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