Trinidad and Tobago achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1962 and obtained membership in the Commonwealth and the United Nations that same year. It became a republic in 1976. The capital of Trinidad and Tobago is Port of Spain, located on the northwestern coast of Trinidad.
The island of Tobago is physiographically an extension of the Venezuelan coastal range and the Northern Range of Trinidad. Its dominant feature is the Main Ridge, which runs from northeast to southwest, rising to heights of about 1,800 feet (550 metres). The ridge slopes more gently to the southwest onto a coral plain. The coral formation has given rise to a number of reefs, one of which, Buccoo Coral Reef, is known for its marine life and is popular for scuba diving and snorkeling. Over the years, the reef and its marine life have suffered serious damage from pollution and tourist activity. Tobago has only a few short streams.
There is a main dry season from January to May and a lesser dry season (Petite Carême, or Indian Summer) in September and October. The prevailing winds are the northeast trades. The islands are outside the main hurricane zone, but Tobago occasionally is struck by disastrous hurricanes (e.g., in 1847 and 1963).
Plant and animal life
Vegetation zones are well defined on both islands. In general, the highest areas coincide with the most luxuriant tropical rainforest vegetation. Cultivated estates or small settlements are established in clearings on the hills. In the dry season the hills are dotted with the orange flowers of the mountain immortelle, a large flowering tree that grows to a height of about 80 feet (25 metres), and the flowers of the pink poui and yellow poui trees. Sugarcane, the main agricultural crop, is grown on Trinidad’s Central Plain.
The Caroni Swamp, a bird sanctuary, is frequented by flocks of white flamingos and egrets as well as populations of scarlet ibis—a national bird. Despite its protected status, the sanctuary’s bird population, including that of the scarlet ibis, has declined markedly since the 1970s, the result of illegal hunting and of pollution. The Nariva Swamp, which has a varied bird and mammal population including the manatee, has similarly come under threat despite its protected status, especially from illegal rice farms. The greater bird of paradise was introduced to the island of Little Tobago, a bird sanctuary, but had disappeared by the early 21st century. There are many endangered leatherback sea turtle nesting sites on the islands, the most notable of which is perhaps Matura Beach, on Trinidad.
The forests on both Trinidad and Tobago are hunting grounds for small game, the most-sought-after being the paca, or lappe. Other animals include the agouti (a short-haired, short-eared, rabbitlike rodent), quenck (collared peccary; a wild hog), tattoo (an armadillo), prehensile-tailed porcupine, and iguana. Four main groups of reptiles are present on the islands: snakes, lizards, turtles, and crocodiles (one kind, the caiman, related to the alligators). Trinidad’s other indigenous animals include howler monkeys and ocelots, but the latter have disappeared from the wild and the former are rare. In general, the island’s fauna has come under severe stress from rapid urbanization and industrial development.