Coral reefs and seagrasses are some of the most diverse ecosystems in the marine environment. Coral reefs are home to 25% of the marine life in the ocean. Seagrass meadows play an important role in keeping the oceans healthy and providing habitat for a wide array of marine organisms and supporting livelihoods. A number of disturbance events have affected Tobago’s marine ecosystems resulting in significant mortality / dieback of critical coral reefs and seagrass beds. Coral reef monitoring (IMA) has shown up to 50 % coral loss from the 2010 bleaching with minimal recovery to date as a result of chronic ailments, such as pollution and overfishing, that limit the natural recovery processes. Seagrass beds in southwest Tobago have also been impacted by land-based pollution, coastal development such as land reclamation, and acute disturbance events, such as Sargassum influx. Considering the current climate change projections for island nations, including sea-level rise, increase in extreme storms, global warming and ocean acidification - there is an urgent need to boost the resilience of crucial marine ecosystems to reduce the vulnerability of these ecosystems and dependent communities.
The Marine Resilience Initiative (MARIN) Tobago project, is an 18 month pilot project carried out by the Institute of Marine Affairs with support from the British Petroleum Trinidad and Tobago (bpTT). During this period, MARIN Tobago seeks to determine the feasibility of coral and seagrass rehabilitation strategies given their current ecological state, existing disturbances and management practices. For this, IMA will explore suitable methodologies for seagrass and coral reef restoration in Tobago; one that maintains biodiversity and continues to support livelihoods. The second objective is to sensitize on the importance of coral reef and seagrass restoration efforts and garner community support for sustainable restoration and active management efforts.
1. Rehabilitation / Restoration Guide for Coral Reefs and Seagrass in Tobago
The guide will prioritise the recommended (resilience-based) management and restoration strategies for the pilot seagrass sites for Tobago southwest and northeast areas.
2. Tobago Marine Resilience Network
Success of community engagement will be measured by the number and types of community members that attend the workshops, are involved in pilot seagrass restoration work, and the number of divers involved in the spawning monitoring workshop. Attendees will be invited to form a resilience network that will continue to be involved in future implementations and capacity building exercises in the next phases of the project.
The pilot will focus on five coral reef sites: Buccoo Reef in the Marine Protected Area, Mt Irvine Reef, and Flying Reef in southwest Tobago, Booby Island Reef, Charlotteville and Angel Reef, Speyside in northeast Tobago. The pilot will look at the current state of ecological resilience, building on existing monitoring data. It will also look at the viability of larval-based coral restoration strategies for Tobago by identifying the spawning patterns of local coral species. Coral spawning is a natural step in the reproductive cycle of corals that is fundamental to maintaining coral diversity and populations. However, it never been officially documented in Tobago. The IMA will provide field experiences to local dive tour operators and members of the dive community on how to conduct dives for coral spawning and equip them with the information (annual predictions, corals, sites etc.).
Three locations in southwest Tobago where Thalassia testudinum dominated seagrass beds occur or were once present: Bon Accord Lagoon in the Marine Protected Area, Petit Trou and Kilgwyn Bay. Seagrasses will be assessed for current ecological health and seagrass replanting methodologies (wire frame attachment or directly pinned to the seabed) will be tested with assistance and guidance of community groups. IMA will also conduct a preliminary assessment the total vegetative carbon stock of seagrasses of Bon Accord Lagoon as a potential source of “blue carbon” in our MPA, which may incentivise seagrass conservation and restoration as a blue carbon pool for climate mitigation.
The feasibility assessment for rehabilitation and restoration is an essential first step to guide the implementation phases of future restoration activities in Tobago. The immediate outputs of the study would be to coordinate rehabilitation efforts at a national scale and avoid pockets of mismanaged restoration activities by well-intentioned, but isolated activities that may be potentially detrimental. This is necessary for initiating coral reef and seagrass restoration in Tobago that will be extended to more sites in Trinidad and Tobago in the next phase. It will also help determine the most practical step forward, so that efforts and funds can be focused on the needs of the marine habitats that are suitable for rehabilitation. Part of this includes building social resilience in tandem with ecological resilience through community inclusion.In the event that coral spawning is observed, IMA will prioritise reefs for coral larval-based restoration of suitable species. Success of the seagrass restoration will result in the expansion of the restoration practice and monitoring for long-term recovery. All implementation activities must correspond with specific threat reduction management of our marine ecosystems, such as abating land-based pollution and regulating fishing activities.
January 2022 – June 2023