The Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust, situated just north of San Fernando, Trinidad, is unique in the western hemisphere in that it’s located within the grounds of the Petrotrin Oil and Gas Company. It’s rather bizarre to pass through security to a refinery complex in order to see birds in their natural habitat, but I guess Petrotrin should be applauded for allowing such a project on their land.
The founder of the Trust, Molly Gaskin, took her inspiration from Slimbridge Wetland Centre in the UK. She wanted to set up something similar in Trinidad and identified a potentially perfect habitat on land owned by Petrotrin. Initial requests to the company for land were turned down. Soon, however, she was supported by a local hunter who worked at the refinery. He realised that wildfowl stocks were diminishing and had an idea to breed the birds. Petrotrin gave them three acres of land in the beginning and the Trust was established in 1966. Today, it manages 75 acres of the company’s land and has an extensive education and conservation programme.
Trinidadians, by tradition, hunt ducks indiscriminately for food. They need to be educated about how to conserve them. Ducks are vital to the local ecology as they eat huge quantities of mosquitoes. If the ducks died out, the consequences for human health could be catastrophic. The Trust runs a comprehensive breeding project. It passes on its knowledge to future generations through school visits and its learning centre.
The Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust is supported financially by the Canadian and British governments, as well as by Shell. Petrotrin don’t contribute cash, but they help in practical ways. At the time of our visit, refinery workers were pumping out silt which had built up in the lakes.
The Trust’s attractively landscaped grounds surround two lakes filled with lotus and water lilies and bordered by wooden walkways. It is an oasis of calm in an industrial setting and is a lovely place to spend a couple of hours. The entrance fee is nominal.
Many rare bird species can be seen here, including the Wild Muscovy Duck, the Red-Billed Whistling Duck, the White-Cheeked Pintail, and the Red-Capped Cardinal. Some of the rarer birds, including Scarlet Ibis, are housed within aviaries to allow breeding programmes to continue, but the place feels nothing like a zoo. In fact, the programme is held up as a shining example to other such projects. The Trust is proud of the fact that the majority of released birds choose to stay on site, or at least maintain their links with the Trust’s area by returning each season with their young. As a consequence, Pointe-a-Pierre offers the only opportunity in Trinidad to see wild Scarlet Ibis up close.
Facts and figures from Pointe-a-Pierre’s breeding programme
- Black-Bellied Whistling Tree Duck (Dendrocygna Autumnalis) – 1597 bred and released
- White-Cheeked Pintail (Anas Bahamensis) – 142 bred and released
- White-Faced Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna Viduata) – 62 bred and released
- Wild Muscovy Duck (Cairini Moschata) – 8710 bred and released
- Fulvous Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna Bicolor) – 695 bred and released
- Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus Ruber) – 114 bred, 78 released
- Blue and Gold Macaw (Ara Ararauna) – 36 bred
Pointe-a-Pierre’s ongoing projects
As well as its bird conservation programme, the Trust is key to the promotion of, and education about, all environmental issues affecting Trinidad and Tobago. It’s other projects include:
- Aquatic sampling.
- Educating school teachers and children about the Amerindian history of Trinidad and Tobago.
- Publishing books, leaflets and posters on a range of environmental issues.
- Teaching about wetland ecosystems, from forests to coral reefs, and their links to people.
- Running a volunteer programme to help with the monitoring, observing and researching of nesting turtles.
- Forming partnerships with other organisations, both within Trinidad and Tobago and overseas, to promote good environmental practice.
- Cleaning up the beaches of Trinidad and Tobago with the help of local Scouts and Guides.
- Launching a special programme for pre-schoolers with the concept of ‘touch, feel, smell, see and taste’ to awaken wonder about the environment in small children.
- Designing environmental education programmes for the physically and mentally impaired, the elderly, victims of substance abuse, and battered women.
- Producing a range of wildlife T-shirts which are sold to raise funds.
- Creating the first educational graphics on climate change in Trinidad and Tobago.
- Focusing on women in the belief that they have a tremendous capacity and opportunity to influence the men and children in their lives – at home, at school, and at work.
- Forging links with religious and spiritual leaders to encourage them, through their teachings, to influence their followers to be environmentally responsible.
- Serving as the environmental NGO on the Trinidad and Tobago delegation to the UN Conference of Small Island States.
- Accessing international funding to upgrade and increase the implementation of the Trust’s proven programmes.
- Planting trees.
- Hosting world leaders and foreign dignitaries in order to spread the word about the Trust’s work.
This is just a representation of the work of the Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust. Long may it continue!