Mangrove forests in Trinidad and Tobago are constantly under threat due to human intervention despite playing a fundamental role in environmental management. This is the belief held by environmental watchdog group, Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS), which is now demanding that more be done to ensure this valuable resource’s longevity.
FFOS has sent out an appeal to the authorities demanding that any activity that negatively affects mangroves be placed in the care of the Designated Activity portion of the Environmental Management Act (2000).
This proposed change to the legislation, would ensure that any developer whose work directly affects the mangrove, would require a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) which relies on approval from the EMA. As it stands, the only protection mangroves have is in relation to the Environmentally Sensitive Species Notice (2018).
This would put a stop to any activity that interferes with the natural habitat of the Scarlet Ibis. Mangroves without the Scarlet Ibis as a shield do not have the same considerations as they are not a protected species.
FFOS’s appeal was made to the Attorney General, the Ministry of Planning and Development, the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) and to the Environmental Management Authority (EMA).
Why mangroves matter
Adding additional protections to mangroves, would fall in line with the United Nations’ 17 goals for sustainable development which aim to be “a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030.” Protection of mangroves falls in line with goal 13, “Climate Action” and goal 14, “Life Below Water.”
Part of the “Climate Action” target, is to increase countries’ resilience and adaptability to climate-related hazards and natural disasters. Mangroves are known to offer protection to shorelines from damaging winds, hurricanes, waves and floods whilst their strong roots stop erosion. Removal of mangroves makes the reclaimed land weaker and therefore more vunerable to damage.
Reclamation of the Port of Spain area has been happening since the early 1880’s. To date, this area and its environs can be considered the most reclaimed areas in Trinidad and Tobago. Should an earthquake of magnitude seven and above occur, there is a great possibility that the Port of Spain area may suffer from liquefaction. Removal of mangroves makes the reclaimed land weaker and therefore more susceptible to this phenomenon. This causes the land to move like a liquid due to the waterlogged soil and presence of water below the land; close to the surface.
The protection of marine ecosystems and biodiversity falls under ‘Life Below Water.” Our wetlands and mangrove forests are teeming with life. This attracts multitudes of nature loving tourists on a yearly basis which in turn generates revenue and means of employment. Outside of monetary gain, the National Wetlands Policy states, “wetlands support commercial marine fisheries indirectly by providing nursery habitat for juveniles; they help maintain the integrity of coral reefs through biotic and nutrient linkages, as in the Buccoo Reef/Bon Accord mangrove complex.” According to Forest and Protected Areas of Trinidad and Tobago, the Caroni Swamp holds 24 species of fin fish. The grey snapper (Lutjanus griseus) and the tarpon (Megalops atlanticus), being among the most commercially important. Other marine animals such as oysters, crabs and the caiman call this their home.
Mangroves are also well known for their carbon storage both above and below ground, with above ground storing around 45 percent more carbon per hectare than a regular forest. This carbon then gets turned into oxygen which would in turn help to reduce our carbon footprint. The IMA is currently in the process of determining just how much carbon is stored in our mangroves. Tropical Island Ecology, Professor John Agard is credited with a new, simpler and more efficient method to carry out this process. Once measured, it can be converted into a carbon dioxide total which can then turn into a potential investment opportunity.
The book, Mangrove Forest of Trinidad and Tobago goes into depth about local wetlands, what makes them unique and why we should be proactive about protecting them.