives of the National Environment Policy, and will provide a basis for ensuring that the environment is managed to yield the optimum sustainable benefits for existing and future generations of Trinidad and Tobago.

 

UNESCO describes the Man and the Biosphere Programme as an intergovernmental scientific programme that aims to establish a scientific basis for enhancing the relationship between people and their environments. Critical to this effort is the access to data and information on the status of biological resources to enable policy makers to make informed management decisions, and the MAB Programme will provide policymakers with objective scientific data to inform the production of evidence-based advice on reducing pressures and impacts on biodiversity nationally and internationally.

 

Until recently, no single institution in Trinidad and Tobago housed all the available information related to biodiversity in the country. However, the recently-concluded Improving Forest and Protected Area Management in Trinidad and Tobago Project (The IFPAM TT Project) has given rise to a National Biodiversity Information System (NBIS), established by the Government for the purpose of gathering, managing, and sharing biodiversity data and information efficiently with all stakeholders, to ensure better decision making.

 

Also, as a part of the Project, the Central Statistical Office (CSO) conducted a first-of-its-kind socio-economic survey in Trinidad and Tobago in September and October of 2019. The survey yielded key information to guide the management of six Pilot Protected Areas (PPAs) across Trinidad and Tobago. The North-East Tobago UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserve was an integral part of the survey, as it included the Main Ridge Forest Reserve and the North-East Tobago Marine Pilot Protected Areas, here in Tobago. The study assessed the overall awareness of persons living in close proximity to the pilot protected areas, and measured the impact of these areas on the livelihoods and wellbeing on nearby residents and the wider community.

 

Distinguished guests, the survey, among other things illustrated the interaction between communities of the Reserve and the ecosystems they depend on, and ascertained the communities’ uses of nature and its physical products, otherwise known as provisioning ecosystem services. The survey also noted that less than one percent of respondents received income from forest related employment over the previous year.

 

The information from the Man and the Biosphere Programme, TTBIS and the survey are critical in the identification of knowledge and resource management gaps and allows for the determination of entry points for further opportunities in education and capacity building. Information such as this is crucial to assist the Government in achieving some of the goals set out in the national development strategy Vision 2030.

 

To this end, I am grateful that the Division of Food Security, Natural Resources, the Environment and Sustainable Development, of the Tobago House of Assembly through the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme, is here to promote and support effective ecosystem management and environmental stewardship. I therefore thank the Division, as well as UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, and all partner organisations and stakeholders for their work and commitment to date and in the future, to making the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme a success.

 

In closing, ladies and Gentlemen, I would like you to join me in expressing sincere gratitude to the people of Tobago for allowing us to commemorate this year’s World Environment Day, with its theme: “Only one Earth”, in your beautiful forest reserve, and for their continued assistance in forestry and natural resource management and other environmental projects.

 

I take this opportunity to call upon local, regional and international well-wishers to come aboard and assist us in managing our natural resources. The protection of the environment is the concern of every citizen, and am hopeful that the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme is a platform upon which we will continue to realise this Government’s goal of conservation and sustainable use of our environment.

Thank you.