The entrance to the Asa Wright Nature Centre in Arima.

After decades of operation, activities at the Asa Wright Nature Centre & Lodge have been brought to a halt.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Nature Centre has been closed to visitors for several months and the eco-lodge has ceased operations.

Addressing the issue, the centre’s chair Dr Judith Gobin told Guardian Media that while the not-for-profit trust will remain in existence, continuing to manage the wildlife sanctuary, the eco-lodge business has been permanently closed with the attached staff laid off.

The affected lodge comprised 25 guest rooms but Gobin refrained from commenting on the total number of terminated employees.

Gobin added, “The chair and board members are saddened that it has come to this.”

Located at 1,200 feet in the mountains of the Northern Range, seven miles north of Arima, the centre is a world-class natural history destination for tropical ecology students. It is of particular interest to birdwatchers with over 256 species of birds spotted on the estate.

The centre’s properties will be retained under forest cover in perpetuity to protect the community watershed and provide important wildlife habitat.

In a statement from the Asa Wright Nature Centre, the staff also endeavoured to sustain the ongoing research and conservation projects and provide needed maintenance for the trails and grounds of the centre. Given that the centre has no revenue to support ongoing activities, the centre has now renewed calls for donations through the centre’s website.

The decision has left environmentalists and nature seekers distraught, with many taking to social media to express their displeasure.

One of them was Edward Rooks, who, noting he had gotten word of the impending closure, wrote, “This is unbelievable that such an international treasure and a beacon for conservation in the Caribbean will be lost. This pandemic has claimed a terrible loss for Trinidad and Tobago. What will happen to the protected property? Trinidad needs more nature preserves and parks, not less.”

About the centre

The Asa Wright Nature Centre (AWNC) is a “not-for-profit” trust established in 1967 by a group of naturalists and birdwatchers. The intended purpose is to “protect part of the Arima Valley in a natural state and create a conservation and study area to protect wildlife and the enjoyment of all.” It was one of the first nature centres to be established in the Caribbean.

The centre was established by a non-profit trust administered by the Bank of Nova Scotia Trust and an international board of management composed of 11 Trinidadians and 10 foreign members.

The centre’s main facilities are located on a former cocoa-coffee-citrus plantation, previously known as the Spring Hill Estate. This estate has now been partly reclaimed by secondary forest, surrounded by impressive rainforest, where some original climax forest on the steeper slopes has a canopy of 100-150 feet.