Wetlands of International Importance
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Wetlands of International Importance

Earlier this year Tobago witnessed the quiet passing of one of the most significant environmental acts in its history. On the 8th July 2005, the Buccoo Reef/ Bon Accord Wetlands were designated as a Ramsar Site. This makes them Wetlands of International Importance!

So what is Ramsar and why designate Buccoo/ Bon Accord as a wetland of international importance?

The Ramsar Convention also known as the Convention on Wetlands, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. It was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and came into force in 1975, and it is the only global environmental treaty that deals with a particular ecosystem. The Convention's member countries cover all geographic regions of the planet.

The Convention came into force for Trinidad and Tobago on 21st April 1993. Presently there are 3 sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance. These are the Nariva and Caroni Swamps in Trinidad and Buccoo Reef/ Bon Accord Wetland in Tobago.

Under the Convention the Government of Trinidad & Tobago has to meet certain obligations. These include designating at least one wetland that meets the criteria for inclusion in the List of Wetlands of International Importance ("Ramsar List") and ensure the maintenance of the ecological character of each of these "Ramsar Sites". Parties are encouraged to include in the List as many wetlands that meet the criteria as possible.

Promoting the wise use of all wetlands within their territory through their national land-use planning, including wetland conservation and management. Promote training in wetland research, management and wise use.

Consult with other Parties about the implementation of the Convention, especially with regard to transfrontier wetlands, shared water systems, shared species, and development projects that may affect wetlands.

Buccoo/ Bon Accord Complex was designated as it includes several under-represented wetland types such as coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove forests. Endangered and vulnerable species in the area include various types of coral as well as the critically endangered Hawksbill turtle and at least 119 fish species.

As the major tourist attraction in Tobago, the area continues to be adversely affected by intense tourist activity and pollutant discharges. There is also the possibility of large scale resort development taking place in the area, adding further stress to the already fragile ecosystem. So far the restricted area status and existing management plan have been unable to prevent these impacts.

So what is being done? The Buccoo Reef Management Committee, which is made up of representatives from Government agencies, NGOs and community stakeholders are currently working together to promote sustainable use of the area. Along with this effort, the Environmental Management Authority is currently in the process of designating Buccoo/ Bon Accord as an Environmentally Sensitive Area.

These actions all fall within the guidelines set out by Ramsar Convention but is it enough? Implementation still lies within the hands of the Government and is painfully slow at best. So while officials attend meetings and conferences, damage to our fragile wetlands continue.

One solution might be to place Buccoo Reef on the Montreux Record. This is a register of wetland sites on the List of Wetlands of International Importance where changes in ecological character have occurred, are occurring, or are likely to occur as a result of technological developments, pollution or other human interference.

Listing on the Montreux Record mandates that any management plan maintain the existing ecology of Buccoo Reef and in time improve it. This has successfully worked in our first Ramsar Site, the Nariva Swamp.

Buccoo Reef and the Bon Accord Wetlands provide an important resource for the people of Tobago. World Wetland’s Day 2006 will highlight this importance with the theme ‘In the face of poverty, wetlands are lifelines’. We don not have to look far to see the degradation and loss of wetland ecosystems yet if properly managed, wetlands can be a vital lifeline for many people. Food, shelter, employment, flood control and coastal protection are just some of the services that wetlands provide us with free of charge.

RAMSAR convention on wetlands
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