Trinidad and Tobago – Protecting the iconic Three Sisters

Eric Lewis, hereditary prince of the First Peoples of Moruga, at La Retraite Beach in in Trinidad and Tobago, to the east of which lie Trinity Hills. Courtesy: Eric Lewis

Eric Lewis, hereditary prince of the First Peoples of Moruga, at
La Retraite Beach in in Trinidad and Tobago, to the east of which
lie Trinity Hills. Courtesy: Eric Lewis

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Sep 2 2020 (IPS)

Trinity Hills in Trinidad and Tobago’s southeast region, also
affectionately known as the Three Sisters, is home to a wildlife
sanctuary that serves as a sort of incubator for fauna to reproduce
and replenish the surrounding forest reserves of the
Victoria-Mayaro region that includes the communities of
Guayaguayare and Moruga. But a draft management plan for the
Trinity Hills environment project and reports from surrounding
communities suggest that urgent action is needed to prevent losses
to the sanctuary and forest reserve.

Slash and burn agriculture on the boundaries of the sanctuary
are posing a threat to the sanctuary itself; alleged marijuana
growing deep within the protected area adds another level of danger
because of� the possibility of armed conflicts; illegal hunting
threatens the viability of wildlife within the sanctuary and forest
reserve; and the legal but nonetheless debilitating impacts due to
international oil and gas companies cutting swathes through the
sanctuary to lay pipelines also threaten flora and fauna.

Managing these problems and conflicting claims on the area will
require the cooperation of all stakeholders, said Dr David Persaud,
environmental manager in the Environmental Policy and Planning
Division of Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Planning and
Development .

He told IPS that for the moment some of the threats to the area
were “anecdotal not empiricalâ€. As chair of the steering
committee for the Improving Forest and Protected Area Management 
of Trinidad and Tobago (IFPAM-TT) project, which ran from 2015 to
2019 and was funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), he
has received information on the threats to the Trinity Hills

But “the actual assessment of the extent of the problem in the
Trinity Hills wildlife sanctuary and the surrounding areas has to
be determined,†Persaud said. “All of those things would have
to be evaluated as part of further work to be done.â€

The IFPAM-TT project management plan for the Trinity Hills area
is yet to be finalised and submitted, he said, but it covers the
threats mentioned as well as potential solutions, ranging from MoUs
for management of the site, to operational guidelines for oil and
gas companies, to enforcement of mechanisms to remove solid waste,
as well as a research agenda and communications strategy.

The Trinidad and Tobago government and the Food and Agriculture
Organisation of the United Nations recently concluded an Improving Forest and
Protected Area Management project
 designed to protect the flora
and fauna of this ecologically important area.

  • According to the GEF, some 60 percent of Trinidad and Tobago
    land is forest and woodland, and includes several distinct
    terrestrial ecosystems and a high species diversity to surface area
  • Trinidad and Tobago is home to some 420 species of birds, 600
    different species of butterflies, and 95 different mammals, among
    others. There are also over 2,100 different flowering plants, which
    include over 190 species of orchids, GEF
  • The area has other historical significance as well. Nestled in
    the soil beneath the Three Sisters’ feet are remnants of
    artefacts that testify to the island’s First Peoples inhabitants
    who view the area as a sacred site with some religious

The International
Union for the Conservation of Nature’s
Forest Programme
website notes that approximately 22 percent of the land mass in the
English-speaking Caribbean is designated as protected areas, like
the Trinity Hills. It also states that the degradation and loss of
forests threatens the survival of many species, and reduces the
ability of forests to provide essential services.

Eric Lewis, who is recognised by the First Peoples of Moruga as
a hereditary prince and spokesman, and Arvolon Wilson-Smith, a
Guayaguayare environmental activist and president of the NGO Black
Deer Foundation, told IPS the problems caused by both illegal and
legal activities range from forest fragmentation that displaces
animals and has the potential to disrupt their reproduction; the
loss of  vegetation including trees that are hundreds of years old
along with threats to the area’s 11 endemic plant species; and
air, water and  land pollution that is caused both by slash and
burn agricultural squatters and the oil companies.

Lewis said that his community has proffered solutions to the
problem of agricultural squatting—where farmers plant small
acreage to grow crops without taking up residence—to assist the
government of Trinidad and Tobago for more than three decades.

“If people [in Moruga] were given the same opportunities as
those in urban areas, members of  the community would not have to
go into the forest reserves to do illegal farming,†he said.

The area is known for its pawpaws, coconuts, water melon,
pumpkin, citrus fruits, breadfruits, peppers, avocados, bananas and
other crops. It also has a reputation for organically grown
marijuana. There is also a thriving fishing industry where shark,
carite (streaked Spanish mackerel), kingfish, red snapper, grouper,
lobster and oysters are fished.

Lewis said the people of Moruga have lived without many
amenities for decades. “There is a lack of opportunity for
educational progress. There is no hospital, no fire station, the
health centre opens 8 am to 4 pm; the closest hospital is 15
minutes from Moruga’s farthest point. Many people have died on
the way to hospital. There are no sporting facilities for the youth
and only two secondary schools†for an area whose population he
estimates to be around 30,000.

Wilson-Smith told IPS that members of the Guayaguayare community
rely heavily on the oil and gas companies operating in the
Victoria-Mayaro area for jobs (Trinidad and Tobago is the largest
oil and natural gas producer in the Caribbean), though fishing and
agriculture also provide employment. 

The draft management plan drawn up for the IFPAM-TT project, for
which she served as a community representative on a subcommittee,
includes a proposal for ecotourism as a possible alternative
livelihood that could draw people away from illegal activities in
the forest reserve and the sanctuary. She said it was suggested at
a subcommittee meeting “as a means to effect changeâ€.

The area has several attractions that would be of interest to
tourists, she said, including a mud volcano and a three-tier
waterfall, as well as good hiking terrain.

Though the proposal for ecotourism still needs to be fleshed
out, she is hoping that the community and the various arms of
government responsible for conservation can work together to reduce
the impacts of both the illegal and legal activities affecting the

Persaud said while every effort would be made by law enforcement
to curtail illegal activities, the oil and gas companies were
operating within the law since they would have obtained relevant
permissions from the environmental agencies. “In any kind of
development you will have some impacts. It is how we mitigate those
developmental impacts,†he said.

Lewis does not agree. “Not one of the oil companies has
contributed to any sort of sustainable redevelopment of the areas
they have affected,†he said. “Because they have a certificate
of environmental clearance does not mean that it is good for the


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Trinidad and Tobago – Protecting the iconic Three Sisters

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Trinidad and Tobago – Protecting the iconic Three