Tobago achieves two green travel milestones

Northeast Tobago declared a UNESCO Man & Biosphere Reserve, right after three Tobago beaches achieve Blue Flag Pilot status

Earlier today, the Tobago Tourism Agency Limited and the Environmental Research Institute, Charlotteville (ERIC) celebrated the island obtaining the UNESCO Man & the Biosphere (MAB) designation, which TTAL described as an opportunity to develop and promote the island’s tourism product. This follows the announcement two weeks ago that three Tobago beaches — King’s Bay, Bloody Bay, and Mt Irvine Bay — had received Blue Flag Pilot status approval.

Growing the green and blue economies

The MAB programme aims to improve livelihoods in local communities, while safeguarding ecosystems. It promotes innovative approaches to the sustainable development of green and blue economies across the globe, and the improvement of relationships between people and their environments.

Some of the areas covered in the MAB Reserve

Louis Lewis, Chief Executive Officer at TTAL, explained the significance for Tobago:

The Man and the Biosphere achievement is a welcome catalyst to spur growth in Tobago’s sustainable tourism development, which is a core focus of the Tobago Tourism Agency. It will undoubtedly auger well for our destination’s international appeal in the new era of travel, and enhances development that aligns with our brand of unspoilt, untouched, and undiscovered.

This international designation strategically aligns with TTAL’s existing environmental programmes, which have been instituted in partnership with accredited global bodies. In addition to the Blue Flag pilot status, the Agency was featured on Green Key International’s website for their efforts to raise the standard and quality of sustainable products in Tobago.

TTAL’s Director of Product Development and Destination Management, Narendra Ramgulam, also expressed delight at the timing:

This news comes at an ideal time for Tobago, as it presents a beneficial tool for economic recovery in a post-COVID era. Trends indicate that travellers will especially now be seeking out safe and clean destinations. As an approved WTTC ‘Safe Travels’ destination, Tobago has already taken the necessary steps to meet the demands of the traveler of tomorrow, and we welcome this opportunity to further enhance our appeal as an environmentally conscious destination.

On their Facebook page, the ERIC team shared some of the journey to achieving the designation, celebrating that they “now have a designated area to design and implement co-managed activities and programmes related to conservation, sustainable blue and green economic development, research, capacity building, education and networking.”

Bloody Bay. Photo courtesy Tobago Tourism Agency

Bloody Bay. Photo courtesy Tobago Tourism Agency

Flying the Blue Flag

The island has also got formal endorsement to fully engage in meeting the Blue Flag standards and submit applications for Blue Flag Certification as early as 2021. This makes Tobago the only island in the Lesser Antilles with Blue Flag approval to the benefit of visitors and residents alike. Blue Flag is one of the programmes implemented in Trinidad & Tobago by the NGO Green T&T.

The Blue Flag Programme, with over 4,660 Blue Flag sites in 47 countries, is the world’s most recognised voluntary eco-label with the highest brand recognition in the international tourism market. Blue Flag certification is awarded to sites for their sustainable development efforts, and is achieved through strict criteria relating to water quality, environmental education and information, environmental management, safety and other services. The Blue Flag Programme is one of five programmes of the internationally renowned Foundation for Environmental Education with partners such as the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Mt. Irvine Bay. Photograph courtesy The Division of Tourism

The sun sets on Mt Irvine Bay, a beach loved by surfers and snorkellers alike. Photograph courtesy The Division of Tourism and Transportation.

The announcement came from Trinidad & Tobago’s Blue Flag National Coordinator, Joanna Moses-Wothke:

Tobago was always poised as an ideal Blue Flag destination. With pristine beaches, an intact montane tropical rainforest and small communities sandwiched between, it was more a matter of time. Any beach that applies for Blue Flag certification must first undergo a gap analysis against the Blue Flag standards and must submit measures towards compliance. The gap analyses along with the recommendations to meet compliance were submitted first to the Blue Flag National Jury in June this year and forwarded to the International Blue Flag Jury the following month for the final pilot status approval. Once the pilot beaches are in full compliance, TTAL can submit the beach applications to the National and International Blue Flag Juries for the official Blue Flag award as early as 2021.

The three beaches share unique ecosystems such as coral reefs and rivers with rich biodiversity. Additionally, King’s Bay and Bloody Bay are situated in the newly declared MAN site.

A critically endangered leatherback turtle hatchling takes a breath as it swims out to to sea at Mt Irvine/Back Bay. Photographer: Giancarlo Lalsingh/SOS Tobago

A critically endangered leatherback turtle hatchling takes a breath as it swims out to to sea at Mt Irvine/Back Bay. Photographer: Giancarlo Lalsingh/SOS Tobago

Ramgulam added:

Having been awarded pilot status for three beaches means that we are taking steps in the right direction to not only boost our environmental sustainability as a destination, but we are in the process also of leveraging and building confidence in our eco-conscious travellers. Trends from leading tourism journals and studies indicate that travellers post COVID-19 are going to be demanding safe destinations and destinations that are perceived to be clean/green. In this regard, Blue Flag gives destination Tobago an edge over our competitors, and no other beaches in the English-Speaking Caribbean are Blue Flag certified.

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