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NORTH Caroni Plains

In this case study:

Section 1
Location & Topography
The North Caroni Plains lie on the floodplain of the Caroni River and comprise an area of about 251 km2.
It is bounded to the north by the Eastern Main Road at the foothills of the Northern range; to the south by the
Caroni River; to the east by the Aripo River; and to the west by the San Juan River. The topography is generally
flat to undulating, rising to 30 to 50 metres above sea level at the foothills of the Northern Range.

North Caroni Plains

!Figure 1: Map showing the boundaries of North Caroni Plains in yellow Source: Land & Surveys Dept. (1946)
Drainage Area & Water
The North Caroni Plains form part of
the Caroni River Basin. [Figure 2]
The Basin is situated in the northwest-
ern section of Trinidad between the
Northern Range and Central Range
and comprises an area of 883.4 km2
equivalent to 22% of the Trinidad’s
land surface.1 The Caroni River is the
major river system within the Caroni
Basin and has a catchment area of
about 600km2. 2 The river drains the
Northern and Central ranges to the
west through the Caroni Swamp and
into the Gulf of Paria. Nathai-Gyan and
Juman (2005) suggests that the major
part of the Caroni River water supply
comes from perennial tributaries of the
Northern and Central Ranges, with the
major contribution from the 12 rivers
that drain from the Northern Range;
the lesser contribution coming from the
six rivers that drain from the Central

All these rivers are grossly

polluted by sewage and industrial Figure 2: River Basins in Trinidad. Source: EMA (1998)
wastes in their lower reaches. 3
The Mausica River receives treated sewage from the of supplying the Point Lisas Industrial Development
Arima Sewage Treatment Plant as well as chemical Project. The capacity of the plant is 60 to 75 million
and other effluents from the Mausica industrial estate. gallons per day (273,000 m3 d-1) and it supplies
In a study of organic chemicals derived from industry approximately 40% of the population of Trinidad
in local watercourses, the water quality of the Mau- west to Port of Spain and south to San Fernando.
sica River has been described as being more similar to
industrial waste water than to potable water supplies The northern tributaries - on their journey to the
yet it is upstream of a major source of drinking water - Caroni River– flow through valleys within which a
Caroni-Arena Water Treatment Plant. 4 number of activities occur. For example, the Arima
River flows through the Arima Valley which is used
The Mausica, Arima, Guanapo and Aripo rivers flow for quarrying, agriculture and settlement. Therefore,
south into the Caroni River upstream of the intake the various land uses that affect the water quality in
of the Caroni-Arena Water Treatment Plant which is these northern tributaries have downstream effects on
located opposite the old Piarco Airport. the Caroni River.
The plant is part of the Caroni-Arena Water Project
established in the early 1980s with the primary intent The quality of raw water abstracted from the Caroni
Nadra Nathia-Gyan and Rahanna A. Juman, “Information Sheet on Ramsar Wetlands (RIS)”, Wetlands
Intenational,, Accessed January 13, 2009.
EMA, “State of the Environment Report”, 1998.
R. A. Moore and F.W. Karasek, “GC/MS identification of organic pollutants in the Caroni River, Trinidad”,
Journal of Environmental and Analytical Chemistry, 17 (1984), 203-221.
River is therefore dubious and treatment focuses on suspended sediments (flocculation with alum, sedimenta-
tion and filtration) and disinfection with chlorine. Water treatment includes use of activated carbon filters for
removal of taste and some pollutants, and must be regenerated regularly to maintain its effectiveness. The plant
was upgraded and expanded in 2000 and bank-side storage was built. 5

In addition to surface water resources, ground water is extensively utilised. Several large gravel aquifers lie
at the base of the Northern Range foothills from eastern Port of Spain to Arima. They include the El Socorro,
Valsayn, St Joseph/Maracas, Tacarigua, Arouca and Arima Gravels. They are recharged by their respective
rivers as they flow over the plain. Together these aquifers supply 40% of total groundwater extracted for use in

Flooding is a natural occurrence on the Caroni Plains during high rainfall events. However, flood events have
been reduced through modification of the river channel and through construction of levees along the river bank.
The latter are visible from the Uriah Butler Highway.

The Andean mountain chain in South America was formed in the middle of the Miocene period. 6
The tectonic forces building the Andean mountain chain were also influencing the northern part of Trinidad.
Trinidad became highly disturbed by the compressional and tangential tectonic movements, leading to the for-
mation of all types of structures including simple anticlinal mountains like our Northern Range.7 At the base of
the Northern Range lies the Caroni Plains on a belt of lowlands stretching across the island from east to west,
and about 5 to 7 miles wide. 8

Underlying the Caroni Basin is the Cedros Formation. The rocks that comprise the Cedros Formation are en-
tirely sedimentary with representatives from the whole sequence between Holocene and lower Cretaceous.9 The
sources of the sedimentary material that comprises the formation are deposits from the Orinoco River System.
The mineral composition of the formation includes loose fine-grained quartz sand; poorly consolidated yellow,
red and brown sands; clay shale; grey blocky clays; soft marl; glauconitic calcareous sandstone; and micaceous
schist and phyllite.10 Generally, the sands are poorly assorted and vary from coarse to fine-grained. Interbed-
ded in the sands are lenses of hard iron cemented sandstones and conglomerates - these conglomerates contain
pebbles of white quartz, chert, and procelainite.11 Fragments of leaves and other carbonaceous matter are pres-
ent in some clays but are not abundant.12

WASA, “Water Distribution and Management”, Water and Sewage Authority,, Accessed July 03, 2009.
Information for this section is drawn from two main
sources: a report produced by Nazeer Ahmad on land
use in the Caroni Basin 13, and a study undertaken by
Kimlin Metvier on the impact of agricultural land use
management practices on the soil organic matter sta-
tus and carbon dioxide dynamics in some Trinidadian
Streams that flow through the Northern Range transport
large volumes of soil and rock material which is de-
posited sequentially according to its mass. The heavier
or coarse fractions that are deposited first along with
material that slumps off the sides of the hills, give rise
to terraces on the foothills of the Range. The soils that
form here are considered immature; they are coarse
textured with layers of generally water-worn gravel,
stones and boulders at varying depths. Pedologically
the soil material is much like the materials found on the
slopes of the hills being rich in quartz and mica. Gener-
ally terrace soils occur in small parcels often with stony
phases, they have low fertility and water storage capac-
ity, shallow profiles and crusting is sometimes evident.
There are two types of terrace soils:
Figure 3: How flooding creates alluvial soils on floodplains
Terrace soils with free internal drainage
These are found on the gentle and moderate slopes forming only 7% of soils in the area. While drainage and
erosion are not a problem, these soils are not very fertile. Two soil types included in this category of soils are
the St. Augustine series and Santa Cruz series.
Terrace soils with impeded internal drainage
Impeded internal drainage causes these soils to be waterlogged during the rainy season. Areas with this soil
type are prone to flooding, for example, areas near the Piarco International Airport. These soils are also not
very fertile. Overall, terrace soils are not suitable for arable cultivation because of a number of soil properties
which include low soil fertility, low water storage capacity or flooding, some susceptibility to drought effects,
and restricted use of machinery because of stony phases. These soils are, however, suitable for construction
purposes because of their low shrink-swell properties.
Alluvial Soils
Deep alluvial soils with restricted internal drainage are also found on the North Caroni Plains between the
Churchill Roosevelt Highway and the Caroni River, and comprise 5% of the soils in the country. Alluvial
material comes from sediments deposited by the river system during flood events. Like many other alluvial
soils, fertility is good and flooding is not a problem; agricultural communities like Bamboo Settlement have
developed in the area.
A.G.A. Sutton, “Report on the general geology of Trinidad to accompany Geological map”, (Trinidad: Government Printing Office, 1955).


Gerald Waring and G.D. Harris, “The Geology of the Island of Trinidad B.W.I. by Gerald Waring with notes on paleontology by G.D. Harris”,

Edward Bennett Mathews (ed.) (Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1926).

Nazeer Ahmad, “Caroni River Basin Study of Agronomist: Land use in the Caroni Basin”, (Trinidad: Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago Water and

Sewage Authority, 1976).

Hans G. Kugler, “Treatise on the Geology of Trinidad Part 4: The Paleocene to Holocene Formations”, H.M. Bolli and M. Knappertsbucsh (eds.)

(Basel, Museum of Natural History, 2000).



Ahmad 1976

Kimlin A. Metvier, “The Impact of Agricultural Land Use Management Practices on the Soil Organic Matter Status and Carbon Dioxide Dynamics in some

Trinidadian Soils”, (M.Phil. Diss. University of the West Indies, 2004).

Section 2
This section describes land use on the North Caroni Plains and focuses on agriculture as a land use. The nature
and type of agriculture is described, and some of the issues affecting agriculture are also highlighted. Note that
only a preliminary introduction to agriculture on the North Caroni Plains is provided and further details and
observations can be gleaned from field visits, aerial photographs or satellite images (from Google Earth, for

Land Use
Like many other areas in Trinidad, the North Caroni Plains have a rich history of development and changing
land use.15 The original land cover was a variety of vegetation types such as seasonal evergreen forest and
small areas of edaphic (soil) climax communities such as marsh forest, and savannas at Aripo, O’Meara,
Mausica and Piarco.16 Land use is now very varied with built-up residential, commercial, industrial and
educational use along the East-West corridor extending from Port of Spain in the west to Arima in the east.

Residential and Educational

Expanding populations in pocket settlements have coalesced along the Old Eastern Main Road to form the
East-West corridor. The Old Eastern Main Road was an Amerindian trail in pre-European times. Some of the
older settlements include San Juan, Petit Bourg, Champ Fleurs, St Joseph, Curepe, St Augustine, Tunapuna, El
Dorado,Tacarigua, Arouca and Arima. Many large residential developments have recently arisen some on prime
agricultural land, such as Valsayn, Trincity and Tacarigua while further east, Oropune, Maloney, La Horquetta
and Santa Rosa are located on less suitable agricultural land. The demand for housing along the East-West cor-
ridor has been rising. In 2002 the demand for housing units was about 30,000, accounting for about 25% of the
national demand.17
Within any one settlement a number of activities may occur. For example, in St. Augustine there is residential
settlement, some small-scale commercial activity and a number of educational institutions. The Golden Grove
Maximum Security Prison is another notable landmark near the Piarco Airport intersection. The University of
the West Indies covers large areas adjacent to the Uriah Butler Highway including the Mt Hope Campus, Field
Station, Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School for Business and the St Augustine Campus. Within the East-West cor-
ridor there are numerous private and public educational facilities at all school levels.

Commerce and Industry

Along the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway, industrial estates supporting a variety of activities are located at
Macoya, Trincity, O’Meara and Tumpuna. The new Central Market facility is also at the Macoya junction.
Ad hoc industrial and commercial development exists along the length of both the Eastern Main Road and
Churchill-Roosevelt Highway at Champs Fleurs (Carib Brewery, Lever Brothers), Nestlé in Valsayn, Aranguez,
Valpark Shopping Centre in Valsayn, Macoya and Trincity Mall in Trincity. Present and projected development
in Trincity include a business district, office park, hotel and convention centre, entertainment and recreational
facilities, retail shopping mall, transportation hub and PGA-standard 18 hole golf course, with lakes, a driving
range and clubhouse.

Sugar cane was the dominant agricultural crop on the Caroni Plains since its introduction to Trinidad in the
1630s by the Dutch. The cash crop was the mainstay of Trinidad and Tobago’s economy until the 1970s and
1980s. At this time sugar cane cultivation on the Plains began to dwindle as more investment was put into the
oil and gas sectors. Subsequently, areas that were previously under sugar cane cultivation like Pasea, Tacarigua,
Trincity, Arouca, Maloney and Orange Grove, were converted to other land uses, including residential, commer-
cial and small-scale agricultural settlements. Some of the more important agricultural settlements on the North
Caroni Plains are described in the table below. 18
A. De Verteuil, “The Great Estates of Trinidad”, (Trinidad: Litho Press, 2000).

P.L. Comeau, “Savannas in Trinidad”, Journal of the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists’ Club 90

(1989/90), 5-8.
CSO, “Compendium of Environmental Statistics

Jeet Ramjattan, Interview by Maurice Rawlins, (Laventille, Feburary 2009).

Table 1: Some agricultural settlements on the North Caroni Plains
Farmers on the North Caroni Plains face numerous problems
1. Land tenancy is a major issue for most farmers as they occupy state lands and have no long-term lease
agreement. This makes it very difficult for them to secure loans from banks and have access to credit.

2. Labour shortages are a major problem because labour is often attracted away from agriculture to the
construction industry, and to government programmes such as the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP)
and Community Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP).

3. Competition for land for housing and commercial activity is one of agriculture’s biggest competitors.
Often farmers sell off their land to residential and commercial real estate agencies because the
returns from selling land are higher - at that time - than the returns from agriculture.
Some prime agricultural land is currently under other land uses.
Table 2: Some areas on prime agricultural land and their land uses

4. Competition from more attractive employment encourages farmers to leave the land to pursue jobs in the
commercial field. Also, farmers are not encouraging their children in a livelihood of agriculture because it is
simply not financially profitable.

5. Pollution of irrigation supply comes from a number of

sources including soakaways, domestic grey water
and factory runoff. This is a serious problem for farmers
because of the dangers of using polluted water, and
because farmers then have to find a new source of clean
water for irrigation.

In 2008, the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Marine Resources of Trinidad and Tobago (MALRTT)
conducted tests on the water quality of the streams used for irrigation in the NCP. The results showed that
E. coli was present in the water, but levels were not high enough to affect human health.19 There are no
regulations for monitoring of water quality by MALRTT. However, an advisory programme called Good
Agricultural Practices (GAP) is run by MALRTT, through which farmers are informed about sustainable
agricultural practices including the dangers of using contaminated inputs like polluted irrigation water.

Sundar Seecharan, Interview by Maurice Rawlins, (Curepe, March 2009).
Suggested activities to help understand issues
An example of how the Five Whys exercise can be used is used is provided below.
For more information on the Five Whys exercise refer to Guidelines for Learning Activities.

Note that this example is oversimplified, and in reality issues tend to have multiple causes. This activity should
be repeated to include a variety of answers for ‘Whys’- this can help students to appreciate the multitude of
complex factors surrounding any one issue.
Ahmad, Nazeer. Caroni River Basin Study Report of Environment Report 1996. Environmental Manage-
Agronomist: Land use in the Caroni Basin. ment Authority of Trinidad and Tobago.
Trinidad: Government of the Republic of Trinidad
and Tobago Water and Sewage Authority, 1976. EMA. 1998. Trinidad and Tobago State of the Envi-
ronment Report 1998. Environmental Management
Alkins-Koo, Mary. 2003-2007. Case Study - Back- Authority of Trinidad and Tobago.
ground. BIOL 2461, Dept. of Life Sciences, Univer-
sity of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Henry, Eli B. 1987. Rainfall climatology/ flood run-
Tobago. off Caroni Watershed Trinidad and Tobago.
Oklahoma Climatological Survey, 1987.
Alkins-Koo, Mary. 2005. Ecological Assessment
and Human Impacts. BIOL 2461, Dept. of Life Sci- Home Construction Ltd. “Residential”. HCL Group
ences, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, of Companies, January 2006
Trinidad and Tobago.
(accessed February 5, 2009).
Alkins-Koo, Mary. 2007. Environmental Evaluation
& Impact Assessment. BIOL 2461, Dept. of Life Home Construction Ltd. “Trincity Millennium
Sciences, University of the West Indies, Vision”. HCL Group of Companies, January 2006
St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago.
html (accessed February 5, 2009).
Anthony, Michael. First in Trinidad. Port of Spain:
Syncreators Ltd., 1985. Kazlez, Alan M. “The Cretaceous Period – 1.”
Bacon, Peter R. 1976. Caroni River Basin Study ceous/Cretaceous.htm (accessed January 20, 2009).
Draft Report of the Marine Ecology and Terrestrial
Ecology. Port of Spain, Trinidad: Government of Kazlez, Alan M. “The Holocene.” Palaeos. http://
Trinidad and Tobago Water and Sewage Authority,
1976. htm (accessed January 20, 2009).

Beard, J.S. 1946. The Natural Vegetation of Kazlez, Alan M. “The Miocene.” Palaeos. http://
Trinidad. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
(accessed January 20, 2009).
Comeau, P.L. 1989/90. Savannas in Trinidad.
Living World (Journal of the Trinidad and Tobago Kazlez, Alan M. “The Pleistocene.” Palaeos. http://
Field Naturalists’ Club) 1989/90: 5-8
cene.htm (accessed January 20, 2009).
Central Statistical Office (CSO). 2007.
First Compendium of Environmental Statistics
Kugler, Hans G. 2000. Treatise on the Geology of
Trinidad and Tobago. Port of Spain.
Trinidad Part 4: The Paleocene to Holocene
Formations. Edited by H.M. Bolli and M. Knap-
De Verteuil, A. 2000. The Great Estates of
pertsbusch. Basel: The Museum of Natural History.
Trinidad. Trinidad: Litho Press.
EMA. 1996. Trinidad and Tobago State of the
Lands & Surveys Dept. 1946. Map of Trinidad. Ramnarine, Indar W. Tilapia Culture in Trinidad
Land and Surveys Dept., Trinidad. and Tobago: An Update. Department of Life
Sciences, The University of the West Indies,
Library of Congress. 1987. Crops. Federal Research St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago, 2000.
Division. Seecharan, Sundar. Interview by Maurice Rawlins.
html (accessed April 25, 2009) Curepe, Trinidad. 13th March, 2009.

Metvier, Kimlin Andrea. The Impact of Agricultural Sutton, A.G.A. Report on the general geology of
Land Use Management Practices on the Soil Trinidad to accompany Geological map.
Organic Matter Status and Carbon Dioxide Dynam- Trinidad: Government Printing Office, 1955.
ics in some Trinidadian Soils. MPhil. Diss.,
University of the West Indies, 2004. The Cropper Foundation (TCF). 2009. Sustainable
Development Terms and Concepts: A Reference for
Moore, R.A. and F.W. Karasek. 1984. GC/MS Teachers and Students. Port of Spain, Trinidad.
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Nathai-Gyan, Nadra and Rahanna A. Juman. 2005. United States Environmental Protection Agency
“Information Sheet on Ramsar Wetlands (RIS)”. (US EPA). 2006. Terms of Environment: Glossary,
Wetlands International. Abbreviations and Acronyms.
reports/ris/6TT003_RIS2005en.pdf OCEPAterms/fterms.html (accessed July 09, 2009).
(accessed January 13, 2009). “What is a formation? – Utah Geological
Neuendorf, Klaus K.E., James P. Mehl, Jr. and Julia Survey.”
A. Jackson. Glossary of Geology. gladformation.htm (accessed January 30, 2009).
Virginia: American Geological Institute, 2005.
Waring, Gerald and G.D. Harris. The Geology of
Northern Range Assessment (NRA). 2005. Report the Island of Trinidad B.W.I. by Gerald Waring with
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and Tobago: People and the Northern Range. State Bennett Mathews. Baltimore: John Hopkins Press,
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Management Authority of Trinidad and Tobago.
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APPENDIX A: Acronyms used in this case study

CEPEP Community Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme

CSO Central Statistical Office

EMA Environmental Management Authority of Trinidad and Tobago

GAP Good Agricultural Practices

MALRTT Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Marine Resources of Trinidad and Tobago

NCP North Caroni Plains

URP Unemployment Relief Programme

WASA Water and Sewage Authority of Trinidad and Tobago

APPENDIX B: Glossary of terms used in this case study

Alluvial Relating to and/or material usually sand and other coarse fragments deposited by flowing water.

Aquifer An underground geological formation or group of formations, containing water.

Catchment The area drained by a river or body of water.


Cretaceous 98 – 65 million years ago

Effluent The discharge of processed liquid from a man-made structure, into a larger body of water.

Flocculation Process by which clumps of solids in water or sewage aggregate through biological or chemical

Floodplain The flat or nearly flat land along a river or stream or in a tidal area that is covered by water
during a flood.

Formation Refers to any specific sedimentary strata or rock unit


Ground All water found beneath the surface of the ground which is not chemically combined with any
water minerals present.

Holocene 12,000 years ago to present

Irrigation Applying water or wastewater to land areas to supply the water and nutrient needs of plants.

Lens (rock) A band of minerals in a rock, distinct from the surrounding composition of the rock
Miocene 23 – 5.33 million years ago

Stony phase Containing sufficient stones to interfere with or prevent tillage. To be classified as stony,
more than 0.1% of the surface of the soil must be covered with stones.

Surface All water naturally open to the atmosphere, including rivers, lakes, streams, and estuaries.

Tributary A river or stream flowing into a larger river or lake.