Natural History of Trinidad and Tobago

In writing to his queen about the island of Trinidad, which he had unknowingly re-discovered, Columbus described it as being "as green as the gardens of Valencia in the month of March".

A pity he never saw Tobago, which in later years would become much loved and fought over by pirates and conquering Europeans in some of the Caribbean's worst battles.

Trinidad and Tobago as a pair give the combination of excitement and relaxation, chaos and serenity in an atmosphere of charm, love and unrestrained beauty.
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Off Trinidad and Tobago, the cool currents of the North Atlantic clash with the warmer waters of the Caribbean and mix with the rich effluent of the Orinoco River. This creates coastal waters of unusual richness, teeming with every type of marine life, and results in Tobago's fabulous coral reefs.

Nor does the ecological bounty stop at the waterline. Until quite recently a part of the nearby continent, Trinidad and with Tobago's close proximity they have retained many of the plants and animals of South America, leaving the islands with a diversity of flora and fauna quite disproportionate to their size.

In addition to possessing the flora and fauna of South America, these islands are also influenced by their geographic location; they are a perfect stopping point for any Northern or Southern migratory birds, butterflies or anything drifting in the ocean or wind currents.
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Consequently, you can view and explore a wide variety of habitats and their inhabitants just a short distance from your hotel. These include:

  • Tropical Rain Forest,
  • Savanna,
  • Semi-deciduous Forest,
  • Mangrove Swamp
  • and Marsh Lands

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To top it off Tobago's tropical island landscape will make most post cards turn green with envy.

If you are an avid ornithologist or simply interested in the beauty of nature, you can observe birds from the Caribbean, and North & South America and nature at its very best.

The Diversity of Species Over 260 species of birds breed in Trinidad and Tobago over 150 migrate to Trinidad and Tobago from North and South America In total, over 430 species of birds, and over 600 species of butterflies have been recorded in Trinidad and Tobago,

Not to mention the enormous variety of trees, orchids, shrubs, insects and other wildlife. Remember all of these are found on 1870 square miles.

Geography

Trinidad and Tobago are the most southerly islands of the tropical Caribbean. Trinidad lies just off the coast of Venezuela, 10 degrees north latitude and 61 degrees west longitude with Tobago lying 20 miles northeast of Trinidad. This twin-island republic is located in the Caribbean Sea approximately seven miles off the Venezuelan coast. It was once an extension of the South American continent, and flora and fauna very much reflect this geological link. Tobago is situated 33 km (21 miles) to the north-east of Trinidad. Both islands, lush with rainforest, offer rolling hills, cool waterfalls, and spectacular birdwatching opportunities; more than 430 bird species are found here.

Trinidad

Roughly rectangular in shape is about 55 miles long and 45 miles wide with an area of 1754 square miles. Trinidad until quite recently was a part of the near by South American continent. Some theorize it separated from the continent as little as 1800 years ago. However, evidence supporting this theory is not yet available.

Trinidad can be divided into five geographic regions:

The Northern Range

A series of strongly upfolded metamorphic formations of Upper Jurassic to Cretaceous age (approximately 130 million years ago). These include Trinidad's highest mountains (El Cerro del Aripo, 3085 feet and El Tucuche, 3071 feet) and the oldest rock formations. It is probably the western most expression of the Andean mountain chain.

This mountainous range is mostly covered with lower montane rain forest in the lower elevations and montane rain forest in elevations above 2000 feet, though, the western end at Chaguaramas is covered with semi-deciduous forest. The Northern slopes meet the Caribbean Sea in jagged coasts, deep bays and long beaches.

The Caroni Plains

Bordered by the Northern and Central Ranges the Caroni Plains contain younger formations of soft sands, clays with superficial gravel terraces, river and swamp alluvium. It rises to less than 100 feet and is drained by the Caroni River in the west and the Oropuche River in the east, both of which drain into Trinidad's largest wetlands, the Caroni and Nariva Swamps.
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The Aripo Savanna, Trinidad's largest savanna, is situated on this plain. Sugar plantations account for some land use on the plain, but some of this has recently been diversified to rice and other crops.

The Central Range

Another broad anticlinal uplift which cuts across the center of Trinidad. It rises gradually eastward culminating at Mt. Tamana, 1009 feet. It contains lower montane rain forest, but much of this has become cocoa plantations and other crops.

The Southern Lowlands

Gently undulating lands with flat areas that average in height of 50 to 200 feet, which are made up of soft sands and clays. This area has much of Trinidad's oil production and contains two large swamps the Oropuche and Erin Swamps.

The Southern Range is a diverse trend of low hills that are a series of anticlinal folds which are separated by fault systems. Its average height is 500 feet, but reaches to 997 feet at the Trinity Hills after which Columbus gave Trinidad its name. The Trinity Hills and surrounding environs have beautiful tracts of lower montane rain forest.

Tobago

It is 26 miles long, 7 1/2 miles wide at its widest point which gives it a pen like shape that is aligned in a northeast to southwest direction. It has an area of 116 square miles.

Some geologists believe it is a product of the geological system that gave rise to the Andean chain of mountain of mountains, though most disagree and go further to say it is a geological entity unto itself. However all agree that at one time the water dividing the two islands was considerably smaller.
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The Northern two thirds of the island is made up of deeply eroded schists and folded igneous rocks. Together they form the Main Ridge which rises to a height of 1890 feet and forms the backbone of Tobago.

This mountainous region is covered with lower montane rain forest which is the world's oldest protected rain forest (since 1776), hence it has not been affected by man's activities. At the coasts these mountains dive into the deep blue waters of the Atlantic on the windward coast and into the Caribbean Sea on the leeward coast. The coast is rugged and dotted with deep bays with white sand beaches.

The ridge gradually flattens out to the southwest in a coral limestone lowland to form the Buccoo Reef and Low Lands areas. It contains some small swamps, the largest of which is the Bon Accord swamp and lagoon.

It also has small patches of Llittoral woodlands. This area is the most populous region in Tobago and is the main tourism centre. Both activities threaten the little natural resources left. Full Details:

Explore Tobago - Perfect Tobago Holidays start right here
  • Wildlife, Hunting and Forestry Offices for Licence and Permit:

    • Licences And Permits In Trinidad:

      • Licences

        Applications for State Game Licences (for hunting) and Lumber Licences can be submitted to the Forestry Division Offices and Sale Centres listed below. All of these offices are open Monday to Friday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm, except where otherwise noted. All offices are closed on public holidays.

        Forestry Division
        Long Circular Road, St. James, Trinidad, West Indies
        Tel. (868) 622-3217

        Forestry Office
        400 Eastern Main Road, Damarie Hill, Guaico, Sangre Grande, Trinidad, West Indies
        Tel. (868) 668-3825

        Forestry Division
        Balisier Ave, Pleasantville, San Fernando, Trinidad, West Indies
        Tel. 868) 657-9450

        The Wildlife Section (State Game Licences only)
        29 Farm Road, St. Joseph, Trinidad, West Indies
        Tel. (868) 662-5114, 645-4288
        Opening hours: 8:00 am to 3:00 pm, Monday to Friday.

        Siparia District Revenue Office
        High Street, Siparia, Trinidad, West Indies
        Tel. (868) 649-2415/2334
        Opening hours: 8:00 am to 2:00 pm, Monday to Friday.

        Rio Claro District Revenue Office
        Naparima Mayaro Main Road, Rio Claro, Trinidad, West Indies
        Tel. (868) 644-2241

        Arima District Revenue Office
        6 Prince Street, Arima, Trinidad, West Indies
        Tel. (868) 667-3473

        Chaguanas District Revenue Office
        20 Ramsaran Street, Chaguanas, Trinidad, West Indies
        Tel. (868) 665-5869, 671-4773

      • Turtle Watching Permits

        Applications for Turtle Watching Permits can be submitted to the following Forestry Division offices, between the hours of 8:00 am and 4:00 pm, Monday to Friday, except public holidays:

        Forestry Division
        Long Circular Road, St. James, Trinidad
        Tel. (868) 622-3217

        Forestry Division
        Balisier Ave, Pleasantville, San Fernando, Trinidad
        Tel. (868) 657-9450

        Forestry Office
        400 Eastern Main Road, Damarie Hill, Guaico, Sangre Grande, Trinidad
        Tel. (868) 668-2518

      • For additional information, please contact any of the following offices:

        The Wildlife Section
        29 Farm Road, St. Joseph, Trinidad, West Indies
        Tel. (868) 662-5114 or (868) 645-4288
        Opening hours: Monday to Friday from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm, except public holidays

        The Forestry Information Unit
        Long Circular Road, St. James, Trinidad
        Tel (868) 622-3217
        Opening hours: Monday to Friday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm, except public holidays.

    • Licences And Permits In Tobago:

      All applications for licences and permits in Tobago can be submitted to:

      The Department of Natural Resources and the Environment
      78 Wilson Road, Highmoor, Scarborough, Tobago, West Indies
      Tel. (868) 639-2273
      Opening hours: Monday to Friday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm, except public holidays

Further Read:

Eco Adventure and Nature Reserves in Trinidad and Tobago
List of flora of Tobago - their origins & uses
Ornithology of Tobago - Tobago Birds List