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Birding in the Tobago Rainforest

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Rain might be the main attraction of the Main Ridge Forest Reserve. But the well-watered rainforest also supports a multitude of Tobago’s birds. Travel with Faraaz Abdool to see a few of these birds.
Dawn was just breaking at Roxborough as we turned away from the pounding surf and into a lush, verdant landscape. We had been driving for close to an hour in the darkness of the early twilight. In retrospect, the twilight did seem a little too dark – low-lying and rain-bearing clouds shrouded the hills and blotted out the first quivering rays of light, but not enough for us to realize that we would be in for a soaking as we entered the Main Ridge Forest Reserve. The road that snakes through this magical forest connects two radically different coastlines. We ascended into misty, clouded rainforest where any bend might lead to Papa Bois himself; the gloomy weather brought clouds that were thicker and lower. Rufous-vented Chachalacas shrieked at each other with typical ‘co-cri-co, co-cri-co’ …

Hurricanes and tropical islands

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One does not exist without the other it seems. Dr Anjani Ganase reminds us of the special relationship that comes with being small islands in the vast oceans that generate these storms.
The Bahamas sits in the hurricane belt and has one of the highest, if not the highest, history of hurricane for the Caribbean. Its infrastructure and society is adapted for hurricanes. Yet, the devastation that Dorian has left is another reminder of how much we underestimate the impacts of climate change and how much we (humans) are lagging in preparing ourselves for the future of a changed climate. The only other Category 5 hurricane to pass directly over in the Bahamas in recent times was Hurricane Andrew, which had maximum wind speed of 265 km/hour and passed over Bahamas within 12 hours. Dorian, on the other hand, had maximum wind speed of 295 km/hour and sat over the Bahamas for over two days! The destructive winds, rainfall and storm surge devastated communities and this is only the most obvious …

Coming to you on land, sea and air

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Microplastics have been found in the deep ocean, in the arctic, in our food. What we don’t yet know is how they are affecting our health and lifestyle. Dr Anjani Ganase reports.
Plastic pollution is a known and observable phenomenon with impacts that include the entanglement, choking, smothering and drowning of marine life – turtles, sea birds and even whales. Yet, there is the unseen equivalent problem of microplastics that have managed to pervade not just the natural ecosystem but human life as well. Microplastics are classified as less than 5 mm in size; most are not visible to the naked eye and therefore require special techniques to see them. Microplastics can be anything from the by-products of plastic pellets used in manufacturing – plastic saw dust, microbeads found in scrubs and toiletries, fibres from synthetic cloths and from the wear and tear of tyres on the road. Other forms of microplastics result from the breakdown of large pieces of plastics that have already been disc…

Where Atlantic meets Caribbean

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Here at the confluence of wild Atlantic and calm Caribbean, photographer-birder Faraaz Abdool finds a frenzy of feeding birds. Here, the St Giles group of islets and rocks off the north coast of Tobago are sanctuaries for these sea-faring residents. We departed Charlotteville under the blazing midafternoon sun, heading due north around the spit of land that marked the end of the world-famous Pirate’s Bay, also our point of departure from the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. The waves kicked up a bit and the water darkened substantially as we powered our twin-engine vessel “Fish Machine” over swells that seemed to become more and more well fed the further we got from mainland Tobago. Well into the rollicking Atlantic Ocean, even the air itself smelled different. My good friend, fellow guide and self-described old sea-dog Zolani (of Frank’s Tours) advised that we relocate ourselves from the bow to the stern, given the new conditions. He didn’t need to tell me twice, a memory of be…

Coral Bleaching: Threats for Tobago and the Lesser Antilles

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Ocean temperatures are reaching dangerous levels for coral reefs in the Caribbean, and international agencies have issued warnings. Dr Anjani Ganase, coral reef specialist, explains what these warnings mean for Tobago.

What is coral bleaching?

Corals form the foundation of our reef ecosystems by providing homes for an array of marine life. Corals are capable of building massive underwater structures because they form a special relationship with the microalgae that live inside the tissues of the coral. This is why corals are found in shallow well-lit tropical waters; the algae can photosynthesise using the sunlight and produce enough energy to supply both themselves and their coral host. In return, the coral provides the algae with a safe haven, storing the essential nutrients and removing the algae’s waste. The presence of the algae in the coral’s tissue makes coral reefs colourful and not transparent like their jellyfish cousins. 
The breakdown of this relationship is refer…

Knock! Knock!

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Who’s there? Woody. Woody who? Would you like to know about these noisy birds that are sooner heard than seen? Faraaz Abdool considers Tobago’s avian jackhammers. See more from Faraaz at farazabdool.com
Mention the word “woodpecker” and many of us recall a single image of a large black bird with a conspicuous red head. In fact, this general description has made certain species of woodpecker instantly recognizable and one of the easiest birds to identify in the world. We owe this to the popularity of the cartoon character “Woody Woodpecker”, an endearing animated version of the Pileated Woodpecker – a large and conspicuous resident of North America’s forested areas – that entertained generations since the 1940’s. 
Woodpeckers are dramatic characters; much of their day is spent pounding their heads against the trunks and branches of trees in search of food items that can range from spiders to insect larvae. A hole is made in the bark, and the bird’s long, sticky and barbed tongue shoots o…

Sea Level Rise and Small Islands

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As the earth warms, ice caps and glaciers melt, sea level rise is inevitable. Dr Anjani Ganase, marine scientist, wonders what is the monitoring and management plan for our islands’ coasts; urgently needed especially for low-lying communities around Tobago
Although the impact of sea level rise as a result of global warming is less obvious to us on island ecosystems in the tropics, temperature rises in the polar regions result in very visible changes to the landscape and environment. For years, we have seen images of the lone polar bear on an isolated iceberg adrift. More recently, images of waterfalls cascading off the glacial cliffs and huskies wading through ice melt on a balmy 22 degree day remind us that the changes are accelerating. Ninety percent of sea level rise recorded in the last 40 years resulted from a combination of melting glacial ice from the poles, rapidly melting ice sheets from Greenland (just under 2 million km2 of it) plus the expansion of the oceanic bodies of wat…