May 6, 2005
OPAAL Project focus on Tobago Keys

The Tobago Cays Marine Park stands to benefit directly from a project aimed at the preservation of a unique bit of Grenadine paradise.

The OECS Protected Areas and Associated Livelihoods (OPAAL) project, formally launched at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs conference room on Friday 22 April 2005,will be ensuring that these islands are not exploited.{{more}}

The Tobago Cays consist of five small-uninhabited islands surrounded by clear shallow waters, sparkling white sand, coral reefs and an abundance of sea life that attract some 50-thousand visitors yearly. However a combination of the frequency of visitors to the paradise islands and negligence have been causing damage to their fragile ecosystem. Large portions of the shallow reefs have been damaged by anchors, by snorkelers and from garbage dumped from yachts.

The placement of traps and spear-fishing practiced both by locals and tourists have seriously depleted the fish population, while conch shells litter the beaches. Iguanas and sea birds are disturbed from their vegetation because people have been cutting down trees to make coal for bar-b-cues and other beach cooks. Sheep and goat rearing by the locals also contribute to the degradation of the little vegetation on the islands.

These are just some of the challenges that confront the Tobago Cays and which have prompted government to speedily set up the area as a protected Marine Park.

Head of the OECS Environment and Sustainable Development Unit, Dr. Vasantha Chase said the project would run over 15 years with funding from several sources. These include the World Bank with US$3.7 million, the Government of France, 1.32 million Euros and US $350,000 from the Organization of American States (OAS), giving a total of US$7.57 million (EC$12 million).

Dr. Chase noted that one of the goals of OPAAL was to have a system of national parks and protected areas to promote regional eco-tourism for multi-island hopping. The scientist outlined that this would phase out inter-island competition and introduce an integrated multi-island system for managing the region’s bio-diversity. She also noted that alternative sites for persons to make their livelihood would be found so that there is no clash and visitors and nationals do not over burden the fragile environment.