Management Guidance Procedure Report Issued for Nariva Swamp

Management Guidance Procedure Report Issued for Nariva Swamp

16 October 1996
Trinidad and Tobago

In April/May 1995, the Ramsar Technical Officer for the Neotropical Region, Dr Montserrat Carbonell, and two consultant scientists, Mike McCoy and Lirio Márquez, conducted a Monitoring Procedure mission to Nariva Swamp in Trinidad & Tobago. Preliminary versions of their report were well received by government officials, and at the Brisbane Conference of the Parties in March 1996 Ms Nadra Nathai-Gyan, the delegate from Trinidad & Tobago, recommended more frequent use of the Monitoring Procedure to other Contracting Parties, based upon the technical analysis and advice that resulted and the momentum that was created.

The final version of the Monitoring Procedure report has been released. What follows is the text of the Executive Summary and Introduction of that report, which serve both to illustrate the situation at Nariva and to convey something of the nature of the Management Guidance Procedure itself.

[Note: The term "Monitoring Procedure" was formally changed to "Ramsar Management Guidance Procedure" by the Brisbane Conference of the Parties, 1996.] [Another note: the term was changed again, by the COP in San José, 1999, to "Ramsar Advisory Mission".]

Executive Summary of the Monitoring Procedure Report for Nariva Swamp

In 1992 Trinidad and Tobago designated Nariva Swamp for the List of Wetlands of International Importance maintained under the Ramsar Convention. Nariva is one of the largest freshwater wetlands in the Caribbean and has the most varied vegetation of all wetlands in Trinidad and Tobago. It is especially important for large numbers of waterfowl and for being the main site still sustaining populations of anaconda (Eunectes murinus) and manatee (Trichechus manatus). It supports considerable populations of molluscs and crustaceans, and several species of fish live and reproduce in the area.

As a result of human activities, mainly illegal agricultural activities in the marsh, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago formally requested during the Kushiro Conference (1993) the inclusion of Nariva Swamp in the Montreux Record (a subset of the Ramsar List for sites in need of priority conservation attention). In 1994 Trinidad and Tobago requested the Ramsar Bureau to apply the Monitoring Procedure and organize a mission to Nariva Swamp to address several specific issues.

A three-member Ramsar team visited the Nariva Swamp in April/May 1995, accompanied by representatives and officials of different Government Departments, NGO's, local associations, and inhabitants of the local communities. Field work in Nariva occupied eight days and visits meetings and presentations in the Port-of-Spain area another seven days.

This report has been compiled by the members of the Monitoring Procedure team and is submitted by the Ramsar Bureau to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. As requested by the Government, the report presents an analysis of the extent of the present problems (section IV) and a set of recommendations for action (section V).

The report recognizes the efforts that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago is making for the conservation and the restoration of the Nariva Swamp, and suggests that some of the action taking (or to take) place in Nariva should be used as demonstration models elsewhere in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as in the rest of the Caribbean. However, the Monitoring Procedure mission concluded that further action is needed if Nariva Swamp is to be removed from the Montreux Record.

Particular problems arise from the land tenure situation of the site, the use of water resources, and the complex administration of the site, which results in lack of a coherent conservation and socio-economic development policy, and its implementation for Nariva and the local communities which depend on and influence the wetland.

Lowland areas in Trinidad, like Nariva, are under heavy farming and other agricultural pressures, leading to actual and potential conflict between conservation of water and wetland resources, and their wise use. No further loss of Nariva Swamp to agriculture should occur, and planning measures should ensure that activities carried out are within the wise use concept and take place only in the areas of least impact to the ecological character of the site. The preparation of a management plan, an economic evaluation and an environmental impact assessment (of activities in Sector B) of the Nariva Swamp catchment area are strongly recommended. Hydrologic and hydraulic studies should be carried out as soon as possible to guide all conservation and wise use activities in the area.

Particular difficulties arise due to the existing and proposed conservation categories and boundaries given to the Nariva Swamp. The efforts currently being made are welcome, but a revision of the boundaries and the categories is essential, and must take into account a multiple and wise use approach.

Some activities exercised by the local communities have been sustainable until recent years. Various factors have caused this problem, but community participation, training, and cooperation are some of the measures which should be taken into account if conservation interests are to be compatible with long-term economic development of the local communities.

Many of the recommendations given in this report deal with technical issues and action in the swamp itself, but if the efforts being made by the government of Trinidad and Tobago towards the conservation of this Ramsar site are to be successful, they will have to take stronger account of the needs and interests of the communities living nearby, and adopt an attitude of cooperation as well as enforcement.

It is hoped that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago will provide information on its response to this report in the near future.

Introduction to the Monitoring Procedure Report

The Ramsar Convention

The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat was established in 1971 at a conference of the International Waterfowl Research Bureau (IWRB), held in the Iranian town of Ramsar. It currently has 90 Contracting Parties from all regions of the world. States which join the Convention accept four major obligations :

  • to designate at least one wetland in their territory for the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance and to maintain the ecological character of the wetland(s) concerned;
  • to make "wise use" of all wetlands in their territory, whether or not they are included in the List;
  • to establish wetland reserves and to provide adequately trained staff for their wardening and management; and
  • to engage in international cooperation, especially in regard to trans-border wetland systems and migratory wetland species.

The main policy-making body of the Convention is the Conference of the Contracting Parties, which meets once every three years. Between meetings of the Conference, the Convention is managed by a Standing Committee composed of Regional Representatives. The day-to-day running of the Convention is carried out by the Ramsar Bureau (or secretariat) which is based in Switzerland and shares its premises with the headquarters of IUCN - The World Conservation Union. For further details refer to The Ramsar Convention Manual (Davies, 1994).

The Montreux Record and the Monitoring Procedure/Management Guidance Procedure

There are currently more than 700 [now 844] sites included in the List of Wetlands of International Importance. Approximately 10% are also included in the "Montreux Record", a register of Ramsar sites 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". Contracting Parties are obliged by Article 3.2 of the Convention to bring such changes to the attention of the Ramsar Bureau. The Montreux Record was established by Recommendation C.4.8 of the 1990 meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties (Montreux, Switzerland) and formalized by Resolution C.5.4. of the 1993 meeting of the Conference (Kushiro, Japan). Resolution C.5.4 stated that the record should be referred to as the Montreux Record; determined that its purpose, among others, is to identify priority sites for positive national and international conservation attention; and instructed the Bureau to maintain the Montreux Record as part of the Ramsar Database. The Bureau only includes sites in the Montreux Record with the approval of the Contracting Party concerned. Operation of the Montreux Record is reviewed by the Convention's Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP).

The Monitoring Procedure [now called the Management Guidance Procedure] is a mechanism which is operated by the Ramsar Bureau, at the invitation of the Contracting Party concerned, to address issues at sites included in the Montreux Record. The aim of the Monitoring Procedure is to bring about the steps necessary for the removal of the site from the Montreux Record.

The Monitoring Procedure usually consists of one or more site visits by Bureau staff and specialists who are expert in the particular issues involved. The specialists may be representatives of other Contracting Parties or partner organizations. A report is then compiled and submitted by the Ramsar Bureau to the Government concerned. The report generally includes a detailed analysis of the situation and recommendations for future action in order to arrive at acceptable solutions.

Since its inception in 1988, the Monitoring Procedure has been implemented in more than 25 countries, and only once before in the Neotropical Region (Banados del Este in Uruguay, 1993).

Trinidad and Tobago and the Ramsar Convention

Trinidad and Tobago became a Contracting Party to the Convention on Wetlands in December 1992 (date of the Convention’s entry into force, April 1993), and designated Nariva Swamp for the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. To date Trinidad and Tobago remains the only island nation in the Caribbean that is a Contracting Party to the Convention, and Nariva Swamp remains the only wetland in this country's territory included in the Ramsar List.

Even though Trinidad and Tobago became a Contracting Party to the Ramsar Convention only a few months before the 5th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties which took place in Kushiro, Japan (June 1993), the delegation representing the country at the meeting was one of the most active and contributed many useful comments and suggestions. Likewise, the delegation participating in the 2nd Meeting of the Contracting Parties from the Neotropical Region, in Panama (June, 1995), played an important role in the discussions and in the decisions taken.

Trinidad and Tobago has recently (January 1995) established the National Wetland Committee (NWC) which deals with Ramsar matters. The Committee was appointed by the Honourable Minister of Agriculture, Land and Marine Resources; it is chaired by the Director of Forestry, Mr Selwyn Dardaine; and it includes representatives of governmental institutions (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry Division, Wildlife and National Parks Sections, and Fisheries Division; Ministry of Planning and Development; Institute of Marine Affairs), the University of the West Indies and local NGO's.

The National Wetlands Committee has endorsed the preparation of a National Wetland Policy as a priority issue and a draft is expected for public comment in February 1996.

Ramsar's administrative authority in Trinidad and Tobago is the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Marine Resources, of which Mr W Ruthven Rudder is Permanent Secretary. The "official contact" for the Ramsar Bureau is Mr Selwyn Dardaine, and the "technical contact" is Mrs Nadra Nathai-Gyan of the Wildlife Section of the Forestry Division.

The Nariva Swamp

The Nariva Swamp was designated for the List of Wetlands of International Importance on 21 December 1992. It comprises state lands, including the Bush Bush Wildlife Sanctuary, part of the Ortoire Nariva Windbelt Forest Reserve and the proposed Nariva National Park.

The Nariva Swamp qualifies under several of the Convention's criteria for identifying internationally important sites:

1a - it is a particularly good representative example of a natural or near-natural wetland, characteristic of the appropriate biogeographical region;

2a - it supports an appreciable assemblage of rare, vulnerable or endangered species or subspecies of plant or animal, or an appreciable number of individuals of any one or more of these species;

2b - it is of special value as the habitat of plants or animals at a critical stage of their biological cycle;

3b - it regularly supports substantial numbers of individuals from particular groups of waterfowl, indicative of wetland values, productivity or diversity.

A general description of the Nariva Swamp and the characteristics which made it of international importance can be found in Scott & Carbonell (1986) and Jones (1993).

In view of the fact that the reports for the proposed plans for drainage and agricultural development of the Nariva Swamp prepared by FAO (1957) and the Overseas Technical Cooperation Agency of Japan (OCTA, 1970, in Agristudio, 1991) omitted the physical and ecological aspects of the Nariva Swamp, as well as an evaluation of their possible negative effects on the environment, the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Marine Resources (Planning Section) requested the University of the West Indies (UWI) to carry out a study of the area. The report prepared by the UWI (Bacon et al, 1979) includes the physical and ecological aspects and the possible environmental effects of reclamation of the Nariva Swamp. The authors clearly indicate that their report lacks a soil study and an insect populations and epidemiology survey (which were meant to be carried out by other institutions) and that the study could have been greatly improved by consideration of economic and social aspects. However, the report remains the most comprehensive study of Nariva from the natural resources point of view.

Nariva has the most varied vegetation of all wetlands in Trinidad and Tobago, with distinct zones of swamp forest, palm swamp, herbaceous swamp and mangrove woodlands (James, 1992). It is especially important for the large numbers of waterfowl, and it is the major wetland in Trinidad which still sustains anaconda (Eunectes murinus) and manatee (Trichechus manatus) – the latter under threat because of habitat destruction and because of being trapped in fishing nets. Traditional methods are used to fish cascadura (Hoplosternum littorale) whose whole life history is tied to the ecology of Nariva, to which it is confined, and conch (Pomacea urceus), which are fished with traditional methods and consumed by the local communities. Additionally it was home to the blue and yellow macaw (Ara ararauna) which depended on palmiste palm (Roystonea oleracea) but is now extinct from the area largely because of habitat destruction and unsustainable harvest of the palmiste palms for palm hearts used in Hindu weddings and poaching of nests for the flightless young birds for the pet trade.

Many studies in the Nariva Swamp area were carried out during the years (1950's and onwards) when the then-Trinidad Regional Virus Laboratory (TRVL) - now Caribbean Epidemiological Centre (CAREC) - was especially interested in research on arboviruses. The various visiting scientists were involved in bird surveys and banding, as well as bat and other small mammals, amphibian and reptile surveys. Several species have been mentioned as used and/or consumed by the local population by Price (1955) and Bacon et al (1979), such as the palmiste palm (Roystonea oleracea); mangroves; fish like the cascadura (Hoplosternum littorale), the guabine (Hoplias malabaricus) and the yarrow (Hoplerythrinus unitaeniatus); the blue (Cardisoma guanhumi) and callaloo crabs (Ucides cordatus); the mangrove oyster (Crassostrea rhizophorae); or the conch (Pomacea urceus). However, only a very few studies (Bacon, 1970; La Croix, 1971) have been carried out on sustainable harvesting of any of these species.

Inclusion of the Nariva Swamp in the Montreux Record and initiation of the Monitoring Procedure

The Government of Trinidad and Tobago submitted a formal request for the inclusion of the Nariva Swamp in the Montreux Record during the Kushiro Conference (1993). This was accepted in view of the changes taking place in the ecological character of this Ramsar site. Changes are mainly the consequence of heavy pressure from clearance by illegal rice farmers (at the commercial level) and the use of agrochemicals both by legal and illegal farmers.

The request of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago is translated as its commitment to come to terms with a multiple use approach in Nariva, as a workable conservation exercise, recognized both nationally and internationally.

Implementation of the Monitoring Procedure on the Nariva Swamp

The Monitoring Procedure mission, coordinated by the Wildlife Section of the Forestry Division (Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Marine Resources) and by the Ramsar Convention Bureau, visited Trinidad and Tobago from 26 April to 12 May 1995. The Ramsar Convention was represented by a three-person team :

  • Lirio Marquez, free-lance consultant, specializing in social and community aspects, Puerto Rico.
  • Michael McCoy, Professor, specializing in organic rice farming and wetland restoration, Regional Wildlife Management Program for Meso America and the Caribbean (Universidad Nacional, Heredia), Costa Rica.
  • Montserrat Carbonell, Ramsar Convention Bureau, Switzerland

Additionally, the team would have been accompanied by Edgardo Aragon (Costa Rica), a rice farmer, with experience in low application of agro-chemicals and community self organisation, but it was not possible due to personal matters arising at the last moment.

The first two days of the mission involved visits to key officials and meetings with the National Wetland Committee, followed by eight days of field work in the swamp, and further visits to agencies and organizations involved in one way or another in the management, conservation and/or use of Nariva. Local and national personnel were involved in the mission so as to benefit mutually from each other’s experience.

Prior to the mission the Government of Trinidad and Tobago indicated its expectations, which effectively formed the Terms of Reference of the Monitoring Procedure team, and were as follows :

(a) the mission should visit the area during the dry season, approximately towards the last week in April 1995, and for a period of at least two weeks to allow for field work and meetings in offices,

(b) an analysis of the present socio-ecological problems at major areas (Cocal Kernahan Project, Plum Mitan Rice Scheme and Biche Bois Neuf Area), to evaluate:

- the impacts of resource exploitation (within and outside the Ramsar area, planned and unplanned, commercial and for subsistence), and

- potential mechanisms for sustained multiple use, with adequate mitigatory measures, primarily for the benefit of local communities.

(c) an analysis of the condition of this wetland, which in the last ten years has witnessed drastic alteration of habitat (fragmentation of evergreen seasonal forest, disappearance of open water areas, loss of herbaceous swamp and palm swamp forest), to evaluate:

- the changes in vegetation of the major habitats and impact on wildlife populations, and

- the need for vegetation rehabilitation, and recommendations for the restoration of specially important areas for the conservation of biodiversity.

The contents of this report follow the Terms of Reference, as no modifications or further wishes have been indicated by the Trinidad and Tobago authorities.

The Ramsar Bureau has always stressed the importance of the Monitoring Procedure at Nariva Swamp as a case study, from which lessons could be learned and applied in wetlands with similar problems elsewhere in the Neotropics, but particularly in the insular Caribbean region. Especially important are the sharing of coastal management and planning needs, community co-management, national administration and wise use of wetlands, by those other countries with similar population, social and economical realities.

The development of integrated management plans for the Ramsar sites is a high priority under the Convention (Resolution C.5.7). The Bureau hopes that the recommendations in this report will form a valuable contribution to the initiatives which are already underway for the conservation and wise use of the Nariva Swamp. Nevertheless, during their visit to the swamp, the Ramsar representatives emphasized that the Monitoring Procedure should be seen as a framework in which the many factors affecting the management and conservation of the site might be addressed within an international context. It is not the role, nor the intention, of the Ramsar Convention Bureau to undermine, through the Monitoring Procedure, the progress which has already been made at local and national levels, but to complement with an international perspective those initiatives and expertise.