What is IYOR?

IYOR is a global effort initiated by the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) to raise awareness and understanding of the value of and the threats to coral reefs, so as to increase the effectiveness of conservation, research and management efforts worldwide. In recent decades more frequent, severe and widespread coral bleaching have devastated much of the world’s coral reefs. However, these are underwater ecosystems “out of sight” and as such often overlooked and undervalued.

But, for IYOR2018, countries all over the world are bringing together state, private and NGO conservation groups to organize activities and events that raise awareness of the value of coral reefs and their threats.

2018 is the 3rd International Year of the Reef (IYOR2018), the previous two were celebrated in 1997 and 2008. Global warming is now considered to be the greatest threat to coral reefs and by extensions the hundreds of millions of people that rely on them around the world.

Find out more about IYOR and how you can join the initiative at www.icriforum.org/about-icri/iyor and https://www.iyor2018.org/

What is IYOR TT

In Trinidad and Tobago, IYOR celebrations are being arranged and coordinated as a partnership of various state and conservation groups with a core team led by SpeSeas, Wild Tobago, UWI, IMA and TTFNC.


What does IYORTT have lined up for IYOR?

Planned are a series of activities that showcase the biodiversity and value of coral reefs, as well as the threats they face. Anyone can participate in these activities, including those that would want to remain dry and persons with special needs. The activities include coastal cleanups, underwater clean-ups, coral reef art and photo competitions, intertidal visits to nearshore reefs, Marine BioBlitz, screenings with talk back opportunities with local experts and much more.

Follows us on Facebook and Twitter @IYORTT for regular updates.


Chasing Coral Screening Events

World Environment Day
5th June 2018
UWI, Engineering Block 1, Room 101
5:30-8:30 pm
Open to the public
The Latin American and Caribbean Congress for Conservation Biology (LACCCB)
25th July 2018
UWI, St. Augustine
11:00 am – 1:00 pm
This is a closed screening for attendees of the LACCCB Conference.
Premiere Screening in Tobago
Date, time and venue TBD
This screening is being organized by our IYORTT partner, the Buccoo Reef Trust.
ERIC Charlotteville, Tobago
Date and Time TBD
Movie Towne POS and Tobago
24th -28th Oct 2018
One week of screenings for school children and the public.
Official LaunchWorld Oceans Day
June 8th2018
Medulla Art Gallery
Tobago Launch
June 22th 2018These are closed events – by invite only
Sea Sun and Science9th – 20th July 2018
6th – 17th August 2018
Venue: Buccoo Reef Trust, Tobago
Intertidal Watch16th June, 17th July, 17th August 2018
Marine Trash Monitoring17th September 2018.
Art CompetitionDetails to come. Follow us on Facebook and twitter to to receive regular updates
Photo CompetitionDetails to come. Follow us on Facebook and twitter to receive regular updates

BioBlitz Trinidad and Tobago

17th -18th November 2018

Why do these habitats need to be conserved?

Simply put, they are in danger.

Coral reefs are now one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet as a result of both climate change and local human-induced pressures, such as coastal development, land-based sources of pollution and over-fishing. Ocean warming caused Tobago’s reefs to suffer severe bleaching and mass mortality in 1998, 2005 and 2010. Fortunately we were spared the consequences of one of the longest ocean warming events in recent decades. However, our reefs have not recovered from the effects of the previous three mass bleaching events in 1998, 2005 and 2010.

Incorals depend on symbiotic algae, called zooxanthellae, for energy. Bleaching occurs when abnormally high sea temperatures cause coral to expel the algae, turning the coral white and depriving it of a key source of nutrition.

Tobago experienced severe bleaching in 2010, with bleaching starting in June and ending in October. In 2005, bleaching started in June and ended in September. In 2016, for the wider Caribbean and parts of the Pacific, several episodes of mass coral bleaching occurred between 2014 and 2016.

Coral reefs are important sources of economic development for Trinidad and Tobago, providing jobs in the tourism industry, food from fisheries and coastal stability and protection from offshore waves and storm surge.

We would like to hear from you. Share your hopes for our reefs and shores by leaving a comment below.

IYORTT 2018 Launch

Willing to pay for living coral reefs?

Professor John Agard, tropical island ecologist, delivered the feature address. Photo Credit: Joseph Cazabon

Professor John Agard, tropical island ecologist and IPCC author on Small Island States, shared the information that TT visitors to reefs are willing to pay a premium to visit protected living coral reefs.This came as part of his feature presentation to the launch of the International Year of the Reef TT chapter on World Oceans Day, June 8. In his address, Professor Agard referred to a surprising discovery in Dr Jahson Alemu I’s recent PhD study: “…he discovered that by linking ecosystem services to the economy, we were able to demonstrate a preference of recreational users for improved coral reef management expressed as willingness-to-pay. The mean willingness-to-pay for improved coral reef ecosystem management by Trinidad and Tobago residents (USD $72) is greater than international visitors (USD $61). … This then is the justification for marine park fees from which the revenues can be used to fund environmental protection. Do you know that there are no Park Rangers patrolling reefs in Tobago? Not even Buccoo Reef!”

In Trinidad and Tobago, a core group of scientists and organisations acting voluntarily under the banner International Year of the Reef – T&T (IYORTT), formed a coalition in support of coral reefs. Their broad objectives include: to increase awareness; to engage with partners – especially the corporate sector, government, academia and civil society organisations – towards consciousness; and to foster conservation and management strategies and sustainable use of coral reefs around the islands. As the mean ocean temperature rises with climate change, there have been mass coral bleaching events (the living organisms die off or migrate leaving white skeletal forms) around the world; three in all have caused the ocean scientists alarm. Their organisation, the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), has declared three International Years of the Reef, to mark these crises, 1997, 2008 and this year 2018.

Photo Credit: Ryan Mannette

The aim is for Trinidad and Tobago to be accepted as a member of ICRI; by requesting membership (through the office of the relevant Minister of Government) and demonstrating commitment to the goals of awareness, collaboration and conservation. It is an ambitious plan by a core group of scientists hoping to ignite the interest and enthusiasm of a population that does not yet understand the relationship or the value of the marine environment to the people.

Dr Ahmad Khan, Director of IMA, spoke about his experience of Tobago reefs 30 years ago. Photo Credit: Joseph Cazabon

Dr Ahmad Khan, Director of the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) reflected on changes in the reefs of Tobago:  “I was fortunate to dive Tobago’s reefs when they were first mapped by the IMA in the 1980s. I also had the privilege to visit the coral reefs in the Andaman and Nicobar islands in the Indian Ocean in 1989. The reefs of Tobago in the 1980s were comparable to the pristine reefs in the Indian Ocean and to other reefs I visited in other areas of the Caribbean. What set Tobago’s reefs apart from those in the rest of the Caribbean has always been the diversity of coralline species and the fish and shellfish they support. Tobago’s reefs in the 1980s were always amazing to visit …  (Today) life on the coral reefs of Tobago no longer look any different to the reefs stretching from Barbados to St Maarten.”

Cocobel Chocolates contributed an unusual and fun part of the evening. The Cocobel Coral Reef Collection, edible sculptures in dark and white chocolate were auctioned for awareness and fund-raising. What do coral reefs and chocolate have in common? They are both endangered by climate change. As temperature and soil conditions change in the tropical and sub-tropical regions, Theobroma cacao (native to tropical regions of the Americas) may be better suited to other regions.

Later, coral reef ecologist Jahson Alemu I coordinated viewing of coral reefs using the VR goggles. He had recruited a band of volunteers who showed guests how to mount the goggles over smartphones loaded with views of coral reefs in different oceans around the world.

cocobel corals
When the corals are gone and the reefs have crumbled, where will the fishies hide? The Cocobel Coral Reef Collection is crafted of finest Trinitario dark and white chocolate. These pieces of edible art were created by Raphaela de Silva from Cocobel. Photo Credit: Joseph Cazabon

The story would not be complete without paying tribute to the collaborative, supportive and cohesive effort of the group which planned and executed the launch; and which will continue to make inroads among the corporate, community and commercial sectors. Among the organizers and contributors are SpeSeas, Wild Tobago, Institute of Marine Affairs, The UWI, UTT, Buccoo Reef Trust, T&T Field Naturalists’ Club, Atlantic LNG Company of T&T and Excellent Stores.

There are hundreds of ways that individuals and organizations can contribute to this initiative, and IYORTT hopes that the experiences shared on World Oceans Day are the beginning of greater appreciation for coral reefs.

World Environment Day Screening

On World Environment Day, 5th June 2018, IYORTT hosted its 1st Screening of the Netflix Documentary Chasing Coral at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. The event was well attended.

Members of the public arriving at the Screening of Chasing Corals for World Environment Day. 

The “talk back” session that followed was led by SpeSeas’ own Dr. Jahson Alemu I, Coral Reef Ecologist and Dr. Ahmad Khan, recently appointed Director of the Institute of Marine Affairs. Dr. Alemu I and Dr. Khan were able to address many of the questions and issues raised by the very interactive and curious audience. Questions ranged from the resilience of coral to climate change to management for change. But, the main messages were:

  • Trinidad and Tobago has unique coral reef biodiversity which we should conserve
  • Our coral reefs are being severely impacted by local stressors such as siltation arising from coastal development and nutrient loading, but the greatest impact to coral reefs these days is climate change.
  • Science can be used to improve the resilience of coral reefs but ultimately behavioural change is required
  • The need to translate science into policy and management
  • Citizens have an active and important role to play in reducing their carbon footprint
  • The IMA continues to lead the state’s efforts to conserve coral reefs
  • There is a need for greater public education and outreach, not only for schools but for the older generation.
  • There is a need to find innovative strategies to engage the public.
Dr. Khan and Dr. Alemu I leading the discussions at the “talk back” session.

Some of this discussion was streamed online via the IYORTT Facebook Page (click here to view).

IYORTT thanks everyone who contributed to making this event a success. A special thanks to our volunteers on that day.

WhatsApp Image 2018-06-11 at 7.54.14 PM.jpeg
Some members of the IYORTT team and volunteers after the screening.

Have a look at some of the photos from the event.

IYORTT – Vacation Camp Activities

The main hope of a nation lies in the proper education of its youth – Erasmus

Read about how we’ve been working with kids over the July/August school vacation (links below) to teach them about coral reefs through arts and craft, snorkeling, video, field trips and talk back sessions. Remember to check the here for updates, but also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


Here are some pics from these activities:

Buccoo Reef Trust’s Sea Sun and Science Vacation Program

Radical Sport’s Watersports Camp

Aunty Jamie’s Art Camp

Corals on the edge of existence

What better place to learn about coral reefs than on a coral reef. On Saturday, June 16th 2018, IYORTT took a group of 37 youths to the intertidal reefs at Salybia Bay, Toco –  yes, coral reefs are found in Trinidad.  Our group which comprised youths from the St. Jude’s Home for Girls, Marian House, Life Centre and the 6th Trinidad Sea Scouts were surprised at what they saw. The reef at Salybia Bay is a diverse fringing reef existing in less than ideal conditions and is very different from what we are accustomed to in our sister isle of Tobago.

Exposed reef flats.

At low spring tides the reef flat is exposed allowing for easy access by foot. On this occasion, this accessibility allowed us to use this system as a beautiful outdoor classroom to learn about reef ecology and biodiversity.

For many, this was either their first visit to any reef, or their first visit to this type of reef. They were not disappointed. The Salybia reef is a finger coral ( the scientific name is Porites porites) reef that is home to many interesting plants and animals that make up the coral reef ecosystem. These include soft corals, hard corals, hermit crabs, marine algae, sea cucumbers, brittle stars, eels, sea urchins, rays, turtles, lobsters, octopus, fishes and conch (see pics below). Whilst the role of these reefs in shoreline protection, fisheries and recreation was evident, the highlight was the biodiversity it supports. Our participants were enthralled and very receptive of the knowledge we had to share about this reef and its inhabitants. Many had the makings of the next generation of marine scientists with keen questions and sharp observations, in some cases spotting well camouflaged creatures before we did.

Members of the group in search of organisms in a tidal pool.

Salybia reef gives us an opportunity to understand how coral reefs are likely to be affected by climate change. Because they are so shallow and exposed to the heat and sun at low tide, they exist in a wide range of temperatures that would otherwise kill most corals. Additionally, the warm turbid waters and impacts of nearby coastal development exacerbate this stressful environment.

One of the key messages of this programme is – despite the many threats facing our reefs, in order to safeguard their future and the biodiversity they support we need more scientist, communicators and decision makers that value these reefs…our reefs as much as these kids did.

Showing off a slimy sea-cucumber.

IYORTT hopes that everyone learnt something new and now have a greater understanding and appreciation of these valuable ecosystems and the biodiversity they harbor.

Thanks to all our volunteers on the day. Thanks to the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) for assisting with transportation.

Thanks to all our participants, it was a pleasure sharing our knowledge with you. Looking forward to the next trip and to BioBlitz 2018 which is scheduled for Toco this year!

Check out some of the pics from the trip here!

BioBlitz Trinidad and Tobago

BioBlitz is an annual event organized by the UWI Zoological Museum (UWZIM) and the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalist Club (TTFNC). During two-days every year, all the living species of a particular area is recorded through intense biological surveying. This year’s BioBlitz is scheduled for Toco which has marginal fringing reefs along its coastline. IYORTT members will be participating in the event and we would also like to facilitate the participation of several interest groups in activities (snorkelling and diving) related to documenting marine biodiversity in the area.

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