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Efforts to protect Buccoo

Buccoo Reef has been the subject of a number of studies and research programmes over several years, however the implementation of the management plan (IMA 1995) is outstanding among those. The area was declared a Ramsar site under the Articles of the Ramsar Convention in 2005 (International Convention on the Importance of Wetlands Especially as Waterfowl Habitats) .
Buccoo Reef is home to a vast array of life forms and is ranked high on the list of major coral formations in Trinidad and Tobago. A number of the species that thrive in it are listed on the SPAW Protocol (The Protocol concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife to the Cartagena Convention).
chart depicting coral coverCoral cover chart

Recognizing the importance of Buccoo Reef, it was selected for the designation as an “environmentally sensitive area” under the Environmentally Sensitive Areas Rules, 2001 (ESA Rules). The designation will be the culmination of work and planning that began decades ago. Under the ESA Rules, another foundation will be laid for the protection and rehabilitation of the Reef and the protection of species whose declining population levels have made them threatened in Tobago. In selecting areas in need of protection, the Environmentally Sensitive Areas Rules of 2001 identify certain criteria that proposed areas should fulfill that make it worthy of protection. The ESA Rules criteria, include:

  • Uniqueness, rarity or important biological features;
  • Habitat of any environmentally sensitive species;
  • Meeting the Government’s international obligations under any of the International Conventions;
  • Good representation of a naturally-occurring ecological system or type;
  • Particularly good representative of an ecosystem characteristic of one, or common to more than one biogeographical region;
  • Rare or unusual habitat, ecosystem, or community attributes in a biogeographical region;
  • Critical importance to the survival or recovery of endangered, endemic or vulnerable species/communities of plants or animals;
  • An appreciable or significant assemblage of endangered, or threatened species of plants or animals;
  • Special value as a habitat for plants or animals at a critical stage of their biological cycle;
  • Provision of appreciable social recreational or economic benefit to local communities or to wider areas;
  • Forest for purely conservation purposes;
  • High in aesthetic value;
  • Regarded by the scientific community as having significant value for non-destructive research;
  • Potential for fostering environmental awareness, appreciation or education;
  • Performing an integral role in the functioning of the wider ecosystem;
  • Representative example of coastal and marine ecosystems
  • Representative example of all wetland types

Historically there have been many management initiatives pertaining to Buccoo Reef. Goreau (1967) first recommended that the entire area of Buccoo Reef and Bon Accord Lagoon, including the mangrove forests and contiguous swamps should be declared a nature preserve and that the nature preserve should be included in a National Marine Park, which should be created by Government.
At this time it was recommended that there should be the acquisition of any privately owned lands bordering the Bon Accord Lagoon by the Government. The Marine Areas and Preservation Enhancement Act was enacted in 1970 and Buccoo Reef and adjacent areas were designated a restricted area in 1973. The Buccoo Reef Co-operative Society Limited was formed in 1971 and the 24 members comprised mainly of reef boat owners, operators and fishermen. A detailed study was conducted by Kenny in 1976 and several recommendations were made at this time as follows:

  • The reef should be marked in order to enforce existing regulations through adequate patrols on the reef.
  • Walking on the shallow reef flat should be restricted to specific areas while anchoring should be completely prohibited.
  • Mooring facilities should be provided
  • The existing area for tourist activity should be divided into three areas: use of one area restricted to test for natural regeneration, another area used for experimental transplants of hardy coral species and the third area in which visitors were permitted to walk.
  • Extension of regulations should include licensing of both boats and guides and specific safety and pollution standards should be established
  • There should be the prohibition of any development along the coastline from Pigeon Point along the mangroves and into Bon Accord Lagoon

By 1981 a general management plan for BRNP was re-drafted by the Forestry Division, Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Foods Production, based on a draft prepared in 1979 at a workshop funded by the OAS in Tobago. The draft plan was submitted to cabinet and approved in ‘principle’ though never implemented. At the request of THA, ecological surveys around Tobago were conducted by IMA in 1984 and this was phase one of the IMA/THA Coral Reef Project.
The Crusoe Reef Society (CRS) was formed in 1985 and their role was to assist in promoting the protection of the coral reefs in Tobago. The CRS and Pearl and Dean (Caribbean) Limited produced a video documentary, “Cry for Buccoo” in 1989. The documentary was created to sensitize and educate the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago on the serious negative impacts of man’s activities on Buccoo Reef and the need for proper management.
In the late 1980s the THA established a Buccoo Reef Monitoring Committee. A now defunct Buccoo Reef Management Board replaced this in 1990. Ultimately the THA is responsible for the implementation of the management plan for Buccoo Reef and the surrounding areas.

The Environmental Management Authority (EMA/ Authority) is preparing to designate Buccoo Reef among its first set of Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA), under the Environmentally Sensitive Areas Rules, 2001 (ESA Rules). The ESA Rules, 2001, were made under Sections 41, 42 and 43 of the Environmental Management Act, 2000 (EM Act). Of note, is Section 43 of the EM Act, which gives the EMA the mandate to co-ordinate with various entities, for the management ESAs. Committee members were selected with the collaboration of the THA and approval of the Board of Directors of the EMA and were chosen based on personal or organisational interest and expertise of Buccoo Reef Marine Park and surrounding communities. The role of the Buccoo Reef Stakeholders Management Committee will be the overall responsibility of overseeing the management of the Buccoo Reef National Park.

The existing management committee is a two tier one with a wider stakeholder group and a core group of stakeholders. The Buccoo Reef Management Committee (BRMC) was established in October 2004 by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) to oversee the establishment of the proposed Buccoo Reef / Bon Accord Lagoon Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA). The Committee is chaired by the Director of Marine Resources and Fisheries of Tobago. The BRMC is composed of representatives from the THA Tourism Division and others, EMA and IMA, Environment Tobago, Buccoo Reef Trust, Buccoo Reef Tour Operators, Southwest Fishing Association, Coast Guard and the Police Service.

Objectives of Designation as stipulated in the Buccoo Reef National Park Notice 2004, in accordance with the “Management Plan” . The objectives of the management plan are to:
i. protect and maintain the quality of the Buccoo Reef environment, particularly with respect to its ecology and water quality;
ii. ensure that the users of Buccoo Reef Marine Park, exploit this natural resource in a sustainable manner.
iii. provide for the proper management of the proposed Marine Park through the appropriate legal and institutional framework; and
iv. provide information to the general public necessary for their understanding and appreciation of coral reefs as a natural resource, and their role in facilitating effective resource management.