Little Tobago | Bucket list

A wildlife sanctuary off Tobago’s northeast coast, this tiny island has an unlikely history — and numerous seabirds

  • A red-billed tropicbird, at its nesting site on Little Tobago. Photo by Rapso Imaging
  • Little Tobago in the distance, behind Goat Island, off Tobago’s northeast coast. Photo by courtesy the Tobago House of Assembly

mile off Tobago’s northeast coast, Little Tobago is a cliff-ringed, forest-covered refuge for seabirds — with an unusual history. In 1909, concerned about the overhunting of Papua New Guinea’s spectacular greater bird of paradise, the British politician William Ingram scoured the tropical regions of the British Empire for a suitable location to establish a private nature reserve. Four dozen birds of paradise were transported halfway across the world to Little Tobago, in the hope that they’d form a thriving colony. The plan didn’t quite succeed: the birds of paradise did not thrive in their adopted West Indian home, and 1963’s Hurricane Flora is believed to have despatched the last of them (though to this day a bird of paradise is depicted on T&T’s hundred dollar note). But Little Tobago — given to the T&T government by Ingram’s heirs in 1924 — remains a bird sanctuary, home to substantial populations of seabirds, including tropicbirds, shearwaters, boobies, and frigatebirds. The island has no human population, but birders can visit via boat from Speyside — a short, scenic trip that also allows close-up views of Goat Island (with its abandoned holiday villa) and the gorgeous coral reefs in Tyrrel’s Bay. Visitors should stick to Little Tobago’s well-marked paths, leaving the rest of the island’s vertiginous terrain for the birds.

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