The Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) is a multi-disciplinary marine and environmental research organisation established by Act of Parliament (Chap. 37:01 of the Revised Laws of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, as amended by Act No. 13 of 1990). The IMA was established following negotiations for an agreement signed in 1974 between the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and the United Nations, through its Executing Agency, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The Institute was mandated to collect, analyse and disseminate information relating to the economic, technological, environmental, social and legal developments in marine affairs and to formulate and implement specific programmes/projects.
Conceptualization – 1974
An Inter-Ministerial Committee on the Law of the Sea, which was chaired by Mr. Lennox Ballah, recommended to Cabinet in 1974, the creation of a special organization to deal with the present and future needs of Trinidad and Tobago, as they pertain to marine affairs. Cabinet accepted the recommendations and sought the assistance of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The UNDP supported the idea and indicated that the broad spectrum of activities encompassed by the proposed organization could not be easily duplicated by the other island nations of the Caribbean. As a result the UNDP viewed the potential for expansion of the Institute’s activities to the entire Caribbean region as worthy of support.
Direction – 1976
The conceptual and operational design was formulated by Dr. Cruz Matos who was the UNDP expert assigned to the project and the first Director of IMA (1976-1979). The Institute was designed as a multi-functional facility which would be the advisory headquarters to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago in marine affairs.
Commencement of Operations – 1978
The IMA commenced operations in 1978. The first programmes were the Coastal Zone Management Programme, the Data Collection and Dissemination Programme, the Education and Training Programme and the Legal Programme. The second Director of the IMA, Mr. Ronald Linsky (1980-1982), also a UNDP expert, added the Environmental Quality Programme.
Re-structuring – 1989
From 1989 to 1996, the Institute was headed by Mr. Lennox Ballah, who was among those persons who had pioneered the concept of the IMA as a regional marine research organization. During his tenure as Director, Mr. Ballah was instrumental in having the organization restructured through Act 13 of 1990 which amended the original Act and replaced the two governing bodies, the Marine Affairs Council and Board of Management, with one body – a Board of Governors responsible for policy. Act 13 of 1990 made the Director and management staff responsible for the management of the day-to-day activities of the Institute. Additionally, the new legislation stressed the IMA’s Caribbean mandate and its ambit was both coastal and marine.
Forging links with the Commonwealth – 1990
In 1990, the Commonwealth Science Council facilitated collaboration between Commonwealth Caribbean scientists and the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) of Goa, India through the Caribbean Oceanographic Research Exploration (CORE) Project. Under the project, Commonwealth Caribbean marine scientists underwent a training period at the NIO laboratory in India and this was followed by a 45-day Caribbean research cruise on board the Indian research vessel, the RV Sagar Kanya.
The Chief Scientist on board the research vessel, Dr. Arun Wagh, subsequently became the Director of the IMA from January 1997 to December 1998. During this period, technical assistance was provided to the IMA in the assignment of two oceanographers from India’s NIO, to the Institute of Marine Affairs.
Over the years, the IMA has taken up its Caribbean mandate by its involvement in a number of regional projects which have contributed to the sustainable development of the coastal and marine areas of the insular Caribbean. Many of these projects have been initiated by either CARICOM or UNEP’s Caribbean Environment Programme.
CARICOMP is a regional scientific exercise which focuses on monitoring changes in land-sea interaction processes and providing appropriate scientific information for coastal resources managers of the Caribbean region. The work of the Program is centred on the productivity, structure and function of three coastal ecosystems: mangroves, seagrasses and coral reefs. The IMA has been part of this project since the early 1990s and collaboration is through the Environmental Quality Programme.
Another regional initiative is CFRAMP, the CARICOM Fisheries Resource Assessment and Management Program. Under this Program, age and growth information for several commercial species was provided by participating CARICOM countries. The IMA’s Fish Age and Growth Laboratory of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Programme was the point collaborator with CFRAMP.
Under the direction of Ms. Hazel McShine (2000-2005), the IMA expanded its Caribbean mandate to the Wider Caribbean Region through its designation as one of the two Regional Activity Centres (RAC) for the United Nations Protocol Concerning Pollution from Land-based Sources and Activities in the Wider Caribbean Region (known as the LBS Protocol). As a Regional Activity Centre, the IMA assists UNEP in the implementation of the LBS Protocol.
New Facilities and the Future
The Government, private sector and citizens have all become more environmentally conscious. As a result, greater demands have been made on the IMA to provide information and inform policy on marine and environmental matters. To meet these demands, the Institute of Marine Affairs will build on traditional strengths while becoming more flexible and responsive. Research programmes are being strengthened through the recruitment of research staff; some buildings, inherited from the years when Chaguaramas served as a military base during the Second World War (1939-1945) are being replaced. The first phase of the building exercise – the research facility – was completed in January 2010. Research staff began moving into the new facility in February 2010.