Toco is dominated by its coastal environment which is comprised of mangroves, sea grass beds, mudflats, coral reefs and rocky cliffs. These ecosystems have been sources of livelihood and food for the local community, as well as the basis of art, craft and decorations. They also provide other goods and services such as raw materials like seaweed, live specimens for aquariums, medicinal treatments and products, habitat for wildlife, water quality maintenance, waste assimilation and remediation, nutrient cycling, flood and storm protection, shoreline maintenance, inspiration and support of cultural, aesthetic and spiritual values and recreation. According to the various definitions of Marine Protected Areas as delineated in Article 1, the coastal habitat types described in Toco may be successfully managed under such a system. Scientific evidence shows that MPAs can produce ecological, economic, and social benefits under appropriate design and management conditions (PISCO UNS, 2016).
There are significant benefits both to biodiversity and stakeholders from the effective management of activities in MPAs. For example, situated within a World Heritage Area, 700 kilometers north-east of Sydney, Australia, the 300,510 ha Lord Howe Island Marine Park employs a multiple-use management designed to protect marine biodiversity, habitats and ecological processes associated with the volcanic seamount system. The management arrangements for the Park also ensure the long-term maintenance of the Island's tourism industry and the traditions and lifestyle of the local community (DEH Australia, 2003).
In the Caribbean region, marine protected areas (MPAs) have been created to conserve biodiversity, reduce conflicts from multiple uses, preserve cultural values, and ensure robust fisheries management and enforcement. MPAs have a major role in educating local communities and visitors about the culture, history and heritage of the areas they protect. In most coastal areas there is a history of use, culture and values associated with specific localities in the marine environment. There are often links to prehistoric use and legend, and traditional practices of use that are important in the understanding of present values and future options. Toco’s natural and cultural heritage must be protected in the same way.
n the Caribbean region, marine protected areas (MPAs)
have been created to conserve biodiversity, reduce conflicts
from multiple uses, preserve cultural values, and ensure
robust fisheries management and enforcem
PISCO UNS (2016). The Science of Marine Protected Areas (3rd Edition, Mediterranean). Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans and University of Nice Sophia Antipolis (pp. 22). doi: www.piscoweb.org
Department of Environment and Heritage: Common Wealth of Australia (2003). The Benefits of Marine Protected Areas. doi: https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/5eaad4f9-e8e0-45d1-b889-83648c7b2ceb/files/benefits-mpas.pdf
The Toco marine environment is of great importance both ecologically and culturally, and meets the requirements of an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) according to the Trinidad and Tobago ESA Rules. The COME (Conservation Of the Marine Environment) in Toco Initiative, was born out of the attempts by the Toco community to protect their local environment and have the surrounding coral habitat designated as one of Trinidad and Tobago’s ESAs. Gaining ESA status will afford the Toco marine environment legal protection by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, which will significantly enhance its conservation. Globally, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are currently utilized as the main tool for the conservation of marine biodiversity.
Several definitions exist for Marine Protected Areas. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO, 2011) defines an MPA as “Any marine geographical area that is afforded greater protection than the surrounding waters for biodiversity conservation or fisheries management purposes (p 9).” The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN, 2008) defines them as “A clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values (p 8).”
MPAs have become a necessity for sustainable management as the aquaculture, tourism and fishing industries have grown drastically in recent years. In addition, with modern technological advances increasing access to the farther regions of the ocean, the health of marine ecosystems are further threatened. Unless our marine resources are protected and sustainably managed, valuable, unique and irreplaceable ecosystems such as those in Toco are at risk of being destroyed and lost forever. In 2004, the world’s governments adopted their first tangible international target under the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD): The organization was committed to conserving at least 10 percent of coastal and marine areas by 2012. However, in 2010 when the coverage remained below 2 percent, the CBD extended the deadline to 2020. At present, more than 15,000 marine protected areas (MPAs) cover roughly 7% of the world's marine environment (Lubchenco & Grorud-Colvert, 2015).
Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO (2011). FAO Technical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries (pp. 9).
IUCN (2008). Guidelines for Applying Protected Area Management Categories (pp 8).
Lubchenco, J., and Grorud-Colvert, K. (2015). Making waves: The Science and Politics of Ocean Protection. Science 350, 382–383. doi: 10.1126/science.aad5443