THE Institute of Marine Affairs has confirmed every beach-goer's worst fear - most popular local beaches are swimming in sewage.
THE IMA, in its “State of the Marine Environment 2016” for Trinidad and Tobago launched Wednesday, disclosed the devastating findings that poor coastal development is laregly responsible for concerning levels of sewage, particularly on the northwest coast.
The report also calls for urgent action by Government to take action to mitigate the negative impacts of pollution and ad hoc coastal development on T&T's marine resources.
Acting deputy director of research at the IMA, Dr Rahanna Juman, in presenting the report at this week's launch said bacteriological water qualities studies conducted since 1981 showed that some of the more popular beaches were sewage contaminated.
The contamination included seepage from pit latrines along the coast, agricultural run-off and improperly constructed septic tanks.
The report states that swimming in polluted water may cause illness, including gastroenteritis, hepatitis, respiratory illnesses and ear, nose and throat problems.
Microbial sicknesses may also ensue, including amoebic dysentry, skin rashes and pink eye.
While most of the possible illnesses are generally not life-threatening, it could be fatal in the elderly, babies and those whose health has been otherwise compromised.
In the northwest, Teteron and Staubles Bays, Chagville and Williams Bay were among those areas found to be contaminated. On the north coast, Maracas Bay and Las Cuevas also tested positive, while Vessigny Beach in south Trinidad was also contaminated.
Thursday's launch was attended by Planning and Development minister Camille Robinson-Regis, who said her ministry had noted that the IMA was facing a number of challenges, including having to operate for some time without a board of directors but that a board was now in place.
Fish safe, erosion a problem
The report also addressed an ongoing controversy in the past year over the safety of fish from local waters including the Gulf of Paria, which one environmental advocacy group has repeadtedly claimed to be contaminated by energy industry pollutants.
The IMA tested for hydrocarbon levels in a numbers of coastal areas in including the Gulf and southern peninsula, where a series of oil spills of varying degrees have occurred since 2013, and said fish caught in these waters was safe to eat.
However, while the hydrocarbons didn't appear to pose a danger to humans, Juman said the fish themselves could be affected, including issues with reproduction as a result of a hydrocarbon presence.
Coastal erosion was also an ongoing issue, particularly on the east coast.
The report warns that climate change in the future and sea level rise could further endager coastal communities, and called for the strengthening of the long term coastal monitoring program.
The IMA also found that local fisheries were under threat and tere was immediate need for intervention to manage this resource, as some species of commercially important fish had been found to be over- or fully-exploited.
The IMA noted that legislation to protect fisheries, which by nature are “virtually open access”, is currently in draft form but should be moved urgently to the stage of passing through Parliament.
The Institute also stated a need for higher awareness among citizens as to the importance of marine resources.
Juman said an action plan has also been provided to Government on the way forward.