Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Drafting a policy for T&T’s coastal resources

ENJOYMENT FOR ALL: Bathers enjoy Macqueripe Bay. —Photo: Institute of Marine Affairs

IN 2015, Trinidad and Tobago’s assets, population and economic activity, which were concentrated within the coastal zone, accounted for approximately 81 per cent of our GDP.
Clearly, the coastal zone’s importance to the economic viability of the country cannot be overstated.
Coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs and mangrove swamps contribute to this value, especially by providing forest products such as lumber, and managing nutrients and coastal protection, supporting tourism and fisheries, which reduce wastewater treatment costs.
These coastal ecosystems also provide services, where the value to people is not reflected by exchanges in the market. Nevertheless, these vital coastal ecosystems have become degraded over time because of land-based pollution, land-use changes, habitat loss, coastal erosion and over-exploitation.
Recognising that this problem needs to be addressed in a timely manner, a Cabinet-appointed multi-sectoral committee formulated a draft Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) Policy Framework in 2014. The goal of this policy is to facilitate an integrated approach to coastal zone management aimed at maintaining and, where necessary, enhancing the functional integrity of the coastal resource systems while enabling sustainable economic development through rational decision-making and planning.
Assistance with the implementation of the national ICZM Policy has been rendered by the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA), which is undertaking a pilot project.
The aim of this project is to develop an ICZM Plan and Marine Spatial Plan for the north-west peninsula of Trinidad extending from the mouth of the Diego Martin River to Scotland Bay, including the offshore islands.
This area was selected because it has a myriad of coastal uses and users, both onshore and offshore, as well as many coastal issues that need to be addressed, including the degradation of important ecosystems such as seagrass beds.
The development of a Marine Spatial Plan for the north-western peninsula of Trinidad would be a first for Trinidad and Tobago. Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is a public process of analysing and allocating the spatial and temporal distribution of human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic, and social objectives that are usually specified through a political process. It is a stakeholder-driven process resulting in a comprehensive plan for a marine region. Stakeholders will allocate ocean space to achieve specified ecological, economic and social objectives thereby resolving user conflicts.
MSP embodies the principles of ecosystem-based management and therefore does not focus on one sector such as is done with closed areas for fisheries. Instead focus is on the spatial aspects of marine resources and activities, how those resources and activities interact, how different stakeholders value them and how they can be planned/managed spatially to achieve common goals.
The key elements of MSP are setting a vision and clear objectives, identifying the governance issues, stakeholder engagement, identifying the data and information needed to develop plans and linking the goals to management action.
In the plan preparation phase, we must first know where we are by examining the power relationships and governance process, identifying the strengths and weaknesses in past and current eras of governance, tracing how human activities and environmental conditions have changed and documenting how the governance system has responded, or not responded, to key changes. To decide where we want to go, we must identify present and future competing interests, determine the issues to be addressed and desired outcomes/vision, select and involve key partners for MSP implementation and understand capacity needs throughout planning and implementation.
MSP is a balancing act that tries to reconcile top-down and bottom-up governance approaches.
It is driven by data and stakeholder input and provides a framework for understanding conflicts and compatibilities for balancing present and future uses.
On the north-west peninsula it will be a pioneering tool used to ensure sustainable development and management of coastal resources which could be applied, in the future, to other areas around Trinidad and Tobago.