August 13, 2012

Tobago Ecosystem Mapping Project – Four Years of Effective Conservation Science


By Coral Cay Conservation

Coral Cay Conservation has released its final report, summarizing scientific results and community work achieved during the Tobago Coastal Ecosystem Mapping Project (TECMP) which ran between April 2007 and June 2011. The full document can be found here.

Jan-Willem van Bochove, Head of Science for Coral Cay commented: ‘‘In the face of some significant challenges to this project, an outstanding team of scientists, volunteers, scholars and concerned Tobagonian citizens proved time and time again that with commitment, enthusiasm and resourcefulness, great things can be achieved. One of the ambassadors for Tobago’s environment was Peter Trotman, who led the establishment of the Speyside Eco-Marine Park Rangers but sadly passed away last year. This report is dedicated to him.’’

Dr. Owen Day, Co-Director, Head of Communications and Biodiversity of the CARIBSAVE Partnership and previous director of the Buccoo Reef Trust, commented: ‘‘This document will help maintain and build the momentum in Tobago and in particular in Speyside for getting Marine Protected Areas established and managed.’’

A comprehensive database, based on over 900 detailed surveys, is now available. The extensive survey effort was done by trained volunteers using expanded Reef Check surveys. Coral Cay also provided Reef Check training to local scholars, including the Speyside Eco-Marine Park Rangers who are now leading the implementation of a marine park around some of Tobago’s best biodiversity sites.

The outcomes of these surveys highlight Tobago’s incredible diversity of marine life but also raise serious concerns about the continued degradation of coral reefs that has taken place within the last decade. The two mass coral bleaching events and resulting disease outbreaks of 2005 and 2010 killed off many of the large coral colonies that are so characteristic of Tobago’s dive sites. The effects of these regional impacts have been exacerbated by local, land-based stressors, particularly sedimentation and pollution. These local stressors need to be removed in order to give Tobago’s reefs the best possible chance of surviving in the face of regional impacts like coral bleaching.


Recommendations include the implementation of several well-managed, no-take zones in areas of high biodiversity and resilience to coral bleaching. These marine parks will not only help secure important marine habitats but also allow fish stocks to increase and spill over into adjacent fishing grounds. Communities should be involved in setting up these parks as well as their continued monitoring and management. Income can then be generated from park user fees, creating a sustainable source of income from tourism. Finally, an increased effort needs to be made to reduce land-based pollution and runoff which continues to be a real threat to the island’s coral reefs.

Encouragingly, Coral Cay’s scholarship programmes have helped to create local capacity to support the management of marine parks. For example, the Speyside Eco-Marine Park Rangers (SEMPR) are spearheading the effort to develop a marine park to protect some of Tobago’s best remaining reef systems. Dr. Day continues: ‘‘This is a momentum that was built by the work of Coral Cay and the Buccoo Reef Trust and that is now being driven by the SEMPR. The government of Trinidad & Tobago and several international agencies are looking at supporting the next phase of this work and the formulation and implementation of management plans. The legacy of the work done by Coral Cay and its dedicated staff is alive and well!’’

Coral Cay would like to thank our project partners and all the staff, volunteers and scholars who made this project such a huge success. For more information, please visit their website at