Nature & wildlife in Tobago

Conservation is not a new concept in Tobago; the dense forest of the Main Ridge has been protected since 1776 and the island’s sluggish development means that its flora and fauna have been allowed to flourish. There are an unusually high number of species for a Caribbean island, thanks to Tobago’s proximity to the South American mainland, including wild hogs, armadillos, iguanas and the comical agouti – a kind of giant guinea pig.

There are superb naturalist guides on the island, including Peter Cox, a Tobago native. Although he specialises in birding, Peter also has a deep knowledge of plants, as well as leatherback sea turtles. A good guide will help you not only see the many hidden species in the forests – but also understand them and the ecosystems they inhabit, giving a unique glimpse into another world.

Sea turtles

When it comes to wildlife, Tobago’s prefers the sea and air: the big draws here are birding and diving. However, the few creatures that do stray onto land – hauling themselves out of the ocean and onto Tobago’s starlit beaches – are some of the most impressive. The endangered leatherback sea turtle measures 2m in length and weighs a hefty 450kg. These gentle giants of the ocean nest along Tobago’s Caribbean shores, around Courland Bay (known as Turtle Beach), Grafton Beach and Mt Irvine Back Bay from March to September, with nesting peaking in April to June. Hawksbill turtles also nest during this time, as well as the occasional green turtle – although these are more likely to be sighted offshore.

To view nesting turtles in Tobago, you’ll need a permit and a guide; SOS Tobago can recommend responsible guides. Alternatively, visitors with their own transport can, for a small donation, be put on a call out list, and will receive a call when a turtle is sighted during a patrol. Later in the season, hatchlings emerge. Heading towards the lightest point, they scramble down to the sea, where they will remain for many years until they have grown large enough to survive the predators of the coastal areas.

Top responsible tourism tip:

When watching sea turtles nesting, give them plenty of space (especially when digging and covering the nest), wear dark clothing and never use a torch or camera flash. If turtles are disturbed, they may turn back to the sea instead of laying their eggs.

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Trinidad & Tobago nature vacation

Trinidad & Tobago nature vacation

The best of Trinidad & Tobago's widlife and natural scenery

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Main Ridge Forest Reserve

Protected for almost two and a half centuries, the Main Ridge Forest Reserve encompasses the fairytale forest that springs from Tobago’s spine. Lianas and stranglers wind around giant trunks of host trees, leaf cutter ants shred entire plants in days, hummingbirds flit from flower to flower, gleaming in the filtered sunlight. The forest seems a world away from the wide horizons of the Caribbean beaches; it’s cooler, damper, darker, smelling of life and filled with hidden corners. Trapdoor spiders hide in ingenious holes, armadillos snuffle through the fallen leaves, their noses pushing into the damp mud. Scarlet heliconias are draped from branches, and the splashing of a waterfall is distorted by the thick undergrowth.

The reserve is described as virgin rainforest – and though human encroachment has successfully been kept away, it should be mentioned that the vegetation was badly damaged by Hurricane Flora in 1963, although some truly giant trees still, thankfully, stand.

Several trails lead through the forest – and a guide is recommended to help you find your way – and spot the seemingly invisible birds, insects and animals which are in fact surrounding you. The Gilpin Trace is the most commonly used – it leads right through the rainforest, but most tours go only to the small waterfall before turning back. Ted’s Sunshine Tours can arrange guided walks here, using guides from the local area.

Responsible Travel would like to thank Visit Tobago for their sponsorship of this guide.
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: Jeremy Bishop] [Intro: Tobago Tourism Agency] [Sea turtles: Tobago Tourism Agency] [Main Ridge Forest Reserve: Tobago Tourism Agency]