The Nariva Wetlands are the most ecologically diverse wetlands in Trinidad & Tobago, and is the last bastion for many forms of wildlife. The Wildlife section, Forestry Division, notes that it is considered among the global 200 eco-regions identified for GLOBAL & REGIONAL PRIORITY CARE. Under the Environmental Management Authority Act, several of the Nariva Swamp’s biota are declared sensitive species. It is home to numerous species, including 151 bird species such as the endangered Blue & Gold macaw; 59 mammals including the endangered West Indian Manatee; 25 reptiles and 7 amphibians and many important commercial species. It is RECOGNISED as an essential wildlife refuge and an important breeding habitat. The site is extremely vulnerable to degradation through unsuitable and unplanned development. In 1992/1997 Nariva was threatened by extensive, illegal rice farming and devastating fires as well as the digging of illicit channels, all causing significant damage to the fragile hydrology of the swamp. The wasteland of much of Fishing Pond today and the complaints and regrets of the community there, is testimony to what could happen to Nariva and it’s communities. In 2001, Nariva was AGAIN threatened, this time by the “Cocal Estates Development Plan” with threats of large scale dredging and canals to join the Nariva & Ortoire catchments, salt water intrusion, and the draining out of wet-lands for large scale construction. We know that development of this sort only really benefits the resort developer. We all also know that serious threats are looming again on the horizon.
In Nariva, now an Environmentally Sensitive Area under the EM Act, the Communities there, with help, guidance & support from the Government, State Agencies, NGO’s,CBO’s & UWI, can and do benefit from the sustainable usage of the ecosystem services. As a “wilderness area” it has considerable economic significance. Travelling through it is an adventure, an experience that is exhilarating and exciting, educational and satisfying; and visitors, local & foreign recognise this. Spectacular scenery, relative ease of access, close views of wildlife, are all factors important to nature-based tourism, AND ARE AVAILABLE IN NARIVA, and contribute significantly to the local and national economy.
However this must all be very carefully managed, monitored and used wisely. There are many other spin-offs that can and will come from the business of nature tourism. Local communities are already involved in these activities. They are also involved with fire prevention, a wildlife-breeding programme and with manatee and turtle conservation. The communities in the area are perfectly aware of the serious and long-term problems that will arise from the destruction and loss of the Nariva Wetlands, as well, as the many benefits that exist for them if the wetlands, the Cocal and its surrounding subsystems are conserved and utilised wisely. Bush Bush Wildlife Sanctuary and the Nariva Wetlands have been and are valuable research sites and many eminent university teachers, professors and students, both local & foreign, have used them and still do, for collecting important data. Just by being there, gives the Nariva intrinsic value.
The Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia speciosa) – Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust:This important plant is used as a food source at the Trust. Leaves, insects and crustaceans in the roots are eaten by waterfowl. A water purifer, this plant also absorbs large amounts of dangerous pollutants (including mercury and lead) from the water and helps keep any water area clean. Prolific, 10 plants can reproduce to cover an acre of water in 8 months.
Nariva, a unique and important wetland on the east coast of Trinidad, until the early 1920’s, was home to hundreds of beautiful blue and gold macaws (Ara arauna).These birds were extirpated in the early 1960’s due to relentless harvesting for the illegal pet trade together with the destruction of their habitat, especially the great stands of Moriche palms (mauritia setigera) and Royal palms (Roystonea oleracea). The blue and gold macaws bred at the Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust have come back to their original home with the assistance of the Wildlife section, Forestry Division, Ministry of Housing & the Environment.
If left alone to survive and breed, these magnificent birds will once again delight and astound visitors, local and foreign alike, as they once did in great flocks. Success for this re-introduction however also depends on the rehabilitation and preservation of this wetland.
Wetland reserves have considerable potential for generating income from nature-based tourism and recreation, but we must maintain a viable carrying capacity and whilst developing ensures the protection of the very resources that we need. Spectacular scenery, relative ease of access and close views of a great variety of flora and fauna, are important factors. Monitored and used wisely, sensitive, community driven, nature-based tourism makes money, protects the environment and can contribute significantly to local and national incomes.
Nariva is Trinidad’s largest freshwater herbaceous swamp, over 6000 hectares with 1550 hectares of highland forest. In the Bush Bush Wildlife Sanctuary, situated in the heart of the Nariva Swamp, there is an extremely rich and varied fauna; 57 species of mammals; 171 species of birds; 8 species of edible fish; 12 crustacean species; 7 amphibians and 37 species of reptiles, including the Anaconda, largest snake in the world, capable of reaching a length of 30 feet. Troops of Red Howlers and Capuchin monkeys, 3 species of opossums, 2 species of anteaters, the tree porcupine, wild ducks, different species of other wetland birds and many species of migratory birds as well as the highly endangered Manatee, roam the swamp’s diverse habitats.
In some areas, fishing and legal, small-scale, high yield farming communities, derive their livelihoods from this valuable wetland.