Protected Areas in Trinidad and Tobago

The National Protected Areas Policy (February 2011), approved by the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, establishes an appropriate framework for the selection, legal designation and management of a national system of protected areas.

The Policy has seven categories of protected areas (click here to read about these) and provides for the adoption of the IUCN classification system within the context of the national circumstance.  The IUCN classification system has already been adopted under the Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) Rules of the Environmental Management Act, Chap. 35:05.

According to the National Protected Areas Policy, the designation and management of protected areas will allow the pursuit of the following objectives:

  • Conservation of the natural heritage, genetic, species, ecosystem diversity and functionality, evolutionary and ecosystem processes and biogeochemical cycles;
  • Conservation of the country’s cultural, spiritual/religious and historical heritage;
  • Optimisation of the contribution of protected areas to sustainable livelihoods and human well-being, including opportunities for resource mobilization, education and recreation.


The National Protected Areas Policy (2011) states that protected areas “are important management tools for protecting, conserving and managing natural and built heritage, and so critical to national sustainable development”.  

The biological resources of Trinidad and Tobago play a key role in providing support to agriculture, fishing, hunting, timber extraction, recreation, tourism and culture.  While the economy has shifted to industries from the primary sector, many urban households still benefit from forests as the source of many ecosystem services. 

As stated in the National Forest Policy (2011), “in Trinidad and Tobago, these services include watershed protection, soil protection and erosion control, landscape beauty, disaster risk reduction, carbon sequestration (removal and long-term storage of carbon from the atmosphere) and climate regulation.  The supply of water for domestic, industrial, agricultural and recreational uses is an especially important service provided by forests.  The economic value of these services, however, remains largely un-quantified.

About 60% of the land area of Trinidad and Tobago is under forest and other woodland and approximately 76% of the country’s forests are in public sector.  Planted forests in Trinidad constitute about 18,000 ha and currently provide approximately 10,000 m3 of timber annually.  This forest estate currently supports approximately 85 legal sawmills.  In national accounting, forestry forms part of agriculture sector, which is currently estimated to contribute approximately 0.7% to the Gross National Product.

Many rural people continue to gain livelihood benefits from the use of wild flora and fauna for hunting, fishing, craft, tour guiding and other nature-based activities.  Tourism activities such as nature tours, marine turtle nesting sites and coral reefs in Tobago, generate revenue for individuals and communities, which has trickle down effects in the local economy.

The National Climate Change Policy (2011), notes that “Trinidad and Tobago is particularly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change such as those related to temperature increases, changes in precipitation and sea level rise.”  The Policy acknowledges the importance of promoting “sustainable management, the conservation and enhancement of sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases including biomass, forests and oceans as well as other terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems”.  Maintaining forest cover in terrestrial protected areas therefore contributes to mitigating against the impacts of climate change.

Due to its small size, location and geological relationship to the South American continent, Trinidad and Tobago has a high species diversity within a relatively small land area. 

Several distinct terrestrial ecosystems exist including: evergreen seasonal forest, semi-evergreen seasonal forest, deciduous seasonal forest, dry evergreen forest, montane forest, mangrove forest, herbaceous swamp, palm marsh and marsh forest. These rich ecosystems provide habitats for a great diversity of animal and plant species.

The biodiversity of Trinidad and Tobago includes over 420 species of birds, 600 species of butterflies, 95 different mammals, 85 reptiles, 30 amphibians and 54 species of freshwater fishes.  

There are also over 2,100 different flowering plants (including over 190 species of orchids) and about 2% of these are thought to be endemic, or native to this particular location.  

The marine system of the country is similarly diverse with fringing coral reef, sea-grass beds, oceanic islands and pelagic (or open sea) ecosystems, supporting over 354 species of marine fish.

The National Protected Areas Policy (2011) identifies several threats faced by protected areas.  These threats include the following:

  • increased rates of  conversion of natural ecosystems to built development (industrial, commercial and residential);
  • unsustainable agricultural practices such as slash and burn, leading to loss of natural ecosystems especially on hillsides and critical watersheds;
  • expansion of roads, utility networks, oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure in a manner that increases fragmentation of natural ecosystems;
  • intentional or accidental destruction of forest by fire, resulting in a fire climax which prevents natural regeneration of the native vegetation type;
  • invasion by non-native species into native ecosystems (e.g. elephant grass invades burnt forested areas and forms a “fire-climax”, bamboo invades forest);
  • over-exploitation of biodiversity resources (e.g. over-hunting of wildlife, unsustainable timber harvest, over-fishing and over-extraction of orchids and other ornamental plants);
  • the impacts of pollution and climate change on natural ecosystems.

These have resulted in various negative impacts including:

  • escalating habitat degradation and fragmentation and loss of natural ecosystems (e.g. forests, savannas, coral reefs), including loss of habitats for plant and animal species;
  • declining populations of key animal and plant species, with several becoming threatened or endangered or confined to remote and isolated areas;
  • decreasing quality and quantity of water generated for human usage due to the degradation of watersheds; and
  • increased possibilities for transmission of diseases such as Yellow Fever due to human encroachment into forested areas.