1. Coastal Conservation Project

Component 1: CARICOMP

CARICOMP is a regional programme, the principal goal of which is to determine the dominant influences on coastal productivity in the Caribbean Region and to discriminate between human disturbances and long-term natural variation. The Institute of Marine Affairs has been involved in the CARICOMP project since the early 1990s and has been collecting productivity data on the Eastern Reef site, Bon Accord mangrove forest and seagrass bed for the past 15 years.  The data is stored in a Microsoft Excel database at the IMA.  It is also sent to the Data Management Centre in Jamaica which is the data repository for this programme.


Component 2: Coastal Monitoring of Wetlands and Seagrass beds

Monitoring of selected seagrass beds around Trinidad and Tobago

In 2001, an inventory of all seagrass communities around Trinidad and Tobago was undertaken and a report entitled ‘An inventory of seagrass communities around Trinidad and Tobago1 was produced. Based on the inventory, a seagrass monitoring programme was developed and implemented in 2002.  Seagrass density, biomass and areal productivity were monitored at four sites along the northwest peninsula of Trinidad and five sites in southwest Tobago, twice per year.  Since 2004, seagrass density and areal productivity have been monitored four times per year and since 2006, water quality parameters including nutrient concentrations, total suspended solids and chlorophyll concentrations have been measured twice per year (once in the dry season, and once in the wet season). A research report entitled Seagrass Monitoring Programme for Trinidad and Tobago (2002-2004)’2 has been prepared. A survey of the macro-fauna in the seagrass beds in Williams Bay was conducted in May and August 2004, and January and April 2005.

b.     Status of mangrove forests in Trinidad and Tobago

Mangrove forests provide site specific functions and values.  These include storm protection, shoreline stabilization, water quality maintenance, provision of habitats and nursery areas for fish and wildlife and carbon sequestration.    Projections are available over coming decades for rising sea level and changes in climate and weather (Houghton et al. 2001).  These changes are expected to alter the position, area, structure and health of most coastal communities including mangroves. Establishing mangrove baselines and monitoring gradual changes will enable the separation of site-based influence from global climate change, and will provide a better understanding of mangrove responses to sea level rise and global climate changes. The goal of this project is to establish a baseline for mangrove forests in Trinidad and Tobago so that response to sea level rise and climate changes can be determined.  High resolution IKONOS imagery together with extensive ground surveys were used to map the mangroves around Trinidad and Tobago and identify the state of these forests. This project is expected to be completed by the end of 2009.  The results would be used to develop a project that looks at climate change impacts of selected mangrove areas.

Component 3: Coral Reef Monitoring

a.     An assessment of coral reefs around Tobago

Coral reefs are a vital component of Tobago’s marine environment as they are found around most of the island.  These reefs protect against storm surges and hurricanes as Tobago lies at the southern end of the Hurricane Belt.  Shallow reefs in Buccoo, Kilgwyn, Arnos Vale, Culloden and Charlotteville protect against coastal erosion by dissipating wave energy.  The reefs supply the sediment responsible for the white beaches in Southwest Tobago.  They also support Tobago’s fishery as well as tourism industries which are the main economic activities on the island.  These reefs have been under increasing stress as there has been an expansion in development activities in the associated catchments mainly for resorts and houses. Coral species recorded on these reefs such as Acropora palmata, Diploria labyrinthiformis, Diploria strigosa, Gorgonia ventalina, Montastrea annularis, Montastrea cavernosa, Siderastrea siderea have recently been given special status under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) and World Conservation Union (IUCN). Before this project, the status of the reefs around Tobago reefs was unknown as there was no on-going monitoring except for Buccoo Reef.  The goal of the project was to qualitatively and quantitatively re-survey the reefs at Buccoo Bay, Kilgwyn Bay, Culloden Bay, Arnos Vale, Charlotteville and Speyside using a similar methodology and study location as Laydoo (1985) in order to determine changes/ impacts on these reefs. Surveys were conducted from 2007-2008 and a research report entitled ‘Coastal Conservation Project: An Assessment of the Coral Reefs of Tobago3 was prepared in 2009.

Coral Bleaching Update

Bleaching refers to once-colorful corals turning white. Corals are tiny animals that live in colonies.  They depend on a symbiotic relationship with microscopic algae called zooxanthellae to produce energy through photosynthesis.  These algae give corals much of their vivid colour and life to the reef.  When corals are stressed, for example by water about 1°C to 1.5°C (1.8°F to 2.7°F) above the average high temperature, it throws the relationship out of balance and eventually the corals reject the algae.  What's left is white coral — hence the term bleaching.  The corals are still alive, but if they don't recover within a month or two, they could die.

Report: November/December 2010 Weather and Sea Temperatures

You will be pleased to know that the thermal stress for the Southeast Caribbean region, including the waters surrounding Trinidad and Tobago, have steadily decreased over the last 10 weeks, resulting in current sea surface temperatures (SSTs)of 27.8 Deg C (Figure 1 and 2).

Figure 1: Sea surface temperature for Tobago to Jan to Nov

Figure 2: Sea surface temperature for the Wider Caribbean (Dec 2010)

The latest NOAA Coral Reef Watch Alert for Tobago indicates that current SSTs are now below the maximum monthly mean SST.

Virtual Satellite observations:

3:00h UTC 29 Nov. 2010 - 5:00h UTC 2 Dec. 2010

Coral bleaching HotSpot : 0.0 Deg. C

Sea surface temperature : 27.8 Deg. C

Maximum Monthly Mean SST at site : 28.5 Deg. C

What this means is our corals are not longer experiencing heating stress and are more likely to exhibit signs of recovery during the coming months unless further stressed. Most recent surveys conducted at Speyside, Culloden and Buccoo, indicated that Speyside remains the most severely bleached whereas, most live corals in Buccoo and Speyside are regaining their colour and are exhibiting less bleaching.

Condition of Corals

The reefs at Buccoo, Culloden and Speyside continue to be monitored and recent surveys have found some recovery at Buccoo and Culloden. However, we are noticing areas of coral death (mortality) and disease. As of the end of November, Speyside’s reefs were still very much bleached. The next monitoring will occur at the end of December and continue until March.

Please report on any areas still bleached, showing coral mortality, algal outbreak, or coral disease (including observations of no bleaching or recovery). Send reports to either Esther Tobias ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) or Jahson Alemu I ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ). On a final note, as the bleaching event comes to an end, the BleachWatch updates will become less frequent, but this resource will remain opened to anyone who requires information or anyone wanting to report anything that may require investigation on the coral reefs.


b.     Dynamics of Coral Reef Communities on an impacted (Buccoo Reef) and less impacted (Culloden Bay) reef in Tobago

This is a follow up to the coral reef assessment conducted in 2008 under the Coral Reef Monitoring project.  The study involves a high resolution examination of the stability of the coral community structure and demography (recruitment, growth, survivorship, etc.) of major coral reef organisms on an impacted reef (Buccoo Reef) and less impacted reef (Culloden Reef). Fish, macro-algal and macro-invertebrate (principally including corals, gorgonians and sea urchins) populations will be studied at the same transects. Permanent transects with permanent quadrats will be established. Community structure will be assessed with repeated surveys of the same permanent transect/quadrats thus allowing a documentation of change. Video and photo-quadrats along the permanent transect lines at each reef locality will be conducted to support the quantitative surveys. It is expected that these studies will provide new insights into the dynamics of coral reef communities.  The data generated would be used to develop further projects on coral recruitment and survivorship.

Component 4:       Coastal Dynamics

This component, which began in 1988, was formerly known as the Coastal Conservation Project, was an on-going marine geology project of ERP. The goal of the project is to determine coastal erosion rates and stability trends for the coastal areas of Trinidad and Tobago which are monitored and to develop erosion and sea level rise vulnerability index maps for these areas.  The scientific information generated (beach profile monitoring data, littoral processes data and physical oceanographic data) from this monitoring programme is used to inform plans and policies relating to coastal development and coastal erosion, alleviation and mitigation.

2. Determination of the sources and fate of nitrogen from Coastal Watersheds in Trinidad and Tobago using Nitrogen Loading Model and Isotopic Studies

This project will be conducted collaboratively between the Institute of Marine Affairs and Woods Hole Marine Biological Centre, Massachusetts, USA.

Over the past four decades the population in Trinidad and Tobago has almost doubled and there has been tremendously development and land use changes in coastal watersheds. Excessive nutrient loading has emerged as one of the most important direct drivers of ecosystem change in terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems; this is linked to population growth and land use changes. Eutrophication is arguably the principal and most pervasive anthropogenic alteration to coastal ecosystems everywhere (Nixon et al., 1986) resulting in the loss of valuable seagrass and reef habitats (Short and Burdick, 1996; Hauxwell et al., 2001) affecting finfish and shell fish stock (Walker, 1989). This is evident in the coastal environment of Tobago, particularly in the Buccoo/ Bon Accord Lagoon.

The relative contribution of nitrogen by atmospheric deposition, fertilizers, and wastewater depends on the specific mosaic of land cover present on a watershed.  Nitrogen Loading Model (NLM) considers nitrogen inputs from the three major sources into each type of land use (natural vegetation, impervious surfaces, turf, houses and agriculture) and tracks the fate of the nitrogen from each source as it transverses various ecosystem components.

The specific research questions to be answered in this project are:-

1.      What is the natural load of nitrogen to the Bon Accord Lagoon and Culloden Bay?

2.      What are the major land uses that contribute to the nitrogen loading?

3.      What is the nitrogen retention provided by the different components of the watersheds e.g. forest, wetland?

4.      How much land-derived nitrogen passes up the food chain?

The results of this project will be used to provide recommendations and guidelines on how to address nutrient pollution.