MOLLY R GASKIN
PRESIDENT, Pointe-A-Pierre Wildfowl Trust
Trinidad is blessed with an equable climate, beautiful mountains, tropical beaches, rainforest, flora and fauna comparable with almost any to be found elsewhere in the world. A land too, mostly free from natural disasters that plague many other countries, but like so many of the really good things in life, through familiarity, taken for granted and unappreciated! She is endowed with many natural parks and savannahs, but none more biologically important and fascinating, yet more threatened, than the Aripo Savannah situated near the Northern hills, west of Valencia. Though hostile and uninviting in some ways – being almost baked when there is no rain, and flooded in the wet season, due to the soil which is of sand and clay – this unprotected ecologically fragile area is rich with a density and rarity of flora, found nowhere else in the world. Having no other choice but to adapt to such an extremely harsh environment, nature specialised. Among the smallest plants on the savannahs there are some, that in order to cope with the shortage of nutrients, have taken extreme measures, they have become carnivorous.
The giants among so many dwarfs are the magnificent Moriche Palms, so important to our macaws and the parrots, growing in the surrounding marsh forest.
All are endangered. Scientists from the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists Club have been doing important research work in the Aripo savannahs for years, a study that is important not only to TT but because of the uniqueness of that savannah, to the world. Much valuable information has been gathered and is available; many important discoveries are recorded. Fellow environment non-government organisations, Trinidad and Tobago Biological Society and UWI Biological Society have also collected a great deal of data.
Besides these wonderful and scientifically important plants, there are other endangered species. Some birds might be affected. This area provides an almost irreplaceable habitat for the rare Savannah Hawk (Heterospizias meridionalis), found otherwise, in the eastern savannahs, Nariva. The Red Bellied Macaws (Ara manilata) also feed on the fruit of the Moriche Palm (Mauritia flexuosa). Destroy one and you destroy the other. Remember that once gone they are gone forever.
In 1946 Beard classified the unique vegetation of the Aripo savannahs (Field Naturalists; 42006). In 1978 though under jurisdiction and protection as a forest reserve for many years, difficult to enforce because hard-pressed forest officers have little official authority. In 1980 it was proposed as a scientific reserve under the National Parks Plan prepared by the Forestry Division and the Organisation of American States (OAS). In 1987, it was declared a prohibited area by the then government and in 2007, it was declared an environmentally sensitive area by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA).
Yet today the threat of destruction still continues. The Aripo with its unique wilderness is one of our invaluable natural reserves. It has a special character that can only be preserved if people become aware of its worth and beauty and speak for its preservation.
This is all so similar to the threats to our national bird the Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus ruber). Were this incredible, natural scientific reserve that our country TT is lucky and should be proud to possess, be located in the US of yore, or any part of Europe or so-called “developed” countries, it would be patrolled and fully protected.
Wake up TT, know your country, we have problems but we also have a lot to be proud of.