The Main Ridge Forest Reserve in Tobago is the oldest legally designated forest reserve in the Western Hemisphere. The government of Trinidad and Tobago recently declared Main Ridge as a National Heritage Site, and are hoping that the Reserve will become the country’s first entry on the UNESCO World Heritage List:
Over 200 years after it was initially declared a protected reserve by the British, Tobago’s Main Ridge Forest Reserve has been declared a National Heritage Site.
The Ministry of Planning and Development said in a release issued Friday that government is now seeking to have Main Ridge declared as the country’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Under Section 5 of the National Trust Act, Main Ridge is now a protected national heritage site and is also one of the Forest and Protected Areas of Trinidad and Tobago.
This provides for the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago, which is part of the Ministry of Planning and Development, to permanently reserve lands that are properties of interest and as far as practicable, retaining their natural features and conserving the animal and plant life.
The Ministry said the broader aim is to next have the site declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. At present, the Reserve is on UNESCO’s Tentative List.
The Tobago House of Assembly (THA) approved this motion in March 2018, promoting the Main Ridge Forest Reserve as a protected area as part of a Tobago Protected Area Assistance Plan focusing on North East Tobago.
The THA has appointed a team to compile the necessary information to produce the National Heritage Dossier in keeping with the guidelines set out by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, which will be of major importance to the nomination of World Heritage Status by UNESCO.
Also encompassed in this plan are the Marine Protected Area which includes Little Tobago, Goat Island, St. Giles Island all of which belong to the State and are already deemed protected areas. This decision will augur to save the reefs and mangroves found in these areas.
“These initiatives all seek to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of the cultural and natural heritage of the area, which is considered as outstanding value…” the Ministry said.
Read more in the full report from LoopTT.
The Main Ridge Forest Reserve is currently on the World Heritage Convention Tentative List, where it is described as follows:
The Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve is on record as the oldest legally protected forest reserve geared specifically towards a conservation purpose. It was established on April 13th, 1776 by an ordinance which states in part, that the reserve is “for the purpose of attracting frequent showers of rain upon which the fertility of lands in these climates doth entirely depend.” The passage of the ordinance is attributed to Soame Jenyns, a member of the British parliament whose main responsibilities were trade and plantation. He was influenced by the ideas of the English scientist Stephen Hales who was able to show the correlation between trees and rainfall. It took Jenyns eleven years to convince the parliament that this was indeed a valid endeavour. Scientific American has commented “…that the protection of Tobago’s forest was the first act in the modern environmental movement”. This can be considered a landmark in the history of conservation and preservation of the environment. The living testimony is the survival of the Forest Reserve itself.
A unique feature of about the fauna of Tobago is that although Tobago is an island, the fauna are continental in origin, since Tobago was once joined to the South American continent some one million years ago. Considerable endemism has resulted; for example, 31% of the birds that nest on Tobago are endemics. Support of this unique biodiversity and exceptionally diverse ecosystem is of great value to humanity.
As home to a number of endemic species of flora and fauna, the Main Ridge is a key area for the propagation of unique biodiversity despite its small size relative to most other parks within the region and beyond.
Also, the Main Ridge Forest Reserve was also voted the “World’s Leading Eco-Tourism destination” by the World Travel Awards in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006, thereby illustrating that it has intrinsic ecological value that tourists from all over the world seek and that it has enough of a management system in place to foster sustainable development in the global eco-tourism sector.