EMA is trying to cast a wider net to protect Caroni Swamp

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Flat bottom boats used by tour operators for bird watching in the Caroni marsh. – JEFF K MYERS

Overfishing, poaching, squatting, chemical, plastic and other pollutants, and rising sea levels threaten biodiversity in Karoni Swamp, TT’s largest mangrove wetland and home to the red ibis, one of the national birds.

As part of a USD 30 million pilot project funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has designated more than 3,200 hectares of land as ecologically clean. the first stage has started. sensitive area (ESA).

Recently, EMA issued a request for proposals for consulting services to reassess and delineate the boundaries of the Caroni Marsh in accordance with its mandate.

The EMA states that the designation and management of Caroni Marsh as an ESA is consistent with the ESA Regulations 2001 and will reduce “irreversible damage to the resources and values ​​of the protected area”.

By appointing an ESA, the EMA will continue the work done through the Improving Forest and Protected Areas Management (IFPAM) project and will also provide an additional legal protection measure that includes:

(1) Conservation of natural resources and environmental protection

(2) Sustainable economic and human development

(3) Logistical support such as environmental education and information sharing

Caroni Swamp, Nariva Swamp and Coastal Zone, Matura Forest and Coastal Zone, Trinity Hills and Eastern Extension, Main Ridge Forest Reserve and North East Tobago Marine Conservation Area were identified as areas to be declared ecologically sensitive areas in 2018. IFPAM project.

The EMA describes Caroni Marsh as a nesting and breeding ground for the red ibis and as a breeding ground and nursery for several species of fish and crustaceans that contribute to fish stocks in the Gulf of Paria.

Mangrove habitat is home to mangrove oysters, mussels, clams and conches, all of which are harvested commercially.

The wetland is home to more than 190 species of birds, including red ibis, 24 species of finfish, silk anteater, crab-eating raccoon, mangrove crab, hairy crab, caiman and tree boa.

Operators also depend on the wetland to run a sustainable eco-tourism business through tours and bird watching.

In an emailed response to a question about what changes such a designation would bring to those using the wetland for eco-tourism, the EMA said “stakeholders will be consulted to ensure the protection of natural resources and the environment”. , as well as sustainable economic and human development. A reassessment of the boundaries will begin these discussions with key stakeholders, including boat tour operators and other users of the marsh.”

The EMA said the changes to the existing limits had not yet been fully defined, but that significant risks and impacts would be identified during the designation process.

EMA said the marsh serves as a breeding habitat and nursery for several species of marine fish and crustaceans of commercial value, ultimately contributing to fish stocks in the Gulf of Paria.

“Although the Karoni Swamp was declared a restricted area between 1954 and 1966 under various sections of the Forests Act, Chapter 66:01, the Wildlife Conservation Act, Chapter 67:01, and an international wetland. In 2005, the importance (Ramsar site) the wetland is threatened by overexploitation of biological resources, poaching of sensitive species, squatting, illegal dumping and settlement, high levels of pollution, changes in the drainage system and fresh/salt water balance leading to the destruction of mangrove species. In addition , access to the site is unregulated and current management initiatives are inadequate,” EMA said.

It was reported that the management plan for the Caroni Marsh Protected Area developed under the IFPAM project examines some of these threats.

These threats include illegal hunting of birds (including red ibis) and overharvesting of fish, shellfish and other creatures in the marsh.

Current levels and methods of resource use, particularly for oysters and crustaceans, are unsustainable because there is no consistent monitoring program or data collected on native species, according to information posted by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Lands and Affairs. swamp.

Changes in freshwater inputs to the marsh, land reclamation for agriculture, and widening of existing rivers and canals all affect the salinity of this ecosystem and in turn harm fish and mangroves.

In addition, harmful chemical runoff from agricultural activities, industrial effluents, and sewage also affects the water chemistry of the wetland, adversely affecting biodiversity.

Deputy Conservator of Forests Ameer Roopnarinesingh said the designation of the Caroni Swamp as an ESA would “strengthen the existing network and law enforcement agencies to manage the site”.

He said it would “strategically” improve the protection of flora and fauna already covered under the Wildlife Conservation Act and ecologically sensitive species (ESS) regulations such as the red ibis.

Roopnarinesingh said the status also strengthened the expansion of the legal framework for the management of protected areas through a “statutorily appointed management advisory committee”.

According to him, the Forestry Department has the responsibility of managing the forest reserve, restricted areas and wildlife sanctuary of the swamp. In addition, its officers collect information, maintain and operate the Caroni Bird Sanctuary Visitor Center, and are responsible for protecting visitors.

A study by the Institute of Marine Affairs found that climate change, including sea-level rise, could increase the landward migration of mangroves and exacerbate the loss of freshwater wetlands associated with the system.

Another threat identified was the dry season wildfires that destroyed natural freshwater wetlands near the Uriah Butler Highway.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the proposed Caroni Wetland pilot conservation area is approximately 3,258 hectares and includes all land previously designated as the Caroni Wetland Forest Reserve and also includes areas set aside as the Caroni Wetland Wildlife Reserve.

The pilot protected area is bordered by the Gulf of Paria to the west, the Madame Espanol River to the south, the north-south main drainage from the Gulf of Paria, and the north-south main drainage from Madame Espagnola to the east. River to the Caroni River and north with the Caroni River, west of the main north-south drainage, then north and west to the Sea Lots area.

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