Thursday, March 30, 2017

A voice from Charlotteville

Over the period March 28 to 30, Environment Tobago’s former president and current vice president Patricia Turpin is attending the GEF-7 Replenishment Meeting in Paris. This meeting is the start of several sessions in which the Global Environmental Facility (a fund established in 1991 to tackle the biggest environmental problems on the planet), will consider what funding is needed to address, halt and reverse environmental degradation. This feature first appeared in Tobago Newsday, March 30, 2017.

Charlotteville Tobago may be a long way from Paris France. For Patricia Turpin, Charlotteville is home, and Paris is one of many cities where Turpin attends to the business of securing the environmental health and wellbeing of home, the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, and the wider Caribbean. Charlotteville, she believes, may yet teach the nation a thing or two about conservation.

Though she was born in San Fernando, Turpin has grown conservationist roots in Tobago where she manages the extensive Charlotteville Estates; carrying on the tourism business with the Man-o-War Bay cottages; and embarking on revitalization of cocoa plantations which had been abandoned since the 1990s. She has been told that trees here might include some precious and old criollo strains.

Over a hundred years before, in 1865, Joseph Turpin the Anglican Bishop of St Vincent acquired Charlotteville Estate and began the conversion of sugar plantations to cocoa. The estate leased land to tenant farmers who tended the trees, harvested and dried the cocoa beans for export. Edmund Turpin (the son) subsequently became Bishop of Tobago. His sons merged the Charlotteville and Pirates Bay estates. One son was the Crown Surveyor of lands for Trinidad and Tobago, and the other a conservation-minded game warden in Uganda.

Streets in Charlotteville ascend into the rainforest.
Charlotteville was planned and laid out like a typical English village, with the recreational and communal village square in the middle. Taking into account the topography and watershed areas, roads and drainage followed the contours around a natural deepwater harbour. The 1930s Turpin environmental plan included areas designated for forestry and wildlife, a town plan, timber and agriculture which included a million cocoa trees on 400 acres. The life cycles of fish in the bay were studied, and the first list of pelagic species in the area was created, still used by fisheries officers in Tobago today.

Charlotteville on the sea
The first tourist cottages on the beach were built in the mid 1960s after the marshland had been drained and filled. Before that, the area was pasture for cows and horses. There was a visitor market for those first four cottages amid lush gardens facing the sea. Today, there are nine cottages, with a capacity for 40 persons altogether. The main clients are independent or university-based researchers and students; Canadian and US universities, and more frequently, groups from UWI.

“There’s greatest demand from May to August,” Turpin confirms, “but we’ve been reasonably occupied since this year started.” Though Turpin feels that ‘tourism business’ was forced on her, she claims to be an advocate of ‘educational tourism’ for as long as the island’s conservation organization Environment Tobago (ET) has been in existence.  

Environment Tobago (ET) was established in 1996 as a civil society organization (non-governmental, non-profit, volunteer advocacy group) with the intention to “educate, spread awareness and campaign against negative environmental practices in Tobago.”

ET’s most ambitious advocacy proposal may be to designate a marine protected area around the north of Tobago that extends “from Roxborough around the north coast (encompassing Little Tobago and the St Giles Islands) to Bloody Bay (encompassing the Brothers and Sisters islands) across the Reserve road back to Roxborough. Extending out to sea for six nautical miles, these areas will offer protections and management to terrestrial and marine areas of Tobago.”

However, ET is also mindful of the many small and individual actions against conservation; as well as the need for policy, legislation and education to make its purpose understood and widespread. Environment Tobago has an eye on all of Tobago: plastic waste on Atlantic beaches; the health of the Bon Accord Lagoon and Buccoo Reef; pollution and water resources; land development and runoff. In association with the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, ET conducts a series of educational camps and outreach programmes every year.

ET is currently mounting a campaign in support of Councillor Kwesi des Vignes to ban polystyrene and plastics in Tobago. 

ET came into being shortly after the Global Environmental Facility was created in 1994, and the GEF CSO network in 1995. They serve common purposes for the welfare of nations and the planet. According to Turpin: “Environment Tobago is a member of the GEF CSO network for about eight years. Two years ago, ET was elected from members of the network to represent the (Caribbean) region. The current president Bertrand Bhikarry and I attend the GEF Council and the CSO network meetings held in Washington DC.

Over the past few years, Patricia Turpin has represented Environment Tobago as a member of the CSO network of the Global Environmental Facility. (Photo courtesy Patricia Turpin)
“At the Council meetings, we act as observers, we comment on policy and the allocation of funds for environmental and biodiversity conservation against climate change, land and oceanic degradation, and chemical pollution.

“Different countries –183 members in GEF - are at different levels of working towards conserving the planet. It is interesting to see the attitudes and levels of information. Sometimes, this can be very frustrating.” Such insights inform and support ET’s work in Tobago.

In Charlotteville, she is grateful for the foresight of the Turpin ancestors; the cohesion of a community of old families, Nicholson, Murray, Carrington and so many others; and the tolerance and patience of citizens. She is happy to work with other educational conservation groups, and recently provided new operating space for ERIC the Environmental Research Institute of Charlotteville. She is hopeful that the work she is doing will keep Charlotteville intact; with positive impacts on the rest of Tobago and Trinidad; and that it will not be too late. (Pat Ganase)

View of the waterfront from the jetty (Photos of Charlotteville by Pat Ganase)


history of Charlotteville:

Friday, March 24, 2017

Meet the Manicou Crab: Main Ridge Mountain-dweller

Amy Deacon, Lecturer in the Department of Life Sciences at The University of the West Indies, St Augustine and Secretary of the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists’ Club, continues to explore the aquatic habitats of the Main Ridge. Meet the manicou crab! This feature was published in the Tobago Newsday on Thursday March 23, 2017

We have already met a few of the incredible fish that make their home in the upper streams of the Main Ridge. However, they are not the only aquatic creatures to have taken on the challenge of living in this extreme habitat – they share the streams with one of the Main Ridge’s most charismatic inhabitants: the mountain, or manicou, crab.
Manicou crabs roam throughout the Main Ridge Reserve and can even be found at the highest peaks. Photo courtesy Amy Deacon

Native to Tobago and Trinidad, Venezuela and the island of Margarita, this ten-legged crustacean can grow to around 10cm in carapace width, and can weigh up to 250g. While most crabs are associated with the marine environment, and will be found scuttling across a sandy beach or rocky shore, the manicou crab can be found exploring the forest floor and mountain streams up to 800 metres above sea level. This means it can happily roam throughout most of Trinidad’s Northern Range and Tobago’s Main Ridge (which reaches around 600m), much of the time several kilometres from the sea. As you might expect, it displays several impressive adaptations that allow it to enjoy this inland existence.
Maanicou crabs provide their young a safe pouch in which to grow. Photo courtesy Amy Deacon

The first relates to its reproduction. Most species of freshwater crab, including our famous hairy and blue crabs, need to migrate or remain close to the coast in order to release their eggs into the water and out to sea, where the larvae develop as part of the zooplankton before migrating back into the rivers and estuaries. However, the manicou crab is one of only a few species worldwide that no longer produce free-swimming larvae. Instead, astonishingly, its 200 – 300 eggs hatch and develop within a pouch formed on the female’s abdomen. This incredible adaptation is the origin of its common name; ‘manicou’ is an Amerindian word for the opossum which, as a marsupial, also raises its young in a pouch. It is quite surreal to stumble upon a female with a pouch full of miniature crabs clinging onto her underside, as she goes about her business.

Eventually these babies will leave the pouch and venture out into the mountain streams alone, having enjoyed a safe head-start in life. Pale yellow on hatching, juveniles become a bright orange-red colour, turning a darker red-brown as they mature, at around three years old. The diet of young crabs consists mainly of insects - primarily mosquito larvae, as well as vegetation and fruit. As adults, they continue to scavenge fruit and seeds, but they also become skilled hunters, adopting a ‘sit and wait’ strategy to pounce on prey such as crayfish, and even each other. A few years ago, scientists working in Tobago were astonished to observe manicou crabs successfully ambushing several different species of snake!

Manicou crabs adopt a defensive posture when threatened. Photo courtesy Amy Deacon
Another adaptation to living in ephemeral mountain streams is a reliance on breathing air (thanks to a lung-like brachial chamber); this has evolved to the point that manicou crabs can no longer survive the sustained submersion that is normal for most crabs. As a result they construct burrows in the river bank, or find crevices under suitable rocks. Being able to breathe air also means that these crabs can travel a long way through the forest when foraging, generally making such trips at night time. They have been recorded as travelling as far as 200m in a single night.

The larger individuals are one of three crab species in T&T that are harvested for use in popular dishes such as crab and dumplings and callaloo. However, catching manicou crabs is a risky business as their claws (or ‘chelipeds’) are powerful and capable of inflicting a painful wound. When threatened, they will spread their chelipeds in a wide defensive pose, at which point it is wise not to let your fingers get within striking range. They also use their chelipeds for communication by striking the inside of their burrows, producing a tapping sound. The exact purpose of this display is unclear, but it may be related to territoriality or courtship.

They have cannibalistic tendencies. Photo courtesy Amy Deacon
Their non-human predators include birds of prey. It is not uncommon to happen upon crab remains on riverside rocks which are most likely hawk ‘dining tables’. Mammalian predators include crab-eating racoons and even their namesake - the manicou or opossum. Although not currently endangered, it is possible that declines in other more commonly-harvested crab species such as the hairy crab, have placed increased hunting pressure on the manicou crab. The Main Ridge provides some sanctuary in this regard, as collecting of crabs, or any wildlife, is strictly prohibited within the reserve boundary. As a generalist predator and scavenger, these crabs play a central role in the ecosystem of our forest streams and therefore should be valued for more than just their contribution to crab and dumplings!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Swimming against the Current: the Fish of the Main Ridge Reserve

In this week’s column Amy Deacon, Lecturer in the Department of Life Sciences at The University of the West Indies, St Augustine and Secretary of the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists’ Club, returns to the Main Ridge. This time, we dip our nets into the cool, glistening streams that run through the reserve and see what we might catch! This feature was first published in the Tobago Newsday on March 16, 2017.

Thirteen species of freshwater fish have been recorded in Tobago, but only a handful of these have successfully conquered the Main Ridge. While we humans can easily drive along the Roxborough – Parlatuvier road to access the reserve, fish must initially colonise inland from the sea. In North East Tobago, fish in the lower reaches moving upstream soon reach one of many waterfall barriers at the edge of the Ridge. Often these are tens of metres high, much like those at Argyll. Most fish will never manage to traverse these barriers, forever restricted to the lowland rivers. Only the most intrepid make it through to dominate the uplands.
Typical aquatic habitat in the upper reaches of the Main Ridge Reserve. Photo courtesy Amy Deacon

Without a doubt, the king of the Main Ridge rivers is the Jumping Guabine, Aneblepsoides hartii. Ordinarily, this species reaches around 10cm from head to tail. However, the Main Ridge individuals are decidedly larger, as with fewer fish predators around they live longer. As the name suggests, this fish has the ability to launch itself completely out of the water. The ability to beach yourself may not seem like much of an evolutionary advantage, but the jumping guabine has another trick up its sleeve– it can breathe atmospheric air through its tail, which is covered in capillaries. As such, it can ‘jump’ out of water onto land and survive for a considerable time, as long as it does not dry out entirely.

This allows it to travel short distances over land to new bodies of water, and it is not unusual to find a few individuals in isolated puddles, often some distance from permanent water. Travelling outside of water is also the reason that they are often the only fish found in the highest stretches of rivers in both the Main Ridge and the Northern Range: Jumping guabine can simply make multiple jumps to scale the sheer rock face of a waterfall! Another advantage of jumping is that it allows hungry individuals to hunt prey, such as ants, that may be otherwise out of reach. Incredibly, they have been recorded jumping as high as 14cm, more than their total body length, to catch prey on overhanging vegetation or at the water’s edge. While in the water, they are ravenous predators of aquatic invertebrates, small fish and tadpoles.
Jumping guabine can travel for some distance on land and even up waterfalls. Photo courtesy Amy Deacon

A second species that has managed to breach at least some of the barriers and make its home in the Main Ridge streams is the Guppy or Millions-fish, Poecilia reticulata. Like the jumping guabine, these tiny (2-3cm) fish are also found almost everywhere in both Trinidad and Tobago and are usually seen in shoaling in large numbers in shallow water. Males are smaller and display vivid patches of orange, green and yellow, while the larger females are plain. Even from the river bank it is possible to watch males perform their distinctive ‘sigmoid’ courtship dance, which involves arching into an s-shape, raising their dorsal fin and intensifying their colouration in an attempt to seduce a female.
Although they are not quite as adept at scaling waterfalls, their special trick is that once a single female guppy manages to find herself in a new stream or pool, she can colonise it single-handedly by using stored sperm to produce vast numbers of live babies in a matter of weeks. As well as being prolific breeders they also mature extremely quickly, completing as many as 3-4 generations in a single year. Therefore, one chance colonisation above a waterfall can lead to a permanent population.
Many do not realise that the guppy, now world-famous in the aquarium trade and as a mosquito control agent, is named after a Trinidadian. Robert John Lechmere Guppy was an avid naturalist, and in 1866 sent samples of these pretty little fish to the British Museum in London where the species was initially named after him: Girardinus guppii. The name was later changed when it was discovered that the same species had already been described from Venezuela, but the ‘guppy’ part stuck.
The guppy is also famous in the world of science. Biologists from all over the world regularly travel to Trinidad and Tobago (including the Main Ridge) to study these fish and how they adapt to different environments. To date, local and international scientists have published hundreds of studies into ecology, evolution and animal behaviour on our humble guppy. It may seem small and insignificant, but it is a fish to be proud of!
Guppies are excellent colonisers and thrive in the shallow streams of the Main Ridge. Photo courtesy Sean Earnshaw

A third fish species that has conquered the Main Ridge boundaries has done so not by jumping or by reproducing fast after a chance introduction, but by actually climbing the cliff! Sicydium punctatum, also known as the Rock-climbing Goby or Tri Tri, reaches around 10cm long and feeds on algae in the streams of many of the Caribbean islands, as well as coastal regions of mainland South and Central America. Unlike the other fish of the Main Ridge, newly hatched Rock-climbing Gobies are washed downstream by the currents to grow and develop in the ocean. After several months, when
fully formed, they migrate back inland by climbing vertical barriers along the way. They do this using a technique known as ‘power-bursting’, in which they use a combination of synchronised fin movements and body twists to move upwards, and a special sucker to hold onto the surface of the rock while resting between bursts of movement. While Main Ridge guppies and jumping guabine only had to colonise the uplands once in their history, every individual goby in the reserve will have made that obstacle-filled journey during its lifetime – incredible!

Although the Main Ridge supports only a few fish species, I’m sure you’ll agree that in this case it is a matter of quality over quantity, as the adaptations of those who manage to live in these streams are truly astonishing!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Carnivals and the Sea

Even if the costumes are beautiful, Carnival should remind us to be afraid. "If your mas not saying ting or frightening small children or making old men bawl for obeah, what are you even doing?”* according to the facebook post of mas-maker Robert Young. Pat Ganase comments on some features of 2017 Carnival. This was first published in the Tobago Newsday on March 9, 2017

How many times have you played sailor, plain whites or long-nose, fancy with elaborate headdress, or seen a band depicting sea creatures so fantastic that you are certain that they could not exist, and never even thought of the sea? Well, like the ingenious carnival bat costumes that emerged from the rabies outbreak in Trinidad in the 1930s, all carnivals of the sea now need to be cautionary tales, asking us to pay attention to the plight of the waters around our shores, the ocean from which the health of the world as we know it ensues. We are islands after all, and have always looked to the sea for sustenance, relaxation, inspiration and as a means to expand influence if not territory.

Carnival reminds us of what we fear, even as we take on the fearsome persona. Photo courtesy Anjani Ganase

Little Blue Devil at Paramin. Photo courtesy Anjani Ganase

But the days of carnival bats to frighten and urge people to take precautions against the outbreak of rabies are long gone. Most of the frightful characters of yesteryears’ mas are now regarded as droll and old, relics of times past: the baby doll/child mother, jab jabs with rope whips, midnight robbers, devil and dragon mas.

The year is 2017. Most Carnival presentations stick to the big band pretty mas genre that has become our habit in the recent decades; bikinis, beaded and feathered. A few small, independent mas-makers keep to the tradition which Robert Young's Vulgar Fraction band claims.

*Ayanna Gillian Lloyd, Young's associate, says, "If your mas not saying ting or frightening small children or making old men bawl for obeah, what are you even doing?”

Vulgar Fraction’s production this year is The Caribbean Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, a sailor mas:
“Where are we…who are we…the same…
caught between the devil and the deep blue sea…
And here we are caught between…
Adrift at sea as sailors in uncertain times…”

Cat in Bag Productions, organized for four years running now by Ashraph Ramsaran, Nicholas Laughlin and Georgia Popplewell, was very specific with their Washed Up band: "Ready to swim with dead fish and dead crab? Ready for the octo-pocalypse? When the sea level rises, you have no choice. We thought we were flushing away all our mess like so much garbage. But the sea don't want our trash, and all that stinkiness coming right back..."
Washed up, a Cat in Bag Production, features Seahorse played by Amy Deacon. Photo courtesy Sean Drakes

Washed up, a Cat in Bag Production, features Fish played by Nicholas Boodram. Photo courtesy Sean Drakes

It was Minshall however who might have given us most to think about this Carnival. His Spiritus Mundi, cobbled to the Exodus steelband’s “Sailors on an Exotic Isle” is past, present and post-apocalyptic. Youth on moko jumbie stilts lead the band. Your gaze is pulled up. To banners and headpieces featuring screaming skulls like ghostly jellyfish above the all-in-white-cotton anonymous players. For those who have seen bleached coral reefs, it was a bleaching of the colour carnival: the spirit of the world.
Minshall-designed Spiritus Mundi moko jumbies take a rest. Photo courtesy Lawrence Carrington.

Lukas on stilts in the Minshall-designed Spiritus Mundi. Photo courtesy Lawrence Carrington

In 1979, Minshall produced Carnival of the Sea. The king was a Devil Ray. Those costumes and characters celebrated life. Spiritus Mundi portends death, a death of the world. And we should be afraid.

Be very afraid! This is the message of most of the mas characters that have endured the decades. And we take a tack away from the main centres of mas in downtown Port of Spain. Up the steep slopes of a little French creole village above Maraval, the tradition of devil is kept alive. The blue devils of Paramin who haunt the pre-dawn hours to J’ouvert, are featured in the Djab Molassi Festival on Carnival Monday.

The devils come out as the sun is going down. They jab pitchforks, spew red-laced slime from their maws. To get them out of your face, you give them a dollar, “pay de devil” (a custom that has been frowned on by the authorities fearing the loss of visitors). The tak-tak rhythm of their procession is provided by percussionists on biscuit tins. You’ll have the fright of the season from people who, unmasked, are the most civil, courteous, mild-mannered, villagers of Paramin and elsewhere. Now, what they need to do is invent a plant-based non-toxic dye, so they won’t be washing petroleum based paints into the waterways.

Now that Carnival is over, runaway shiny beads and feathers reach the seas and lure fish to the glimmering bait. When are mas-makers going to regain their positions as conscience and commentators on society: like Vulgar Fraction to use natural or recycled materials in the mas; or like Cat in Bag to warn that we must be “ready to swim with dead fish” in our carnival of the sea!

Bleached coral at Okinawa. Photo courtesy The Ocean Agency/ XL Catlin Seaview Survey

Friday, March 3, 2017

Saving Buccoo, Saving Trinidad and Tobago

Anjani Ganase, marine scientist and PhD candidate for a study of Coral Reefs, made a presentation to the Green Market community in Santa Cruz. She shares the presentation here in support of her belief that caring for the Caribbean Sea no longer rests only with marine scientists. We should all know and care about what’s happening offshore our islands and in the oceans everywhere.
This feature was first published in the Tobago Newsday on Friday March 3, 2017 
Follow Anjani on twitter @AnjGanase

Coral reefs around the world can be found in specific locations, around tropical islands where ocean temperatures are warm and the water is generally clear enough for sunlight to filter through. These locations amount to about one percent of the ocean floor. If we look at the map, we’ll see that our islands – Trinidad and Tobago – lie within one of these coral-select regions of the world, the Caribbean. 

Map shows where most coral reefs are located (Courtesy WWF)

According to the experts: “Coral reefs are a critical global ecosystem. They support 25% of all marine life worldwide, and are estimated to have a conservative value of $1 trillion, generating $300-400 billion each year in terms of food and livelihoods from tourism, fisheries, and medicines” (WWF 2015, Smithsonian Institute).

Coral reefs are important in the life cycles of many of the species that we harvest from the sea. They are important income generators in food and tourism industries to coastal communities.

However, coral reefs around the world are polluted by what runs off the land. They are further stressed by rising ocean temperatures.  Extreme rises in water temperature result in the stark bone white forms, a condition that’s known as bleaching. If you thought that the natural healthy state for reefs is white, you are wrong. Coral communities that are alive and growing are as colourful as vegetation in a rainforest. Coral reefs have been compared with rainforests, both essential to the health of the planet. Today, we are in the midst of a bleaching event that may not be easily reversed, even if humans come together to clean up the pollution (chemicals, plastics, garbage, sewage, silt) that ends up in the ocean; and to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that is emitted into the atmosphere by agricultural, industrial and human life practices.

Let’s pause here to understand how carbon dioxide and other emissions change the earth’s ecosystem. All animals breathe out carbon dioxide. Factories, burning fossil fuels, releasing fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal) from reservoirs in the earth, transportation systems based on fossil fuels, all result in increases in carbon emissions. At the same time, changes such as enormous gyres of trash in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, chemical pollution, over-fishing, rising temperatures, coastal development, are altering the capacity of ocean ecosystems to absorb carbon.

Humans also affect the ocean through unregulated and indiscriminate fishing. Most of the large species – whales, sharks, bigger fish like tuna, wahoo and grouper, and sea turtles – have been severely depleted. Food fish are smaller and further down the food chain. Herbivores, for example parrotfish and others that graze on the reefs, have also been fished out. If you have a look at Buccoo Reef today, you’ll see mainly small fish.

Coral reefs have been compared to “the canaries in the mines” a term that suggests they are indicators of the health of the oceans, and of planet earth.

While most of humanity, land-based and oblivious to what is happening in the seas, has proceeded with “business as usual,” some are aware and warning about the peril to the planet, raising issues like climate change and its connection to consumerism, carbon release in the atmosphere and warming global temperatures, over-population, pandemics and the growing pressures to support human life.

Organisations and groups promoting change include the IPCC (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change), Mission Blue, and the Global Change Institute of the University of Queensland in Australia among others. We urgently need more individuals and communities around the world to identify with the cause of a safe and healthy planet.

I’ve always identified with the sea and see myself as an island person. I was born and lived in Trinidad and Tobago until I went to university, and cemented my relationship with other campaigners for the health of the oceans. It was a “round the world route” that brought me to the Global Change Institute and its significant project, the XL Catlin Seaview Survey. This was a long way from the poultry farm in the Northern Range valley of Santa Cruz, with recreational visits and vacations at the beach.

In high school, I loved swimming and represented the red white and black on the Carifta teams and in water polo. Curiosity about waterways (Santa Cruz and Caroni rivers, the Nariva swamp and all beaches and shorelines) took me to Tobago (from Charlotteville to Sandy Point) with my family. At university, I delved into the study of marine organisms.  I learned to snorkel and scuba dive in waters around Trinidad and Tobago. After a first degree, I returned to a research project on sea turtles in Tobago.

The master’s programme in marine biology at the University of Amsterdam, took me to the associated research institute CARMABI in Curaçao where I worked with teams monitoring the coral reefs. Through the University of Amsterdam came a research project on Heron Island in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef; which led to a relationship with the Global Change Institute. I was one of the first divers trained to operate the new underwater photographic equipment developed to capture images of ocean-scape, in particular the shallow coral reefs. I later accepted the offer to pursue PhD study at the University of Queensland.
The underwater camera developed for the XL Catlin Seaview Survey records images in a 360 degree array. Photo courtesy The Ocean Agency/ XL Catlin Seaview Survey

The XL Catlin Seaview Survey brought academics from the University of Queensland, communications and advertising and commercial interests, together with computer tech giants like Google, in a project to map coral reefs. The 2013 Caribbean Expedition recorded reefscapes along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef and selected islands in the Caribbean. That programme has provided thousands of images and videos of these reefscapes which are available for public information through the webpage

Information is the first step to dealing with climate change. The next new initiative of the Global Change Institute and The Ocean Agency, is “to identify and prioritize protection efforts on the coral reefs that are least vulnerable to climate change, and also have the greatest capacity to repopulate other reefs over time. Our aim is to catalyze the global action and investment necessary to save this critical ecosystem.”

The project is called 50 Reefs. Over the next months, 50 Reefs will identify what Sylvia Earle calls “hope spots” around the world.

According to the 50 Reefs webpage, this initiative comes at a perilous moment for coral reefs, as current estimates indicate that barely ten percent will survive by 2050. It is supported by a unique philanthropic coalition of innovators in business, technology and governments, led by Bloomberg Philanthropies with The Tiffany & Co. Foundation and The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. The aim is to prevent the worst economic, social, and environmental impacts of this enormous crisis. Without coral reefs, we could lose up to a quarter of the world’s marine biodiversity; and hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest people would lose their primary source of food and livelihoods.
A bleached coral reef in the Maldives. Photo courtesy The Ocean Agency/XL Catlin Seaview Survey

 “This is an all hands on deck moment,” said Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Director of the Global Change Institute. “We are establishing the first global coalition of philanthropic, governmental and non-governmental organizations that will be
aimed at slowing the decline of the world’s coral reefs.”

“This initiative was developed after witnessing unimaginable loss of reefs over the last two years,” said Richard Vevers, founder of The Ocean Agency. “Even if the targets set by the Paris climate agreement are met, we will lose about 90 percent of our reefs by mid-century. 50 Reefs gives us hope that we can save enough of these surviving reefs to ensure they can bounce back over time.”

The 50 Reefs plan is shaped by what the XL Catlin Seaview Survey allowed us to see. In addition to the on-going scientific research, there will be a strong component of communications, engaging stakeholders and especially communities. Conservation teams will seek support from governments and organizations to enact necessary legislation, or to promote guidelines already in place.

In Trinidad and Tobago, we have Buccoo and other Tobago reefs that have been sources of benefit to fishing and coastal communities for at least a hundred years. Recommendations for conservation have been documented since the late 1960s and are still applicable today. The area was designated a marine protected area in the1970s but regulations and management practices remain less than adequate. 

Shouldn’t Buccoo reef and marine park also be protected, to become a location for coral regeneration over the next 30 years?

Coral bleaching in American Samoa in the Pacific Ocean: the photo on the left was taken in December 2014, the other in February 2015. Photo courtesy The Ocean Agency/XL Catlin Seaview Survey