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Tobago is the smaller, relatively northeasterly island of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, with a surface area of about 316 km2. The Main Ridge is literally the backbone of the island, Gutting lengthways across two thirds of Tobago's surface. It encompasses 3958 hectares (9780 acres) of tropical rainforest specifically lower montane, lowland and xerophytic rainforest - and reaches a height of 604 metres. The majority of the forest reserve is lower montane, and is found at heights above 244 metres. This area receives the greatest amount of rainfall, the greatest exposure to wind and the lowest temperatures, making it an Evergreen Forest. The lowland rainforest is characterized by copious growth and is said to be the most prolific of all forest types, occurring here to a maximum of 366 metres. The xerophytic rainforest is found on the southern slopes of the Forest Reserve at heights above 244 metres, and is the driest compared to the other types.
The Main Ridge Forest Reserve is home to a number of flora and fauna; it is estimated that the rainforest provides habitats for twelve to sixteen species of mammals out of the nearly ninety mammal species in the Caribbean region, twenty-four non-poisonous snakes, sixteen lizards and two hundred and ten species of birds, the most outstanding being the bird species Campylopterus ensipennis - the White-tailed Sabrewing Hummingbird - that is both rare and endemic to Tobago. After the 1963 hurricane Flora, many of the flora and fauna populations dwindled or disappeared. The Sabrewing Hummingbird is one of the species that has been recovering since the incident. The bird was declared an Environmentally Sensitive Species by Trinidad and Tobago's Environment Management Authority in 2005. The ridge is also home to the ocellated gecko, an animal that is not found anywhere else in the world.
The Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve is on record as the oldest legally protected forest reserve geared specifically towards a conservation purpose. It was established on April 13th, 1776 by an ordinance which states in part, that the reserve is "for the purpose of attracting frequent showers of rain upon which the fertility of lands in these climates doth entirely depend." The passage of the ordinance is attributed to Soame Jenyns, a member of the British parliament whose main responsibilities were trade and plantation. He was influenced by the ideas of the English scientist Stephen Hales who was able to show the correlation between trees and rainfall. It took Jenyns eleven years to convince the parliament that this was indeed a valid endeavour. Scientific American has commented "...that the protection of Tobago's forest was the first act in the modern environmental movement". This can be considered a landmark in the history of conservation and preservation of the environment. The living testimony is the survival of the Forest Reserve itself.
A unique feature of about the fauna of Tobago is that although Tobago is an island, the fauna are continental in origin, since Tobago was once joined to the South American continent some one million years ago. Considerable endemism has resulted; for example, 31% of the birds that nest on Tobago are endemics. Support of this unique biodiversity and exceptionally diverse ecosystem is of great value to humanity. In addition, it protects against soil erosion, it encourages rainfall and provides significant carbon sinks.
Historically the Caribbean has not been in the forefront of conservation issues, and this has resulted in the extinction of many species. The Caribbean was originally under 229,549 km2. of tropical rainforest, but this has dropped by 90% to 22,955km2. The website www.biodiversityhotspots.com says this about Caribbean biodiversity: "In general the Caribbean Islands emerge as top priority for the expansion of the global protected areas network." With global rainforest cover disappearing at the rate of 80,000 acres (32,300 ha) per day (according to rainforestsmongabay.com), it becomes more critical for these singular areas of biodiversity to be protected.
The Main Ridge is managed by the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, which falls under the Tobago House of Assembly. Qualified foresters are present to escort visitors to the interior of the Main Ridge. The area receives about 15,000 eco-tourists per annum.
As home to a number of endemic species of flora and fauna, the Main Ridge is a key area for the propagation of unique biodiversity despite its small size relative to most other parks within the region and beyond.
Also, the Main Ridge Forest Reserve was also voted the "World's Leading Eco-Tourism destination" by the World Travel Awards in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006, thereby illustrating that it has intrinsic ecological value that tourists from all over the world seek and that it has enough of a management system in place to foster sustainable development in the global eco-tourism sector.