World Water Day 2020, celebrated every year on 22nd March, is about water and climate change.  The two are inextricably linked because how we use water affects flooding, droughts, scarcity and pollution, and can either mitigate or exacerbate climate change.

Trinidad and Tobago is one of ten Caribbean Small Island Developing States (SIDS) participating in the Integrating Water, Land and Ecosystems Management in Caribbean Small Island Developing States (GEF-IWEco Project) Project which applies existing proven technologies and approaches that are appropriate for SIDS to improve fresh and coastal water resources management, sustainable land management and sustainable forest management while also enhancing the resilience of socio-ecological systems to the impacts of climate change.  Successful implementation, the resulting learning and subsequent up-scaling of IWEco’s pilot projects would significantly impact land and water management and mitigate climate change effects. 

Here we look at how IWEco activities in Trinidad & Tobago are already making a difference.

Pond left behind as a result of earlier excavation, NQCL compound, Guaico, Trinidad, 2018

The Aripo Savannas, located in North Eastern Trinidad, a designated Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) and Strict Nature Reserve, includes unique habitats, rare and endemic biodiversity and is of great scientific importance.  The Savannas provide important ecosystem services - water resources for both aquifer recharge and direct extraction, high quality sand and gravel deposits for construction, and livelihoods for many associated in the quarrying industry. 

Quarrying here started in the 1940s to meet national demand for aggregate materials by the building and road construction industries.  Poor regulation over the years led to indiscriminate quarrying, resulting in severe land degradation as existing vegetation and topsoil is cleared, leading to loss of habitat, wildlife and plants. Watercourses are polluted by large quantities of sediment from erosion and from wash plants, and this eventually is transported to the sea, also affecting coastal water quality badly. 

Trinidad and Tobago’s IWEco National sub-Project (IWEco:TT) aims to restore natural vegetation, reduce sedimentation and flood risk and restore ecological function to exhausted or abandoned quarry pits. 

Following a national launch in May 2018 which involved volunteers from a variety of organizations, twenty-seven persons from surrounding communities, called “Quarry Rehabilitation Champions”, were trained in various intervention methods by two Nongovernmental organizations, the Trust for Sustainable Livelihoods (SUSTRUST) and IAMovement (IAM), in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme - Small Grants Programme, partners in IWEco.  Developing community capability to enable replication and sustainable livelihoods are important aspects of the Project.

Explaining how live check dams work to reduce gullying and soil erosion when rain falls (May 2019).

Rehabilitation work in the ten months between October 2018 and July 2019 progressed on three separate pilot sites within the state-owned and operated National Quarries Company Limited (NCQL). 

The first site was a 0.5 hectare area focused on planting of tree species for food production, creation of wildlife habitat and regeneration of original forest species. 

The second site was a back-filled exhausted quarry pit devoid of soil nutrients where severe gullying and erosion were occurring.  Pilot interventions there included: soil nutrification through the creation of mulch using waste beer hops, tree and grass cuttings and sargassum which would otherwise go to a landfill; the planting of vetiver grass to address soil erosion; the creation of living check dams to stem gullying and water run off; and, the establishment of a plant nursery which would serve as a source of plants for other areas to be rehabilitated under the project.

The third area consisted of compacted backfilled exhausted quarry pit where forest species enrichment was tested to determine best species for rehabilitation of quarries.

Interventions at all three sites were completed in July 2019 and a GPS mapping exercise to determine the size of the area rehabilitated was conducted by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), which is responsible for project implementation, in late-August 2019.  It found that a total area of 7.05 hectares was rehabilitated in the period between May 2018 and July 2019.  When these efforts began in May 2018, the team had estimated that a total of 2.7 ha. would be rehabilitated - this has actually been exceeded by 4.35 ha! 

On-site plant nursery constructed and managed by the Quarry Rehabilitation Champions (May 2019).

In November 2019, IWEco:TT and Carib Glassworks Limited, operator of the first privately managed quarry in Trinidad, launched a project to rehabilitate one hectare of their Matura Sand Plant through a mix of interventions which were successfully used at NQCL.  In this first partnership between the private and public sectors, another one ha at the same sand mine will be reforested in 2020, bringing the total to two hectares.

Identifying additional sites for rehabilitation, in particular within the private sector, is important in order to increase project impact in terms of land-rehabilitation and carbon sequestration, and, protection of surface and groundwater resources.  Guidelines for the preparation of rehabilitation plans are currently being reviewed by stakeholders.  Since 2015 the law has required that such plans be submitted and approved before mining or quarrying operations begin. The documentation of lessons learned in these pilot areas will be invaluable to both operators and regulators.

IWEco is helping Trinidad and Tobago learn how to rehabilitate degraded quarry land, thereby also protecting ground and surface water.  This is an important step in the country's efforts to build resilience to climate change.  

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For more information contact:

Donna Sue Spencer

Communication Specialist, GEF IWEco Project

Donna.spencer@un.org