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Welcome to the Caroni Swamp RDI Website

Research in the Caroni Swamp

With a current extent of 6000 hectares, the Caroni Swamp is the largest wetland ecosystem on the west coast of Trinidad and one of the most important, representing 56% of all mangroves on the island (Bacon, 1968). Sitting at the mouth of the largest drainage basin in Trinidad (Cooper & Bacon, 1981), and surrounded on three sides by various degrees of urban and agricultural development, this swamp is arguably among the most heavily impacted coastal ecosystems in Trinidad, with the largest city and landfill occurring along its northern boundary and its namesake river among the most heavily polluted (Phelps, 1997, Juman et al, 2002). Yet, despite these degrading anthropogenic influences, this mosaic of mangrove forests, herbaceous swamp and tidal mudflats remains critically important for conservation and the delivery of goods and services to the people of Trinidad and Tobago. With thousands of ecotourists using the site per year, the swamp is of importance to local communities for sustainable livelihoods through tourism (Ramdial 1975). Additionally, it is the primary breeding site on the island for the iconic national bird, the scarlet ibis (Eudocimus ruber), is one of the two Ramsar sites in Trinidad (i.e. wetland of global importance to migratory species), and one of its 13 designated wildlife sanctuaries (Bacon & ffrench, 1972). Similar to mangroves around the world, this swamp also functions as a nursery for commercially exploited marine fish, shellfish and crustaceans, and provides a diversity of goods and services to nearby communities and the wider national community, including coastal storm surge protection, carbon sequestration and sediment filtration for near-shore ecosystems (Sathirathai, 2003, Khalil, 1999).

Economic Evaluation of the Caroni Swamp

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) programme is a major international initiative by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to highlight the global economic benefits of biodiversity, and the growing costs of biodiversity loss through ecosystem degradation (TEEB, 2010). This programme uses expertise in science, economics and policy to enable practical actions to mainstream biodiversity and ecosystem services into national accounting. Under this initiative our team has collaborated with UNEP to develop a project that builds capacity to develop TEEB studies at the country level, within the Caribbean. This training included a workshop at the UWI St. Augustine Campus in March 2011 and subsequent on-line training one month later. Country representatives then developed gap analyses which identified priority ecosystems for TEEB studies.

The study we propose will build on the relationships and experience our team has established in development of the TEEB protocols. Specifically, we will undertake a TEEB analysis of the total economic value (TEV) of the Caroni Swamp. This wetland is ideal for such an analysis, because of its national cultural, socio-economic and conservation value, and because of a long history of baseline studies already undertaken at this site (e.g. Bacon 1968, Ramdial 1975,). These baseline studies provide a useful springboard for a TEV, as they provide historical measures of use and non-use values at the swamp.

In this regard, our proposed TEV for the Caroni Swamp is unique because no study has attempted to evaluate the TEV of a mangrove system in Trinidad or the wider Caribbean, in spite of the known direct and indirect use values these systems provide to the country. Our study will, therefore, fill this gap and provide a sound basis for incorporating economic valuation of the goods and services provided by the Caroni Swamp, into the broader national accounting of the value of this ecosystem to Trinidad and Tobago. It will also estimate the potential loss of direct and indirect value of swamp ecosystem services in response to climate change scenarios. Such a valuation is an important starting point as the country assesses the impact of climate change on critical ecosystem goods and services, and develops appropriate national adaptation plans for this area. This output of our project can provide key technical support to the national strategies for climate change adaptation, as articulated in the National Climate change Strategy (2011). The project also develops synergies with two other significant national projects: the ProEcoServ project and the Trinidad and Tobago National Wildlife Survey led by Professor John Agard.