Tobago: A Sustainable Future for Buccoo Reef

Provided by Dr. Jennie Mallela, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and The Australian National University

The Buccoo Reef Marine Park (BRMP) is located at the southwest tip of Tobago. The park spans an area of 7 sq km and consists of five reef flats that enclose a shallow reef lagoon and a mangrove swamp.1

BRMP is integral to Tobago’s economy—half of all visitors to Tobago use the park, and tourism accounts for 46 percent of Tobago’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employs 60 percent of its workforce.2 The economic contribution of tourism associated with Buccoo Reef alone has been estimated at US$7. to US$8.8 million per year. Furthermore, Buccoo Reef protects a low-lying and developed section of Tobago’s shoreline from erosion and storm damage, avoiding an estimated US $5.6 to $10 million per year in damages.

Recognizing the area’s tourism potential and the need to protect its fisheries, Tobago’s government established BRMP in 1973 as a no-fishing zone, with authorization for entrance fees. However, enforcement of park regulations has been limited, and entrance fees have never been collected.

The combination of tourism and residential development, along with limited enforcement of park regulations, has resulted in the deterioration of Buccoo Reef's health and framework. Reef walking, rock turning, boat groundings, and anchoring have damaged the reef. Sewage discharge, as well as nutrient and sediment runoff, has led to algae and seagrass growth at the expense of corals.3 Illegal fishing has gone unregulated and still occurs in the park. Hurricanes and bleaching events have led to severe reductions in coral recruitment and increased coral disease.4

Although Buccoo Reef faces many threats, improved policies could halt and reverse the degradation of the reef. Enforcement of BRMP's no-fishing regulations would be an important first step toward improving reef health, and could be financed through collection of park entrance fees. Re-routing waste outfalls that currently drain into the Bon Accord lagoon, along with improved watershed management focusing on reducing sediment and nutrient delivery, would result in significant improvements to water quality. Plans are currently underway to construct a wastewater treatment plant in southwest Tobago—a larger investment that would benefit the long-term health of Buccoo Reef.5 While these management policies would involve initial short-term costs, the longer-term economic and ecological benefits would outweigh the initial investment.

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  1. Laydoo, R. A Guide to the Coral Reefs of Tobago. Vol. 1 (Institute of Marine Affairs and Asa Wright Nature Centre, 1991).
  2. Burke, L., S. Greenhalgh, D. Prager and E. Cooper. Coastal Capital: Economic Valuation of Coral Reefs in Tobago and St. Lucia. 1-66 (World Resources Institute, Washington, DC, 2008).
  3. Mallela, J. and C. Harrod. D13c and D15n Reveal Significant Differences in the Coastal Foodwebs of the Seas Surrounding the Islands of Trinidad and Tobago. Marine Ecology Progress Series 368, 41-51 (2008).
  4. Mallela, J. and M. J. C. Crabbe. Hurricanes and Coral Bleaching Linked to Changes in Coral Recruitment in Tobago. Marine Environmental Research 68, 158-162 (2009); Mallela, J., R. Parkinson and O. Day. An Assessment of Coral Reefs in Tobago. Caribbean Journal of Science 45 (in press); Mallela, J. and R. Parkinson. Coral Disease Succession in Tobago: From Yellow Band to Black Band Disease Coral Reefs 27, 787 (2008).
  5. Kenter, P. Trinidad and Tobago Project Designed to Protect Buccoo Reef. Daily Commercial News and Construction Record (August 26, 2010).