Integrated Coastal Zone Management: analysis of the environmental condition of the coastal area of the Northern Range of Trinidad

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Analysis of the environmental condition of the coastal area of the Northern Range of Trinidad

This article attempts to analyze the human-environmental interaction in the Northern Range of Trinidad and Tobago in order to identify the major environmental issues, their correlation and possible solutions. The DPSIR framework was used as an instrument to depict in a holistic way the environmental condition of this important eco-region. This approach could facilitate the integrated management of the study area. This topic fit within the Coastal Management section and the subcategory Evaluation and assessment in Coastal Management.


The coastal ecosystem of the Northern Range (NR) of Trinidad is facing serious environmental problems given the steady increase of human activities along the coast and in its inner areas. This article presents an overview of its environmental condition and its current management issues. Decision makers require a holistic and ecosystemic approach to tackle the environmental issues of coastal ecosystems (Elliott 2002)[1]. Therefore, the coastal zone of the Northern Range will be analyzed using the DPSIR approach which is an effective framework to depict the human environmental interactions. In addition, the theoretical framework of Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005)[2] will be used to identify and describe the different ecosystem services provided at the studied area. The final part of the study suggests possible solutions or gives recommendations for the integrated and sustainable management of this valuable eco-region.

Description of the Coastal Ecosystems of the Northern Range of Trinidad

Trinidad and Tobago: general information

Figure 1: Maracas Bay, Trinidad, by Talk, Wikitravel 2006

Trinidad and Tobago is a developing nation in the Caribbean composed of two islands. The country is one of the most prosperous in the Caribbean, largely as a result of petroleum and natural gas industries. Tobago is the most visited by tourists. The island of Trinidad was managed by Spain from the 15th Century until the British captured it in 1797; in 1802 it became a British colony. In contrast, Tobago, during the same period was ruled by different European powers, including the Spanish, Dutch, French and British. It was in 1814 that it was decreed a British colony. The islands were joined administratively in 1889. Independence from England was achieved in 1962 and became the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in 1976. Nowadays, the country has approximately 1.299.953 inhabitants according to July 2009 estimate (ttconnect, 2008)[3].

The Northern Range of Trinidad

Figure 2: Northern Range.Source: Kenny 2000

The Northern Range is the most dominant relief feature on the island of Trinidad. The Range stretches across the entire width of Trinidad, a distance of approximately 96 km (60 miles), between the Chaguaramas peninsula in the west and Toco in the east, and is about 16 km (10 miles) at its widest point. It extends from the north coast of the island, southwards to the Caroni Plains, and includes the capital city Port-of-Spain. Northern Range is a major ecosystem in the island. People benefit from its various functions and resources such as forestry, freshwater, coastal protection and amenity. These benefits contribute directly and indirectly to the overall-well-being of society and for visitors to the country (Agard et al., 2004)[4].

Table 1: Ecosystem Services provided in the Northern Range of Trinidad (MA 2005 Classification)

The Northern Range is formed by different coastal habitat types such as wetlands, beaches, sea grasses, algal communities, and coral reefs which are very important for ecological functions, economic and amenity value. The coastal conditions of the Northern Range vary from rugged high-energy rocky shorelines to low-energy depositional wetlands depending on the coastal topography and direction of prevailing waves and winds. Furthermore, the discharge of the Orinoco River produces a distinctive salinity gradient from south to north. Extensive sea grass beds can be found in Williams Bay and smaller patches near the Trinidad and Tobago Yacht Club in the north-west peninsula. Also there are some patches in the lagoon associated with the Salybia Reef on the North-East Coast. Small fringe reefs composed of finger corals can be found near the Five Islands, Monos and Chacachacare, along the North Coast of Trinidad (Patience Bay and Toco Depot). The algal communities are located at the Bays of the Northern Range and North-western of the Island on submerged rocks and reef formations . The north coast of Trinidad provides a variety of ecosystem services such as supporting, regulating, provisioning and cultural services. (Agard et al. 2004); (Juman, 1998[5]; (Kenny et al., 1997)[6].

Using the DPSIR approach to analyze the coastal area of the Northern Range of Trinidad

Ecosystems are very complex systems, and the analysis of environmental problems should not be done in a narrow way. In order to understand and assess environmental issues it is necessary to consider the different human-environmental interactions. The DPSIR approach (Driver, Pressures, State, Impact and Responses) is a framework that helps to assess environmental problems in a holistic and ecosystemic way (Kristensen, 2004)[7]. Giving the complexity of the coastal ecosystem of the Northern Range, land use conflicts and increased human activities, the DPSIR approach is the best suited tool to analyze its environmental condition. Most of the identified Drivers, Pressures, States, Impacts and Responses are based on the studies carried out by (Agard et al. 2004); (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005); and James, 2001[8]

3.1 Drivers

The driving forces are the underlying causes or needs, which lead to environmental pressures (Giupponi, 2002)[9]; Kristensen 2004).

Drivers identified:

  • Demographic: urbanization and pressure for housing space
  • Economic: search by some groups for livelihoods and housing space; increasing incomes by others and therefore demand for superior housing sites, facilitated by technology and mobility.
  • Land Use: permitted land use inconsistent with land capability studies and characteristics; unauthorized housing and agriculture; slash-and-burn method of land clearing.
  • Institutional: lack of rules or lack of their rigorous application in planning and authorization of activities.
  • Cultural: increased demand for recreational opportunity; misuse of environment; lack of understanding, care and sensitivity by users.
  • Environmental: increasing variability in weather patterns.
  • Public policy: lack of holistic planning; absence of co-ordination; ineffective management; no monitoring or accountability for impacts . Unregulated mining, agriculture, and forestry have all contributed to the declining state of the Northern Range.

3.2 Pressures

The driven forces mentioned above lead to human activities in order to meet different needs. However, very often these activities exert pressures on the environment (Kristensen 2004). Coastal ecosystems are under threat from land-based and coastal activities. Thus, the major causes of disturbance are coastal developments (construction of pairs, commercial establishments, etc), land-based activities (deforestation, housing, agriculture, and mining), over-exploitation of coastal resources (fishes, sea grasses, etc.), increased demand for recreational activities, and the increased number and intensity of natural disasters. For the purpose of this study the different pressures are divided in the following categories: excessive use of natural resources, land use change, and emissions (waste, chemicals) to the water and soil.

Excessive use of natural resources:

  • Increase of yachting industry: It has been an increase of anchorage of boats and yachts, especially during the hurricane season. For instance, the Chaguarama Bay.
  • Harvesting of some marine species: In some of the coastal communities of the North Range, some marine species such as Gracilaria (sea moss) are actively been harvested.
  • Fishery: fishing activities such as traditional artisanal, recreational fishing and in recent year’s semi-industrial and industrial fishing occurred at the North Coast. According to the Ministry of Agriculture Land and Marine Resources report (2002), 72 % of the fish catch land at Maracas coastal area in the north coast.
  • Mining: The Northern Range is the main source in the country of deposits of blue limestone and other non-hydrocarbon construction materials.
Figure 3: Northern Range of Trinidad by Taran Rampersad 2008

Land Use change:

  • Demand of recreational activities and coastal development: There has been increased use of recreational sites by a wide cross-section of society due to higher incomes. The government constructed roads to have access to other sites of the north coast and it encouraged the development of hotels, restaurants and other constructions in the north coastline.
  • Forestry / deforestation: The watersheds are becoming more degraded due to deforestation for agriculture on steep slopes, housing and associated infrastructure, road construction, squatting, quarrying, and forest fires. Most expert estimates, that the areas of forest in the Northern Range have declined.
  • Increase in channelization and dredging: The degradation of the watersheds of this region has produced an increase of measures for flood control such as channelization and dredging activities.


  • Sewage discharge and siltation: Actually, treated and raw sewage are discharged into coastal areas of the Northern Range. As well as serious problems with the functioning of the treatment plants that treat the sewage from the yachts and boats in the coast. Furthermore, contributions of contaminants to the coastal waters are the different land-based activities that are even more magnify by the recreational activities.

3.3 State

As a result of pressures, the “state” of the environment is affected, it means, the quality of the various environmental compartments (air, water, soil, etc) in relation to the functions that these compartments fulfil could changed (Kristensen 2004). According to MA 2005, changes in the functions and processes provided by ecosystems would have an impact in the human’s well-being. The state of the environment is the combination of the physical, chemical and biological conditions of the coastal ecosystem of the Northern Range. The aspects considered are water quality, beach integrity and marine species biodiversity.

Water quality:

  • The different land-based and coastal activities including the intensive use for recreational activities have affected the water quality and the general marine environment of the north coast. For instance, the degradation of ecologically important habitats such as the Chaguaramas National Park as a consequence of the increase in organic pollution from effluents from coastal developments, boats and yachts, broken water treatment plants, siltation from dredging and excess runoff. The boats anchors and propellers cause physical damage contributing to the degradation of the water quality. Moreover the slow-current circulation pattern of the north west peninsula is been aggravating by the growing network of piers that decrease tidal flow impacting negatively on the quality of the coastal habitats. In addition, it is known that the yachting services make use of anti-fouling paints containing tributyltin.
  • Land-based sources of pollution from domestic, industrial and agricultural waste (quarrying, agriculture, solid waste disposal and malfunctioning sewage-treatment plants) pose a major threat to the Northern Range freshwater resources and thus to the coastal environment, as the coastal zone receives water from rivers and drains and is therefore the ultimate sink for effluents generated from land -use activities.

Beach integrity:

  • Because of its geology, the Northern Range is particularly vulnerable to erosion and degradation (MA 2005). This natural condition is aggravated by the continued development of authorized and unauthorized structures at the coastline, which contribute with beach erosion.

Marine biodiversity:

  • Many species essential for the marine food web, coastal protection and other life-supporting functions are in danger (coral reefs, sea grass beds, mangroves and algal communities).
  • There is not comprehensive available data on fisheries in Trinidad, but it is reported that for the whole Caribbean Sea that catch per unit of effort is declining (Caribbean Sea Assessment 2005, in preparation).
Table 2: Summary of condition and trends. Qualitative assessment of the coastal ecosystem of the Northern Range (Agard et al. 2004)

Summary of condition and trends:

It is based on the assessment made from quantitative data and professional judgment. The conclusion refers to trends in the capacity of the coastal ecosystem to deliver its service and not to the human demand for use of these services.

3.4 Impacts

The different changes in the physical, chemical or biological state would determine or influence the quality of ecosystems and human well-being. Stated simply, the changes of ecosystems state could have substantial impact on society, since that the ability of ecosystems to provide their services to people may be affected. Generally, this impact would be reflected on human health and socio-economic activities (Kristensen 2004). The three aspects impacting human well-being considered in this study are human health, biodiversity and economic value.

Human health:

  • The unseen pathogens in the coastal waters pose potential health hazards to bathers, especially to the more vulnerable young and elderly groups. The consumption of marine species with high levels of toxicity could represent a serious public health problem.


  • The increasing pollution of the coastal water produced mainly by land-based and coastal activities has impacted severely on the species composition and abundance in the coastal areas (WRA, 2001)[10].

Economic value:

  • Amenity value: The amenity value of the coastal resources is threatened by incompatible uses, exceeding carrying capacity, absence of facilities, and misuse. For example, there has been a decrease in water quality in Maracas Bay from 1995 to 2001 as the western end of the beach (near to the mouth of the Maracas Bay River) is no longer suitable for swimming according to international standards, even in the dry season (Bullock and Moonesar, 2001)[11].
  • Fishery: Studies indicate that many species of fish, birds and crustaceans on the North Coast are over-exploited. This situation does not only compromised the health of this ecosystem, but also the livelihood of many people that earn a living by harvesting, hunting and fishing these marine resources. One more example could be the collapse of the oyster industry (WRA 2001). Also the increasing fishing effort, falling yields, and declining financial returns.
  • Creation of jobs: The yacht industry has produced an increase in income. This industry generates jobs and had stimulated the economy in the region. This could be seen as a positive impact of the coastal activities.

3.5 Responses

The responses are the efforts by society (e.g. politicians, decision makers) to solve the problem or undesired impacts (Kristensen 2004). Trinidad and Tobago’s responses are in the form of polices, legislation, regulations, research, and monitoring and evaluation plans. There are the Northern Range Specific responses which refer to the official and civic initiatives done in the region and the national-level responses which involve official, civic and corporate initiatives. An example of civic initiative in the coasts of Trinidad is the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI), which is an organization that promotes the integrated management of coastal zone in the Caribbean.

Some of the critics to the government’s responses suggest that there are serious problem regarding governance. Essentially, there are issues with policy implementation, law enforcement and accountability. Moreover, there is an evident lack of coordination between governmental agencies when addressing environmental issues. The current state of the Northern Range and the multiple pressures indicate that there is a need to design more effective polices. Finally, it is greatly recommended that the government should make more efforts to increase the public understanding concerning the linkages between the natural environment and human well-being.

Concluding Remarks

If the environmental degradation of the ecosystems of the Northern Range continues, it would not be able to provide the different ecosystem services for future generations. The ecological integrity of this ecosystem most be preserved in order to ensure the continuous provision of goods and services. To protect this eco-region it is necessary to strength the governance. It is important to develop sensible policies, adequate monitoring system and serious measures to enforce the environmental laws and the regulations established. In addition, it is fundamental to continue encouraging the communities to participate in the solution of their environmental problems by empowering them through stronger institutions and capacity building programs. Essentially, this case study showed that given the complexity of the human-environmental interactions and the linkages between different ecosystems` functions and services, it is fundamental to analyze and manage the natural ecosystems using an integrated approach.


  1. Elliott, M. 2002. The role of the DPSIR approach and conceptual models in marine environmental management: an example for offshore wind power. Marine Pollution Bulletin 44: iii–vii
  2. 2
  3. ttconnect. 2008. Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Available at:
  4. Agard, J.; Alkins-Koo, M.; Cropper, A.; Garcia, K.; Homer, F.; Maharaj, S. 2004. Report of an Assessment of the Northern Range of Trinidad, Trinidad and Tobago. Environmental Management Authority (EMA). Port of Spain. Available at:
  5. Juman, R. 1998. Seagrass Beds. Another Type of Wetland in Trinidad and Tobago. The Independent, The IMA Column. 1998—International Year of the Ocean. Institute of Marine Affairs. February 3, 1998. p. 20. Available:
  6. Kenny, J., P. Comeau, and L. Katwaru. 1997. A Survey of Biological Diversity, Trinidad and Tobago. UNDP, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
  7. Kristensen, P. 2004. The DPSIR Framework. National Environmental Research Institute. Department of Policy Analysis. Denmark.
  8. James, L. 2001. A Socio-Economic Assessment of Yachting Activities In The Northwest Peninsula of Trinidad. Institute of Marine Affairs, Ministry of Public Utilities and the Environment, GoTT. 39 pp.
  9. Giupponi, C. 2002. From the DPSIR reporting framework to a system for a dynamic and integrated decision making process. Mulino conference on European policy and tools for sustainable water management. Venice.
  10. Water Resources Agency (WRA). 2001. National Report on Integrating the Management of Watersheds and Coastal Areas in Trinidad and Tobago . Ministry of Public Utilities and the Environment, GoTT. 112pp.
  11. Bullock, C., and I. Moonesar. 2001. Sustainable development at Maracas Beach: A Public Health perspective. 8th Annual Research Symposium, Institute of Marine Affairs, Chaguaramas, Trinidad and Tobago, 18–20 September 2001.

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The main author of this article is Ruth Graterol
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Ruth Graterol (2012): Integrated Coastal Zone Management: analysis of the environmental condition of the coastal area of the Northern Range of Trinidad. Available from [accessed on 25-02-2018]