Still Crying for Buccoo
Much attention has recently been focused on the use of the Buccoo Reef and its environs by stakeholder groups, including access to the Pigeon Point area by fishermen. It is only natural that our attention is drawn seaward to the Buccoo Reef complex of the reef as well as surrounding seagrass, lagoon, and coastal wetland ecosystems. This ecosystem complex is such a vital resource for so many and indeed a treasured piece of natural heritage of which Tobagonians boast.
Then why is there a continuous stream of very vocal complaints and many more quiet mumblings and grumblings about the seeming inadequacies in dealing with the important social and environmental issues facing the reef complex? Clearly the public is becoming increasingly frustrated with the seeming inability of the Tobago House of assembly (THA) to take decisive action to manage this resource for multiple use by the stakeholders (including the tour boat operators, jet ski operators, windsurfers, fishing industry, dive industry, yacht industry, and recreational users) while maintaining the ecological integrity of the ecosystems and ensuring sustainable use into the future.
Most certainly there is enough information on which to take action. Since 1967 there has been recognition of the need to specially protect the Buccoo reef, with over forty scientific studies undertaken on various aspects of the biology, ecology, water quality, natural and anthropogenic impacts, hydrology and hydrography, and the resource potential. These technical studies unfortunately have done little to advance a comprehensive and structured approach to managing the resource.
Is there a legal framework for management of the Buccoo Reef complex? There are at least eleven relevant pieces of legislation governing use and conservation of the area, including most recently the Environmental Management Act of 1995 and the National Parks and Wildlife Bills of 1997 (the latter two are currently under review). Another significant piece of legislation is the Marine Areas (Preservation and Enhancement) Act of 1970, under which the Buccoo Bay Complex / Bon Accord Lagoon was declared a Restricted Area in 1973. Regulations under this Act state that:
"Except with the written permission of the Minister, or a person duly authorised by him in writing to grant such permission, no person shall:
- Go in or alight upon a restricted area;
- Operate a boat or other vessel within a restricted area or cause or allow a boat or other vessel to enter such an area;
- Take or remove any fish, corals, crabs, lobsters, shrimp, turtles, turtle eggs and any species of marine fauna or bird from a restricted area;
- Take or remove any mangrove from a restricted area; or
- Dig, dredge, or otherwise interfere with the seabed of a restricted area."
These regulations clearly address some of the critical issues facing the Buccoo Reef complex. These include the destructive anchoring on the reef and in the Bon Accord lagoon by tour boats, yachts and fishing boats and the use of jet skis in sensitive areas such as the Bon Accord lagoon, both of which are rampant. Let us not forget walking on the reef itself, which the management authorities shamefully continue to ignore.
Alternatives to all of these exist, and will necessitate the implementation of zoning regulations and permit systems. Such management strategies are discussed in the Management Plan developed by the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA), which must be urgently implemented.
The Fisheries Division has responsibility for management of the Buccoo Reef complex. One interesting initiative they have undertaken is the establishment of the Buccoo Reef Action Group, which has been meeting since May 1999. The group includes representatives of Buccoo Village Council, reef boat operators, fishermen, Environment TOBAGO and the Fisheries Division. Their mission is to "preserve and conserve the Buccoo Reef through co-management, while educating the public about the reef, its ecosystem, and its watershed." Projects this group are currently working on include the posting of information signs about legislation and regulations governing use of the Buccoo Reef Restricted Area, development of a reef education programme, placing permanent moorings in specific zones of the reef and surrounding ecosystems, and addressing the issue of reef walking.
One of the projects that the Buccoo Reef Action Group identified was the establishment of a volunteer Reef Warden programme. Independently, interested members of the public approached the Fisheries Division late last year to volunteer to serve in such a programme, and a meeting was held with Dr Arthur Potts, Director, on November 25th to discuss this. A proposal was to be developed by the Fisheries Division for submission to the THA. A follow-up meeting was scheduled for January, but was cancelled and no further communications to the group have yet been made by the Fisheries Division.
Several corporate sponsors have also expressed their willingness to fund management projects in the Buccoo Reef complex through the organising committee of the Angostura International Yachting Regatta. The committee has requested that project proposals be submitted by the Fisheries Division.
These initiatives demonstrate that the public is coming forward and showing their commitment to participating in management of the Buccoo Reef complex as one of Tobago’s most outstanding and valuable resources. The THA needs to address this public outcry, and establish mechanisms for strengthened public involvement in implementing the Buccoo Reef Management Plan. Immediate action must be taken to address the critical issues facing the reef complex.
The Department of Natural Resources and Environment has established a hotline where members of the public can call to express concerns or report on environmental degradation in Tobago. The number is 639-CARE (2273). Accept responsibility for conserving the natural heritage of Tobago. Call and let your voice be heard. - Nicole Leotaud - Education Coordinator - ET