THOSE who swim, surf, snorkel, dive and walk around Mt Irvine’s Rocky Point and Back Bay will tell you that this rugged, untamed stretch of Caribbean coastline is special, “sacred ground”, way beyond ordinary.
“Beyond Ordinary” is Tobago Tourism Agency’s (TTA) own tagline, luring would-be visitors to the sister isle, promising something much more uplifting and soul-cleansing than another large hotel on a beach.
Visit Tobago “Where unspoilt traditions, untouched natural beauty and undiscovered gems merge to create the idyllic Caribbean escape,” TTA assures.
At their webinar last November it was stated: “Biodiversity is vital for tourism, and is a direct attraction at the heart of unspoilt Tobago’s nature-based tourism products—such as wildlife watching, scuba diving or exploring stunning tropical landscapes.”
The NGO Rocky Point Foundation (RPF) is taking TTA at their word by promoting a Rocky Point Heritage Park and Back Bay Nature Reserve, the antithesis of the Marriott plan.
RPF takes as its starting point the peninsula’s significant Amerindian history, and location of Fort Monk, built in 1680.
The Tobago Heritage Conservation Society (THCS) told the Sunday Express of the importance of the heritage site. The fort has coral stone walls in a horseshoe layout, with earth embankments that housed a battery of six cannons.
There is a two-storey powder magazine incorporating a barrel-vaulted magazine store, with a dressed stone lintel above the door and rifle-holes with brick detailing Amerindian archaeological remains.
In 1986 Dr Arie Boomert, an archaeologist and Senior Research Fellow at UWI, presented an exhaustive report on the archaeology of Tobago.
Boomert wrote, “Rocky Point fort represents the late 17th century Courlander Fort and as such it should form the oldest historical monument in the entire Trinidad and Tobago, and makes the structure highly significant and requiring serious consideration”.
THCS told the Sunday Express the developers’ plans “did not make adequate allowance for preserving the Fort structures in a suitable setting”. They said the site needed “full archaeological recording” and concluded: “Heritage Assets at Rocky Point are ‘highly significant’ and as such should be listed, protected and conserved.”
RPF has applied to the National Trust for the property to be listed, thereby securing statutory protection.
A replica Amerindian Village for Rocky Point is proposed by RPF, with footpaths allowing visitors to walk through the village, immersing themselves in a historic culture which once existed there.
“Visitors will be able to take guided tours of the village with trained and knowledgeable guides,” says their website saverockypoint.com
The Rocky Point Museum would include all Tobago history, Amerindian through settlers and slavery. They plan Archaeological and Settlers tours, with guided walks to the fort.
At Rocky Point Fort they plan to beautify the area, identify and protect the remaining structures while preserving as much of the natural forest as possible, while affording visitors the reward of breathtaking views.
Back Bay Nature Reserve “will offer a myriad of eco-activities and attractions that will highlight the untouched virgin environment that Back Bay offers”. This will include hiking and biking trails, turtle watching and birdwatching.
Faraaz Abdool, a Trinidadian photographer and writer on birds, who leads birding tours in T&T and abroad, told the Sunday Express Rocky Point contained many species found across forested areas on the island. What made it special is that it’s one of the most accessible and reliable locations to see the blue-backed manakin. The endemic manakin is a major birding attraction.
Park activities would be facilitated through a Back Bay Visitor Centre, with trained and knowledgeable staff, says RPF. They also envision a cafe/restaurant in the visitor centre. They are looking for corporate sponsors to help them fulfil their overall vision.
Sea turtle protection NGO SOS Tobago, who with the Forestry Division has monitored Back Bay’s leatherback and hawksbill nesting sites for 20 years, is keen to work with RPF on turtle ecotourism, providing educational tours.
“Part of the value of Back Bay as a nesting beach and research site is that it is relatively easily accessible and yet there are no artificial lights, no built development,” said SOS founder Tanya Clovis. “Maintaining the beach in as natural a state as possible would be key to maintaining its value. We want to see the whole area become a park and conservation site, incorporating and highlighting the rich archaeological, cultural and natural heritage of Rocky Point.”
But it wouldn’t be the first plan for a park there.
In 1998 a $26 million Rocky Point Coastal Park plan was drawn up by Stanley Beard, adviser to the Minister of Tobago Development. The project, essentially similar but more ambitious than RPF’s plan, was given Cabinet approval in 2014. That ministry was closed in 2015 and the project died.
Beard wants RPF’s plan to succeed where his failed. “It will serve both the resident and visitor populations equitably and more sustainably, while protecting, conserving and exploiting the diverse richness of all that this site contributes,” he told the Sunday Express.
“Tobagonians must unite, learn to recognise and appreciate the gifts of nature that abound here in Tobago. Not hurriedly part, trade or give away our God-given patrimony for the proverbial 30 pieces of silver,” he added.
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