Trinidad and Tobago Country Profile
Legislative and institutional framework governing the protection of coral reefs
(1) Overview of legislative framework for environmental protection
– Enforcement of the EMA Act
(2) Designation of marine protected areas (MPAs)
(3) Laws providing explicit protections for coral and other marine life
– Table of restricted and prohibited activities
– Provisions for nongovernmental research and restoration projects
– Enforcement of explicit provisions protecting coral reefs
(4) Coastal zone development and environmental impact assessment (EIA)
– Enforcement of coastal zone development and EIA requirements
(5) Other legislation: land-based and marine pollution
(6) Multilateral Environmental Agreements
1. Overview of legislative framework for environmental protection
In Trinidad and Tobago, government responsibility for the protection of coral reefs, coastal ecosystems, pollution control, and the environment in general are shared among a number of agencies and established through a patchwork of legislation. The Environmental Management Act of 2000 ("EMA Act") provides framework legislation for many environmental matters, including the management of activities that impact the health of coral reefs, seagrass beds, and coastal mangroves.
The scope of the EMA Act is broad, covering the conservation and the protection of natural resources, as well as the sustainable implementation of new development (e.g., construction, commercial activities, and infrastructure projects) through the environmental and social impact assessment (EsIA) process.1 Other pieces of legislation, such as the Marine Areas (Preservation and Enhancement) Act, Fisheries Act, and Environmentally Sensitive Area Rules prescribe specific restrictions on activities that may pose a direct threat to coral reefs.
Like several other Caribbean countries, most explicit protections for "flora and fauna" and "fish" (terms that are defined in national legislation to encompass all marine life) apply only to designated marine protected areas (MPAs), with implicit—but more attenuated—protections for all coral reefs derived from Trinidad and Tobago's international agreement obligations.2
The EMA Act established two government bodies to carry out its mandates: the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) and the Environmental Commission.3 Part III of the EMA Act defines the functions of the EMA. These include, among others, making recommendations on national environmental policy; developing and implementing the EsIA process and pollution control rules, establishing national environmental standards and criteria; coordinating environmental management functions among all government agencies and departments; monitoring compliance with and enforcing environmental requirements, designating protected "environmentally sensitive areas," and promoting environmental educational and public awareness.4 The Environmental Commission is a specialized tribunal created for the purpose of adjudicating appeals from decisions or actions of the EMA, including the level and timing of sanctions imposed, areas and species designated for protection, and the denial of approval for proposed development projects.
Other agencies that play an important role in monitoring compliance with and enforcing laws that include coral reef protections are the Institute of Marine Affairs, the Fisheries Division, Marine Resurces and Fisheries Department (THA)(performs fisheries management funtions in Tobago), the Town and County Planning Division, and others whose functions are described in Section 3 below.
Enforcement of the EMA Act
The EMA has a mandate to enforce environmental management, mitigation, and reporting requirements for authorized activities that have a potential to adversly impact marine environments, including activities subject to an environmental impact assessment (EIA) requirement.5 Those include high-impact projects involving coastal development, coastal infrastructure construction, or aquaculture activities. The EMA also enforces national rules, standards, and guidelines that it has established, as well as designating and participating in the management of Environmentally Sensitive Areas.6 Since enforcement actions and the imposition of sanctions by the EMA are largely associated with its role in the evaluation of applications for development activities and the EIA process, enforcement procedures and sanctions are discussed in detail in Section 4 below.
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2. Designation of marine protected areas (MPAs)
There are two ways in which the government of Trinidad and Tobago may designate MPAs:
1. Section 3 of the Marine Areas (Preservation and Enhancement) Act empowers the Minister (Ministry of Planning and Development) to issue an administrative order to "designate any portion of the marine areas of Trinidad and Tobago as a restricted area where he considers that special steps are necessary" to protect flora and fauna, preserve and enhance the natural beauty of a marine area, or for scientific or recreational purposes.7 Each order specifies the precise boundaries of the marine area receiving protected status. When the creation of a new restricted area is deemed important and it is not "reasonably practicable to acquire any such lands by private negotiation,quot; the Minister is empowered to acquire land by means of a Compulsory Purchase Order.8
2. Similarly, the Environmental Management Act authorizes the EMA to declare an area of marine and/or terrestrial environment or an individual species to be an "environmentally sensitive area" or an "environmentally sensitive species" that requires special protection.9 Under the Environmentally Sensitive Area Rules, an area may be designated for protection if it is the habitat of a sensitive species, must be protected to meet international treaty obligations, meets general conservation objectives, or is among areas certain areas protected in other laws (including restricted areas declared under the Marine Areas Act).10
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3. Laws providing explicit protections for coral and other marine life
The mandates of the EMA Act are supplemented with laws and regulations that provide additional substantive and procedural detail concerning the protection of marine life. The Marine Areas (Preservation and Enhancement) Act (Marine Areas Act) and its Regulations provide the most explicit protections among the laws of Trinidad and Tobago.11 The Marine Areas Act and the regulations created protections for marine life, including corals, in restricted areas of the country's territorial waters that have been designated as restricted marine areas by the Minister of the Environment. The Marine Areas Act includes corals in its definition of "flora and fauna," which includes "any part of a coral reef or other deposit existing in its natural conditions."12
Under the Marine Areas Regulations, coral reef protections given to "fish," which are defined to include "corals, crabs, lobsters, shrimps, turtles, turtle eggs and any species of marine fauna."13 The regulations prohibit persons from entering restricted areas by boat, other watercraft, or on foot; taking or removing any marine life or bird; removing mangroves; or digging, dredging, or otherwise interfering with the seabed of a restricted area, except with the written permission of the appropriate government authorities.14 In addition, government authorities may designate anchoring areas, buoys, or put-in spots for visitors to reefs outside of these restricted areas.15
The Fisheries Act (legacy legislation enacted in 1916 and last amended in 1975) also prohibits the taking of any species of marine fauna in a Prohibited Area—an MPA designation not further defined in the law's text.16 The Fisheries Act prescribes few other restrictions on activities that have the potential to directly harm coral reefs, apart from the use of nonconforming nets for fishing. A comprehensive, modernized version of the Fisheries Act (The Fisheries Management Bill, 2020) was introduced in June, 2020 that would repeal and replace the older legislation.17 It would make provisions for the long-term, sustainable management of Trinidad and Tobago's fisheries and marine ecosystems and regulate fishing and other activities in coastal waters, but has yet to be passed by the national parliament.18
Lastly, it is important to mention the role of Trinidad and Tobago's Intitute of Marine Affairs (IMA), which plays a key role in the fulfillment of the country's commitments under multilateral environmental agreements, including its management of coral reefs.19 The IMA was established following negotiations for an agreement signed in 1974 between the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and the United Nations, through its Executing Agency, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).20 The IMA's mandate is to "collect, analyse and disseminate information relating to the economic, technological, environmental, social and legal developments in marine affairs and to formulate and implement specific programmes/projects.' The IMA's focus is to continually review regional and international legal instruments (conventions, protocols, resolutions and guidelines) to identify gaps in Trinidad and Tobago's marine and environmental laws and policies and make recommendations for updating these instruments.
Note: Some legal protections for coral reefs lying outside of restricted areas are also applicable through the country's commitments under the Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region (Cartagena Convention), through which Trinidad and Tobago committed to protect four threatened species of coral listed in Annex II to the SPAW Protocol, which the country ratified in 1999.21
Table of restricted and prohibited activities
| Prohibited activities within marine protected areas
(If official authorization has not been obtained)
|Laws and Regulations
|Entry into a Restricted (closed) Area on foot or by boat
||MAA § 3(2); MAR §3(1)(a) and (b).
|Fishing in violation of fishing license terms (by foreign vessels only)
||AWEEZA, § 28.
|Taking, harming, or destroying marine life
|Fisheries Act, § 7.
|Dredging, extracting sand or gravel, or otherwise disturbing the seabed
||Regulated under CEC terms; FMB Designated Activities Schedule.
|Discharging waste and pollutants into the water (sewage, trash, petroleum products, chemicals, or other waste)
||WPR §§ 4 and 5, and First Schedule.
|Use of poison or explosives to hunt / kill fish
||Fisheries Act, § 7.
|Anchoring or mooring other than at an authorized buoy or dock
|Damaging coral with an anchor or vessel grounding
|Engaging in research without authorization or in violation of conditions
||FMB Part XV.
|Placing of artificial reefs and fish aggregating devices
|Prohibited anywhere within the territorial waters of Trinidad and Tobago:
|Liability of the captain and crew of a boat for violations by its passengers
||AWEEZA Act, § 28(1)(c) (foreign vessels).
|Removal or trade of designated endangered species
||Environmentally Sensitive Species Rules; CITES. |
Abbreviations used above: CEC = Certificate of Environmental Clearance; MAR = Marine Areas (Preservation and Enhancement) Act; MAR = Marine Areas (Preservation and Enhancement) Regulations; WPR = Water Pollution Rules; AWEEZA = Archipelagic Waters and Exclusive Economic Zone Act; FA = Fisheries Act; NRS = Not regulated specifically at the national level; FMB = Proposed Fisheries Management Bill (2020).
Legal requirements for nongovernmental research and restoration projects
No provisions regarding marine research and coral restoration projects (including the creation of artifical reefs) are currently in force, with the exception that the Minister of Planning and Development may designate any part of Trinidad and Tobago's territorial waters as a restricted area if it is necessary for the promotion of scientific study and research.22 however the Fisheries Management Bill, Part XV would provide detailed set of provisions addressing this topic.23
Enforcement of explicit provisions protecting coral reefs
Only the EMA Act and the Fisheries Act provide for the enforcement of laws and regulations restricting activities that directly affect coral reefs and these provisions are weak at best. Neither the EMA Act nor the Fisheries Act establish procedures for enforcement officers to stop and board vessels, perform searches, arrest persons believed to be committing violations, and seize boats, gear, and illegally taken marine life while those persons are on board a vessel that is in or near a protected area.24 The Fisheries Act only makes provisions for Fisheries Officers or persons authorized by them to enter the premises of potential violators between 7:00 am and 5:00 pm to inspect and measure fish nets that are in plain sight, in order to confirm their conformity with legal standards.25
The only other legiislation encountered during this study that addresses the stopping and boarding of vessels at sea is the Archipelagic Waters and Exclusive Economic Zone Act, 1986 (Cap. 51:06). Section 28(a) of this Act empower authorized enforcement personnel (see footnote) to stop, board, inspect, seize, and detain and foreign vessel and arrest the master and crew they believe are involved in violating the terms of a fishing license.26 Section 28(2) of the Act states that authorized enforcement personnel may be "(a) members of the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard; (b) members of the Police Service; (c) Fisheries Officers of the Ministry responsible for fisheries; (d) Customs Officers; (e) the Harbour Master; and (f) any other person authorised in writing by the Minister."
TThe Marine Areas (Preservation and Enhancement) Act provides that any person who is summarily convicted of a violation of the Act's Regulations (including taking marine life from a protected area) is liable for a fine of $1,000 and an additional fine of $50 per day for any continuing violation.27 Likewise, the Fisheries Act prescribes a fine of up to $2,000 and imprisonment for six months for anyone violating the provisions of the Act.28
In addition to other possible sanctions, the EMA Act establishes liability for any person or corporation that knowingly carries out an activity which may have an adverse impact on an officially-designated "environmentally sensitive area" or an "environmentally sensitive species." Upon conviction, a guilty party is liable for a fine of $100,000 (Trinidad and Tobago Dollars (TTD)) and imprisonment for two years.29
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4. Coastal zone development and environmental impact assessment (EIA)
The Environmental Management Act provides that the Environmental Management Authority is responsible for administering the EIA process. Section 35 states that any entity proposing a new project (or major change to an existing one) that appears in a statutory list of activities must seek approval and a Certificate of Environmental Clearance ("CEC" or environmental license) from the EMA. This is important in assuring that environmental impacts, such as runoff, are avoided or minimized for coastal zone construction and infrastructure projects (e.g., construction of a resort or increasing port capacity)30
The EMA is responsible for providing public notice concerning proposed projects. Members of the public may submit comments to the EMA and attend public hearings to voice their opinions and concerns. Following a successful approval process, a CEC is issued, which contains environmental mitigation and management measures, as well as a monitoring plan for ensuring proper implementation and compliance.31
Enforcement of coastal zone development and EIA requirements
In Trinidad and Tobago, Environmental Police Officers assigned to the EMA assist in assuring environmental compliance with environmental license (CEC) obligations. They receive special training in environmental monitoring and enforcement, periodically monitoring and inspecting approved projects.
When the EMA or Environmental Police Officers discover an environmental violation, the EMA follows a series of procedural steps that may escalate according to the response of the violator. If the EMA "reasonably believes" that a person or business entity has violated a CEC or other environmental requirement, it must issue a written notice of violation to that party.32 The notice of violation requests that the party make specified modifications of the activity within a specified time period and invites the violator to present information relating to the offense.33 If the matter is not satisfactorly resolved within the specified time period, the EMA may issue an Administrative Order.34 The Administrative Order describes the details of the violation(s), and directs the violator to carry out one or more of the following actions:35
- Cease and desist;
- Come into compliance by a certain date;
- Immediately remedy the conditions or environmental harm arising from the violation;
- Undertake an investigation regarding environmental conditions or circumstances within the violator's control, such as releases of pollutants or handling of hazardous substances;
- Perform additional monitoring or record-keeping.
Sanctions for violations of CEC requirements and other EMA Act provisions
In addition to the demands the EMA makes of the violator in an Administrative Order, also includes a proposed civil assessment made by the EMA. The assessment may include a demand for (a) costs incurred by the EMA in responding to the environmental violation, (b) compensation for damage to public lands or underwater territory resulting from the violation, (c) damages for the economic benefit the offender obtained through the violation, and (4) punitive damages for the failure to comply.36 In determining the amount of the latter, the EMA or the Environmental Commission must take into account: (1) "the nature, circumstances, extent and gravity of the violation," (b) prior violations, if any, and (c) the degree of willfulness or guilt in committing the violation and the willingness to cooperate with the EMA.37
In determining punitive damages for violations, the EMA is constrained to maximum fines for individuals and corporations. For individuals, the maximum fine is $5,000 (EC dollar?) for each violation, plus $1,000 per day for continuing violations.38 For corporations, the maximum fine is $10,000 for each violation, plus $5,000 per day for continuing violations.39 In addition to the damages listed above, whenever the EMA reasoably believes that any party is engaged in a violation or in an activity likely to result in a violation (and environmental harm), it may seek a restraining order or other injunctive or equitable relief to prevent the violation or activity from continuing. Likewise, it may pursue a court order for closure of the project or facility in order to prevent further violations.40
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5. Other legislation: land-based and marine pollution
The EMA Act provides framework legislation that address land-based sources of pollution that ultimately flow into the sea, causing sedimentation, nutrients, and toxic substances to contaminate coastal waters and harm corals. Restrictions on water pollution (surface and groundwaters) and the regulation of discharges are elaborated in the Water Pollution Rules enacted under the mandate of the EMA Act.41
The Water Pollution Rules seek to prevent and control pollution of Trinidad and Tobago's inland and marine waters. Entities such as sewage treatment plants that intend to release polluted water from a "registrable facility" must submit a Source Application to the EMA, which mainatins a registry of registrable facilities that have been issued permits to discharge certain amounts of effluents under specific prescribed conditions.42 Entities that exceed permissible limits in the release of water pollutants in release water pollutants are noticed by the EMA and must apply for a permit with the EMA.43 Other regulations within the Water Pollution Rules provide for application for permits, duration, conditions, transfer, variation, renewal, and suspension of permits.
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6. Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) to which Trinidad and Tobago is a signatory
| Title of Convention || Ratification or Accession Date|
| Cartagena Convention ||Jan. 24, 1986|
| Protocol Concerning Oil Spill (Oil Spill Protocol to the Cartagena Convention) ||Jan. 24, 1986 |
| Protocol Concerning Pollution From Land Based Sources And Activities in the Wider Caribbean Region (LBS Protocol to the Cartagena Convention) ||Mar. 28, 2003 |
| Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife in the Wider Caribbean Region (SPAW Protocol to the Cartagena Convention) ||Aug. 10, 1999 |
| Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity ||Oct. 5, 2000|
|Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants || Dec. 13, 2002|
| United Nations Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous waste and their disposal (Basel Convention) ||Feb. 18, 1994|
|Rotterdam Convention || Dec. 16, 2009|
|Vienna Convention || Aug. 28, 1989|
|Montreal Protocol || Aug. 28, 1989|
| Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) ||April 18, 1984 |
|Convention on Migratory Species|| Dec. 1, 2018|
| UN Convention on Biological Diversity ||Aud. 1, 1996 |
| United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) ||Jun. 24, 1994 |
| Kyoto Protocol ||Jan. 28, 1999 |
| Paris Agreement ||Feb. 22, 2018 |
| The United Nations Convention on Wetlands (RAMSAR Convention) ||Dec. 21, 1992 |
| Minamata Convention on Mercury||— |
| United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) ||Apr.25, 1986 |
| UN Convention to Combat Desertification ||Jun. 8, 2000|
Source: InforMEA, Trinidad and Tobago, https://www.informea.org/en/countries/TT/parties.
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1. Environmental Management Act of 2000 (Cap. 35:05)(EMA Act).
2. Section 3 of the EMA Act binds the State to the international treaties and multilateral environmental agreements to which Trinidad and Tobago is a signatory.
3. Part II of the EMA Act established the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) and the Environmental Commission was created under Part VIII of the Act.
4. EMA Act, §§ 16 and 41.
5. EMA Act, § 68; Once charges have been filed against thse accused of violations, the prosecution phase is carried ot by the Environmental Commission. EMA Act &Sect; 81 provides that endows the Environmental Commission with the power to enforce the policies and
programs of the Enbironmental Management Authority, to adjudicate violations of the EMA Act, and to hear appeals relating to enforcement actions.
6. EMA Act, §§ 16.
7. Marine Areas (Preservation and Enhancement) Act, § 3.
8. Marine Areas (Preservation and Enhancement) Act of 1970 (Cap. 35:05) Amended 1996, § 4(2).
9. Section 41 of the EMA Act authorizes the Environmental Management Authority to designate an area or species as "environmentally sensitive" following a public notice and comment period, consideration of the best scientific data available and after taking into consideration economic and other impacts. To date, environmental sensitive species status has been given to manatees and several species of sea turtles.
10. Environmentally Sensitive Areas Rules, § 3(a)-(d). Similarly, Schedule III and the Fsheries Act permits the Authority (Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries) to declare prohibited areas.
11. Marine Areas (Preservation and Enhancement) Act; Marine Areas (Preservation and Enhancement) Regulations (Cap. 37:02). 2009-12-31.
12. Marine Areas (Preservation and Enhancement) Act, § 2.
13. Marine Areas (Preservation and Enhancement) Regulations, § 2.
14. Marine Areas (Preservation and Enhancement) Regulations, § 3(a)-(e).
15. Marine Areas (Preservation and Enhancement) Regulations, § 5.
16. Fisheries Act, § 8.
17. The Fisheries Management Bill, 2020, http://www.ttparliament.org/legislations/b2020h09.pdf.
18. Session of the 11th Parliament, The Fisheries Management Bill, 2020, http://www.ttparliament.org/publications.php?mid=28&id=890.
19. The Intitute of Marine Affairs (IMA) was established by Act of Parliament (Chap. 37:01 of the Revised Laws of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, as amended by Act No. 13 of 1990).
20. Additional information is available at https://www.ima.gov.tt/history/.
21. The Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) in the Wider Caribbean Region, Annex II; The text of the protocol is available at http://www.car-spaw-rac.org/IMG/pdf/spaw-protocol-en.pdf.
22. Marine Areas (Preservation and Enhancement) Act, § 3(1)(d).
23. Fisheries Act of 1916 (Cap. 67:51, Last amended 2014) § 7(c).
24. Procedural rules for the enforcement of regulations that address marine life conservation are notable absent from EMA Act and Fisheries Act. A number of authorities have overlapping authority for patrolling marine areas, including the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard, the Fisheries Monitoring, Surveillance and Enforcement Unit (FMSEU), the Fisheries Division, the Marine Resources and Fisheries Department (THA), and others.
25. Fisheries Act, § 9.
26. Archipelagic Waters and Exclusive Economic Zone Act, 1986 (Cap. 51:06),
27. Marine Areas (Preservation and Enhancement) Act, § 6(2).
28. Fisheries Act, §§ 6 and 8; A 2013 report noted that previous interviews with government staff from a number of departments indicated weak enforcement due to financial, human, administrative and technical capacity constraints. (See Kahlil Hassanali (December 2013), Examining the Ocean and Coastal Governance Framework in Trinidad and Tobago: Transitioning Towards Integrated Coastal Zone Management, The United Nations-Nippon Foundation of Japan Fellowship Programme, 22, 31, 35. Available at https://www.un.org/Depts/los/nippon/unnff_programme_home/fellows_pages/fellows_papers/Hassanali_1314_T&T.pdf.)
29. EMA Act, § 70(2).
30. The Certificate of Environmental Clearance (Designated Activities) Order provides a list of activities for which a proponent must undertake an EIA study; The Certificate of Environmental Clearance Rules (2001 and later amendments) were enacted pursuant to the Act to provide guidance for the EIA process.
31. The EMA is responsible for providing public notice concerning proposed projects. Members of the public may submit comments to the EMA and attend public hearings to voice their opinions and concerns. Following a successful approval process, a CEC is issued, which contains environmental mitigation and management measures, as well as a monitoring plan for ensuring proper implementation and compliance.
32. EMA Act, § 63(1).
33. EMA Act, § 63(1)(a) and (b).
34. EMA Act, § 64.
35. EMA Act, § 65.
36. EMA Act, § 66(1)(a)-(d).
37. EMA Act, § 66(2)(a)-(c).
38. EMA Act, § 66(3)(a).
39. EMA Act, § 66(3)(b).
40. EMA Act, § 68(a)and(b).
41. Water Pollution Rules, § 4(1).
42. Water Pollution Rules, § 8.
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