First Digital Map of Buccoo Reef Area

Directors of the Buccoo Reef Trust in collaboration with DMRF have been busy sourcing funds and external assistance to ensure that Buccoo Reef Marine Park receives the protection it deserves.One of the priorities was to develop a detailed map of the reef so that the spatial extent, sensitivity and health of all of the reefs’ numerous habitats are accurately described.

This is a vital requirement for management, which calls for environmental monitoring, the zonation of recreational activities and the restoration of damaged areas with techniques like coral transplantation.

The Trust called on the assistance of Dr. Steve Freeman, an expert in marine mapping techniques based at ABPmer in Southampton in the UK, who came out to Tobago in early 2002 to carry out initial surveys. Following the acquisition of a high resolution satellite image of South-West Tobago, Dr. Freeman came back in July and August 2002, to lead a survey team made up of stakeholders and local volunteers. They described over 280 species and 33 different ecological habitats.

The work produced the first ever detailed digital habitat map of Buccoo Reef. This map is more than just a coloured chart as seen on the back page, it is a state-of-the-art interactive database developed using GIS software (Geographic Information System). Each point on the map is hyperlinked to detailed descriptions of the habitats, species, depth, satellite images, information on user activities, proposed zonation, park boundaries as well as over 500 photos and 8 hours of video clips.

GIS is a powerful tool with many applications for the conservation of Buccoo Reef. It will be a valuable asset for education in schools and universities, enabling students to learn about their environment while developing new skills in computer technology and ecological sciences. It will provide essential baseline information for scientists and environmentalists on which to design monitoring programmes and develop restoration initiatives. For managers, this GIS will be a visual aid for meetings with stakeholders as well as a source of information to support decision making. Management tasks such as zoning of activities and the placing of mooring buoys will be made easier using this technology.

The GIS database has been named the “Buccoo Reef Marine and Coastal GIS” and was presented to the Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly, the Honourable Orville London. This GIS database was also the focal point of a one-week training programme held in Tobago in September funded by the United Nations Environment Programme. Its aim was to train staff of the Department of Marine Resources and Fisheries, Buccoo Reef Trust and other government and Non Government Organisations in the practical application of GIS as a tool for managing the environment.