Eco buzz (July/August 2007)

Whale-watching up the islands, and discovering the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago

  • Fluke of diving humpback whale, Silver Bank, Dominican Republic. Photograph by © IFAW International Fund For Animal Welfare/S Cook
  • Discovering the Birds of Trinidad & Tobago
  • The Trinidad & Tobago Field Naturalists’ Club Trail Guide

The Caribbean: sun, sea, and…whale-watching

Whale-watching may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Caribbean, but last December saw the formation of a new organisation, CARIBwhale, designed to change that. In the face of growing aggression from powerful pro-whaling interests worldwide, CARIBwhale is taking a stand to protect these giant creatures and their marine environment from further exploitation.

The Caribbean is a major nesting ground and migratory route for many species of whale, particularly during the peak months of September through March. There are excellent sighting opportunities throughout the eastern Caribbean, especially in Dominica, St Lucia, St Vincent, Grenada and the Dominican Republic (all of which have CARIBwhale members).

Early in the year, humpbacks migrate all the way from New England to mate and calf in St Vincent, where Bryde’s whales and sperm whales are also often sighted en route from Martinique and Guadeloupe. Dominica actually has a resident sperm whale population, and the entire southern and eastern Caribbean hosts large numbers of pilot whales, spinner dolphins, and short-nose dolphins. As far south as Trinidad, there used to be large populations of pilot whales, to the extent that the Gulf of Paria was once referred to as the Gulf of Whales. However, hunting and industrial activity have extinguished or repelled the once flourishing population, and largely restricted sightings to islands further north.

Beyond promoting eco-tourism through whale- and dolphin-watching efforts, however, CARIBwhale also aims to make an impact on a larger scale. There are already plans to develop and implement local educational, training and marine research programmes, together with government ministries and conservation groups, and to standardise data-collection procedures—both for marine life, and to assess the social and economic impacts of the region’s whale-watching industries.

Whale-watching organisations, hotel and tourism associations and conservation groups in 15 island nations have signed on as CARIBwhale members. The islands have received major support from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), whose director of wildlife and habitat protection is Trinidadian Dr Joth Singh. “One of the goals of CARIBwhale is to get some of the benefits of whale-watching to potential small operators,” Singh explained. “There is tremendous potential for growth in the whale-watching industry in the Caribbean and there is an expressed commitment from the larger operators to provide training and exposure to individuals who may be interested in joining this growing industry.”

Caroline Taylor


For more information on CARIBwhale and whale-watching in the Caribbean,
contact: Michele Duff (IFAW, USA): 508-648-3570,

Derek Perryman (CARIBwhale public relations, Dominica): 767-448-2188,

Andrew Armour (president of CARIBwhale, Dominica):

Hal Daize (CARIBwhale member, St Vincent):


Birds in the hand

While Brian Ramsey was between jobs three years ago, a friend gave him a camera and suggested that he take a few pictures on one of his frequent hikes.

Now Ramsey, who is a director at Amalgamated Security Services in Trinidad, leads a small company, Outdoor Business Group Ltd, out of his home. He’s set up the Outdoors Trinidad website (, which provides information on various recreational activities such as hiking, camping, cycling, kayaking, fishing, birdwatching, and turtle-watching.

He has also produced Discovering the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago, a searchable CD-ROM with descriptions of 322 birds and over 800 photographs of different species.

It was a great idea to put this collection together: it’s very convenient to have pictures and reference information all in one place. Ramsey also gives very good advice on the best way to observe birds and even shares tips on how to attract them to your garden.

Unfortunately, the text needs editing; and many of the photographs are fuzzy. The real majesty of the birds to be found in Trinidad and Tobago comes through in donated photographs by professionals.

Much of the information here seems to have been collated from the sources listed at the end of each discourse. Much more than a debt of gratitude seems due to Richard ffrench’s Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago, Steven Hilty’s Birds of Veneuzela, the University of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology Animal Diversity website, Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website, and Florida’s Breeding Bird Atlas.

Discovering the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago took three years to put together and Ramsey intends to release a “new, improved and updated edition” in December.


The Trinidad & Tobago Field Naturalists’ Club Trail Guide (Second Edition)

Edited by: Paul L. Comeau, I. Reginald Potter, Prudence K. Roberts (ISBN 978-976-8194-78-2, 364 pp)
This second edition of the TTFNC Trail Guide, produced in collaboration with the National Herbarium, is hefty, but helpfully covers most of the trails of Trinidad and Tobago.

The improved publication includes maps on a scale of 1:25,000 and more trails than its predecessor (published in 1992).

The new trails bring the number of routes covered to 52, up from 48. Although most of the trails are either in north Trinidad or north-east Tobago, trails in south and central Trinidad have been added.

The first two chapters of the book are virtually unchanged from the first edition. They remain a great opening. There’s a wealth of information on local conditions in the first chapter on the environment. The second includes a “Country Code,” which promotes responsible behaviour towards the environment and offers some salient tips. Most important: If you do get misplaced, it is important not to panic. Panic is the enemy. (People generally don’t get “misplaced”…but they might very easily get lost.)

This second chapter also contains comprehensive safety, first-aid and equipment information. The thoughtful Table of Trails in chapter three is a treasure, offering information on the type of journey, distance, time, degree of difficulty and the page number on which the trail can be found, at a glance. The trail descriptions are detailed and accurate. The glossary and emergency phone numbers at the back complete this indispensable guide.

The only other publication like it is ffrench and Bacon’s Nature Trails of Trinidad (1992), which is very difficult to find. The TTFNC has produced a very valuable resource not only for the novice but also the experienced hiker. There’s a lot of natural beauty in these islands and it sometimes takes a walk to discover it. With local assistance this guide can enhance your exploration experience.

Tracy Assing

Funding provided by the 11th EDF Regional Private Sector Development Programme Direct Support Grants Programme.
The views expressed on this website are those of the the authors and do not reflect those of the Direct Support Grants Programme.