Discovering the Natural History of Trinidad and Tobago

It seemed all too predictable as I geared up for my travels to the Caribbean.

Vibrant turquoise water to swim in, white sandy beaches to stroll along and fruity cocktails to accompany my adventure was what initially came to mind.

But as I stepped foot in Trinidad and Tobago, the predictable thoughts I had of the islands quickly changed.

While the surrounding ocean took on many shades of turquoise and hues of blue and the beaches definitely resembled paradise, Trinidad and Tobago’s eco-system came to the forefront of my travels.

Trinidad and Tobago, located seven miles from the coast of Venezuela, boasts some of the richest natural communities of plants and animals in all of the Caribbean. While most of the country’s ecology comes from South America, which makes the islands very unique, Trinidad and Tobago aren’t as endemic as the rest of the Caribbean islands. Since Trinidad and Tobago share many of the same flora and fauna as South America’s mainland, it creates a very rich eco-systems and provides some of the best eco-tourism adventures. 

Plant Life

With both rainforests and dry forests covering Trinidad and Tobago, there are many different plant communities, which create very natural vegetation in dominant trees. The most visited forest to explore the classification of flora is the Main Ridge Rainforest located in Tobago. It is the oldest protected reserve founded in 1765 by the French and managed under the direction of the Tobago House Assembly. While the country protects the mainly Evergreen trees from destructions, which grow ramped in the Main Ridge Rainforest, the reserve is now a watershed that provides 99.9 percent of all the water used in Tobago. The Main Ridge Rainforest is home to various endemic species of flora and fauna and a protected recreational spot by UNESCO—a must see when visiting Tobago.

Animal Life

From crab-eating raccoons to nine-banded armadillos and neo-tropical otters, Trinidad and Tobago have a large community of mammals living in forests and swamps all along the island. Some of the 108 types of mammals sound bizarre, but a tour through Caroni Swamp located on the west coast of Trinidad, just south of Port of Spain, might bring you face-to-face with one of these creatures. The Main Ridge Rainforest in Tobago is also a place to seek out wild boars and agouti (similar to, but larger than a guinea pig). Monkeys can also be spotted in forests along the sides of roads throughout Trinidad so stop along your travels and look in the trees. 

There are more than 450 species of birds recorded and seen in Trinidad and Tobago. While most are typical birds from South America, Trinidad and Tobago are known as one of the few places in the world to have such a large bird sighting in such a small area—Tobago has more than 200 species of birds on a 116 square miles of land. Many of the birds are very unique and rare to the islands and the best place to watch birds, besides the Main Ridge Rainforest, is at Asa Wright Nature Center. Located in the Arima Valley of the Northern Mountain Range in Trinidad, this nature resort is a world-renowned hotel and birding site in the Caribbean. From various hummingbirds to honeycreepers, there have been more than 150 species spotted in the forests at Asa Wright Nature Center. Caroni Swamp is another great placefor birding. Here you will get a good look at the Scarlet Ibis, Trinidad’s national bird, flocking to a sand flat around sunset and feasting on their food of choice—shrimp. They are also joined by gulls and many other birds within the Caroni Bird Santuary.

Reptiles and amphibians can be seen all over Trinidad and Tobago. From bright green iguanas climbing trees to lizards camouflaged in the bush, there are more than 55 reptiles and 25 amphibians ranging in size and within differing habitats. Snakes are also a popular sighting along with turtles and the possible caiman, whichscare people half to death. Caroni Swamp is a popular destination to see large boas coiled in trees or frogs hopping along the path of your tour. You might even get a peak of some of the reptiles and amphibians living in Trinidad and Tobago in forests such as Main Ridge Rainforest.

There are several invertebrates such as the leaf cutter ant, which is easily spotted on the islands eating their way through leaves of plants. But Trinidad and Tobago is home more than 620 species of butterflies. Located in more tropical dry forests such as Little Tobago, an island off the coast of Tobago, the bright blue Emperor Butterfly can be spotted there. The Royal Botanical Garden in the outskirts of Port of Spain is also an area where you will see many of the islands’ butterfly species flying alone or in swarms above your head.

Sea Life

The islands are known to be a recreational destination for sport fishing. Some of the fish that might be caught off the coast of Trinidad and Tobago include huge grouper, red snapper, kingfish and carite along with marlin, dolphin-fish and barracuda. Many of these fish are served fresh in local restaurants and cooked in many natives’ homes for families to feast on. There are also many fishing tournaments throughout the year. Diving among the fish is also a very popular activity and can be done in many parts of the country, but Speyside, located in northern-eastern Tobago, is the most popular and accessilbe spot. From Speyside, you will jump on a boat and taken to Little Tobago, an island off its coast, to dive among the most colorful of fish.

Marine turtles are also swimming in the oceans surrounding Trinidad and Tobago. There are three types—giant leatherback, hawksbill and green—local to the islands. While swimming with the marine turtles is a popular activity when visiting Trinidad and Tobago, there is also the opportunity to watch the nesting. If you happen to be visiting (or want to plan a trip) anytime between March and August is the mammals’ mating season. There are tours to sign up for or sustainable trips to take part in, which will give you the opportunity to actually watch the nesting process of the female giant leatherback turtles and possibly take part in the conservation of these mammals.

At Matura Sea Turtle Nesting Site, an important nesting beach located in the small town of Matura on the north-eastern coast of Trinidad, is where most of the giant leatherback nesting takes place each year—natural history of Trinidad and Tobago at its finest.

Trinidad and Tobago’s eco-system is full of some of the richest natural communities to set it apart from the rest of the Caribbean.

To dive in and become one with nature is an understatement when visiting these islands—Trinidad and Tobago provide activities or tours to suit the adventurer in all of us.

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