Tobago Cays Marine Park

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Chapter 4. ECOLOGICAL CRITERIA

(Guidelines and Criteria Section B/ Ecological Criteria) Nominated areas must conform to at least one of the eight ecological criteria. Describe how the nominated site satisfies one or more of the following criteria. (Attach in Annex any relevant supporting documents.)

Conservation value:


The TCMP contains many species of flora and fauna of high conservation value. It is renowned for its beautiful and diverse marine life, and its extensive coral reefs and sea grass beds. It is home to populations of rare Green, Hawksbill and Leatherback turtles which feed on the sea grass beds and nest on beaches. The extensive coral reefs are home to many rare species of coral from the Milleporidae, Alcyonacea and Scleractinia families, such as Sea Fans, Elkhorn and Staghorn corals, Fire corals, Boulder corals and Brain corals among others. Other rare marine life includes the Queen Conch and the Caribbean Spiny lobster. Sea grass beds are composed of the threatened manatee and turtle grass.

 

Although most of the cays is marine, there are a few terrestrial species of high conservation value including Red Mangroves, Iguanas, Brown Pelicans and Bridled Terns. There are also a number of migratory birds (listed under the Wildlife Act 1987) which pass through the area including sea gulls, frigate birds, boobies and terns. There is also one small wetland on Mayreau. 

Rarity:


The Tobago Cays contains many rare species, habitats and ecosystems. Across the Caribbean there has been a severe decline of coral reef cover, now down to 10% of cover. The TCMP contains extensive coral reefs, including Horseshoe Reef, one of the longest bank-barrier reefs in the region. These reefs are composed of at least 20 rare species of coral including the highly threatened Elkhorn and Staghorn corals. It also contains many rare flora and fauna including sea turtles (Green, Hawksbill and Leatherback), Queen Conch, Caribbean Spiny Lobster, many of which live in sea grass beds dominated by the rare Manatee and Turtle grasses. There are many more species which live or pass through the area which are protected under St Vincent law. The preservation of this collection of rare and threatened species is an urgent priority. 

Naturalness:


Mayreau is the only island within the TCMP that has been settled, the remaining cays are relatively undisturbed by humans. Apart from Mayreau there are no permanent structures within the TCMP (except for one small toilet on Petit Bateau), and most of the islands and reefs retain their natural values and character. The pristine nature of the TCMP is why it is the premier tourism attraction in the Grenadines, additionally, Pirates of the Caribbean was partly filmed on Petit Tabac because of its pristine landscape. While recent impacts from tourism are a serious concern, the park is relatively preserved, and with good management it could quickly regain some of its lost environmental values.

 

Critical habitats:


There are many threaten species within the park and many rare ecosystems. Coral reefs are threatened across the Caribbean and the TCMP contains a wider variety of shallow and deep water reefs which are home to over 20 rare species. These species include rare species of coral from the Milleporidae, Alcyonacea and Scleractinia families, such as Sea Fans, Elkhorn and Staghorn corals, Fire corals, Boulder corals and Brain corals among others. The park is also home to sea grass beds composed of rare Manatee and Turtle grasses, which are a feeding and nesting habitat to populations of rare turtles, and populations of Queen Conch and Caribbean Spiny lobster. 

Diversity:


The TCMP contains a variety of sea grass beds, unspoilt beaches and uninhabited cay and shallow and deep coral reefs, including the longest bank-barrier reef in the Southern Grenadines. These seascapes and landscape are home to 29 species listed under the SPAW Annexes, as well as more listed under the IUCN Red List and SVG legislation. These species include 20 species of coral, 3 turtle species, Queen Conch, Caribbean Spiny lobster, iguana, Brown Pelicans, Bridled Terns and many migratory birds.

Resilience:


The TCMP has high level of resilience because of its rich biodiversity and relatively undisturbed nature. Horsehsoe Reef provides a barrier against Atlantic ocean waves, allowing the fringing reefs and cays to persist and flourish. The park undoubtedly provides a safe haven for marine life such as fish and turtles to breed and grow without threat of hunting. Coral reefs can recover quickly if well protected and undisturbed, they then provide habitat for fish as well as a variety of ecosystem services. The Reeffix exercise estimated that the TCMP provides over US$23 million to the Vincentian economy through fishing and tourism benefits, and that the total ecosystem services it provides amount to US$141 million. This includes values related to resilience including biodiversity and shoreline protection.