Horizon at Sandy Point

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Taking care of Tobago

We are at the Grange on our last morning in Tobago, a sea bath before leaving. It is Friday but we are not alone. A young couple. Three boys horsing around, heckling the couple. A solitary sun-bather. The tide is turning, stirring up the pebbly sea bed. The Trini swimmer slips over the breakers and heads out to open water. Two brothers (Tobago A and B) neck deep near-shore are looking on.

More to the sea than meets the eye. At Grange Bay we are
barely scratching the surface!

Tobago A: Where she going? She dunno it deep out there?

Trini: Doh worry, she just going to swim laps across the bay. She's a swimmer and a diver.

Tobago B: Where she from?

Trini: Trinidad.

And so the talk turned to the daughter's occupation as a marine biologist studying coral reefs for her post-graduate degree and following her passion, life in the ocean. How she started swimming in primary school, played water polo through secondary, scuba dived and worked on a turtle conservation project in Tobago. And sad that Tobago's reefs are deteriorating from exploitation and lack of care, now that she can compare with Australia's Great Barrier Reef; Aruba Curacao Bonaire; the Bahamas ...

Tobago B lives in Brooklyn where he works as a technician in a hospital; he flies back to Tobago at every opportunity for the sea bath and his mother's nourishing fish broth. Tobago A works in the division of Sport in the Tobago House of Assembly; he remarks on the swimmer's fitness and calm rhythmic unhurried stroke.

Trini: More Tobagonians should be encouraged to have an interest in the sea: learn to swim, to dive, observe the living reefs; be guided through the ecosystems. Surely there's opportunity for young people here to make a living from conservation.

Tobago B: Tobagonian children don't specially like the sea... we take it for granted.

Trini: But isn't that because they haven't experienced what's under the sea? Could be that the beach is for family outings and remains just a place to socialise. What if the sea becomes a shared experience with schoolmates, through structured programmes from primary school: learning to swim; learning to snorkel; to scuba-dive? Through class projects, they would explore the ecosystems of reef and shore, and the relationship to life on land. What if they were able to study the geography of the ocean - the way we learn about islands. To leave out the sea is to leave out everything that connects all ...

Tobago B: True, true... Most Tobagonians don't look to the sea except for "sea bath" and fish to eat.

Tobago A (definitively): She should come and work with the Tobago House of Assembly.

Trini (curiosity aroused): Doing what?

Tobago A: Doing whatever she is doing out there ... in Australia.

Trini: She will come back, she does have an interest in Tobago. But that may not be for three or four years. Tobago needs to start already. What sports do you teach the kids?

Tobago A: Football, the usual.

Trini: What about swimming, for well-being and water safety? Good swimmers, responsible divers, could be taught in Tobago's calm waters. The sea as a classroom is all around, easy to get to. More Tobagonians should be involved in the sea, don't you think? Not just fishing and taking tourists to the reefs. Tobago should be conserving and ensuring the survival of reefs, turtles, fish. From small, you should be taught to appreciate what's in the sea. You should be making the policies for protection of the reefs, for turtle conservation, for regulation of jet skis and boats near shore...

What lies beneath is a world - different, complex, interdependent -
that we should get to know! Photo by Anjani Ganase

By this time, the swimmer has returned. She is challenged by Tobago A to see who could stay underwater longer. Then to a sprint. They conclude that her advantage is from "swimming all her life."

Trini Swimmer: In Curacao, kids of three and four are swimming across Piscaderabai (a small bay near the research station). Similar programmes could be conducted all over Tobago - there are many local swimmers who may be happy to coach. There are dive masters who may be willing to teach small children. On-line, the Catlin Seaview Survey is being created as an exploration tool for people who may not be able to go near the ocean or underwater (see but in Tobago, everyone should be able to see under the sea. It should be part of our heritage.

Tobago A: You know the Director of Sport? I think he'd be interested.

Trini: The ideas are in your head now - go for it!

It's near lunchtime. Tobago B - who is heading back to New York and his job - is looking forward to a hearty fish broth - made with a deep sea fish called georgy - which we are invited to share. But we need to be on our way too. We part friends, the brothers to Buccoo close by; we to the boat for Trinidad.

Maybe next year, we'll be sharing the water at Grange Bay with a class of kindergarteners!

(Photos of Tobago's coral reefs were taken and loaned by Anjani Ganase, marine biologist.)

Who wouldn't like to know more about these reef species?

While the sand may provide a hiding place for this ray,
it is also smothering the corals

Many species such as turtles and fish need healthy reefs to thrive.

Shouldn't all children grow up with an understanding of coral reefs
especially these in Tobago waters. 


  1. So, what to do with ppl who don't know what they have and don't seem to care....
    More to the point, black ppl need to master swimming skills, so as to demystify the sea and all it stands for.

    We need to support the YMCA/THA Courland,Tobago pool project.

    Pity Gordon Cressy can't work the same magic in Trinidad.

  2. Yes unknown treasures of Tobago- or maybe better known outside of Tobago-sad at reef problems esp as it doesn't have to be so-programs to conserve and sustain are well known- Barbados has been somewhat successful with its artificial reef balls; south and west coast sewage treatment plants; strong enforced laws prohibiting removal of coral and so on; although it too late for some of Barbados' natural fringing reefs.
    why can't the Tobago reefs be like the second oldest forest reserve in western hemisphere Main Ridge?

  3. Totally agree with both comments - how do we make it happen?