Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Mass animal deaths in 2013


OIL SPILL: Dead fish are pictured in the foreground as oil washes ashore near the Otaheite mangrove last Friday. —Photo: DEXTER PHILIP

Mark Fraser

Until December 17 it seemed that the arrest of three environmental activists would have been the most shocking event in environmental matters in the country in 2013.

But they were upstaged on that day by the first of a series of oil spills.

Oil spilling into the Gulf of Paria from an oil fuel loading site at Petrotrin’s Pointe-a-Pierre jetty engaged the country. The word from the company was that an estimated 7,000 gallons of oil had leaked, launching the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan at the Tier 3 level.

Two days later, Coffee Beach in La Brea was covered in oil. 

To date, other parts of the southern peninsula have reported oil along the coast, including Granville, Brickfield, Otaheite and Claxton Bay.

Up to yesterday, the count had reached 11 spills of varying degrees, some on land and in remote locations.

State company Petrotrin, which is still heading efforts to clean up La Brea and environs, has come under fire from conservationists and has been accused of trying to cover up poor management of its fields.

The company has countered with claims of sabotage, saying its equipment has been tampered with in some instances.

The battle is still raging and may continue to be a hotly debated topic in 2014, as the fishing community demands compensation and La Brea residents call for relocation and jobs to supplement work lost on the oily coast.

Many off the calls for accountability in the oil spills have come from the very activists arrested in November as they protested the carrying out of seismic surveys by Petrotrin and its lease partners.

On November 12, 2013, businessman Gary Aboud, who heads Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS), environmental consultant Cathal Healy-Singh and fisherman Wayne Henry were arrested on the Port of Spain Waterfront as they and dozens of fisher folk and game fishers protested against seismic testing.

They have claimed that years of seismic tests have added to the depletion of fish stock. While little study has been done and conclusive data on the  subject is scarce, the fisherfolk have said that sound booms from the testing destroy small fish and their eggs and cause disorientation in marine mammals and turtles.

Energy companies have responded that their testing does no harm to fish and eggs.

On the day they were arrested Aboud and the others had been warned by police to disband after they attempted to march outside the Parliament building on the Waterfront in Port of Spain. 

Ignoring the warning, they proceeded and police swooped down, handcuffing the three in the midst of a human chain formed to prevent the arrests and dragging them off for the day to Police Headquarters. 

They now face charges in court that include resisting arrest.

The criticism levelled at the State for that incident was a far cry from the kudos it received in September, 2013, when Environment and Water Resources Minister Ganga Singh announced a two-year moratorium on hunting.

While praise poured in from conservationists, bitterness arose among hunters. 

They claimed millions in losses in the sales of wild meat and game hunters cried foul over the loss of their sport.

Singh was unmoved and went on to declare zero tolerance on anyone found to be in possession off wild meat. 

A hefty deterrent was offered—fines were increased from $1,000 to $100,000 and imprisonment terms from three months to 12 months.

Also in September, Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj earned the warmth of conservationists when he announced his intention to ban most types of trawling in local waters.

The ban, which is yet to come into effect, will impose restrictions on trawling during certain periods and also prohibit non-artisanal trawling. In the backlash, some members of the trawling industry said they will suffer losses for which the State will not be able to compensate them.

They say up to 5,000 people will be negatively affected.

Starting in March, the country reeled from a series of  attacks on animals that began with what appeared to be the deliberate poisoning of over a dozen dogs in St Ann’s.

Residents of an area known as “The Spring” were awakened on March 20 to a heartbreaking sight—resident Peterson “Zion” Sanchez, had found a dozen of his pet dogs lying dead or dying on the road outside his home.

Sanchez, who regularly adopts and cares for strays, claimed that he and his beloved pets had been threatened by a man in the area. Two weeks later, another two dogs were dead on the pavement, both showing signs of having been poisoned.

To date, Sanchez, who claimed the same threats were made again two months ago, has been unable to get answers from the authorities on what  happened to his dogs.

The animal kills continued and answers remained scarce up to the end of  2013.

Also in March, a massive fish kill in the Marianne River in Blanchiseusse had conservationists and residents further up in arms when answers were not forthcoming.

Hundreds off dead fish had floated to the surface of the river, an event that authorities later blamed on irresponsible fishers who may have been looking for an easy way to nab crayfish, a delicacy to most.

Again, there was no follow-up in terms of investigations into the chemicals that may have been used to kill or stun the fish. 

The Environmental Management Authority (EMA), then under chief executive Dr Joth Singh, had said the culprits might have used “carbide” in an effort to immobilise their prey. 

The Authority assured the public that there were no lingering effects that would be detrimental to human health, however, conclusive results were not released on the actual cause off the fishkill.

In April, residents and army personnel in Chaguaramas were stunned when hundreds of corbeaux literally fell out of the sky.

The birds were found to be frothing from their beaks, suggesting that they had ingested a poison.

The dead corbeaux were of the black variety, the smallest and most common of Trinidad’s three species and as vultures, are protected by international law. 

To date, no cause of death has been offered by the EMA, which had referred samples of the dead birds to the Mt Hope Veterinary School. The samples were later said to have deteriorated before they could be tested.

Dead birds were not the end of the streak. 

In May, another fishkill occurred in Santa Cruz, where residents reported hundreds of dead “jump and bend” in the La Pastora River. The EMA later ruled out poisoning and attributed the off-coloured river water to heavy silting from a nearby construction site. The EMA later stated that the offender had been made to comply with the necessary rules.

The EMA itself later underwent a shake-up, with the resignation of Singh, who gave his reason for leaving as “the need to move on”. 

Singh was replaced by Dr Allan Bachan, who functions as CEO today.

While the year was riddled with environmental incidents that could be easily observed, long-term environmental issues again this year resulted in severe flooding in some vulnerable parts of Trinidad.

In West Trinidad, Diego Martin—which experienced severe flooding in 2012—was again under water in September, as was Petit Valley.

So severe was the flooding that the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) was forced to evacuate up to nine homes, including a home for the elderly.

The blame again fell on the State and Minister Singh shot  back at citizens who break the law by stripping the  hillsides to build and by clogging waterways with garbage.

Other areas saw heavy flooding. 

In Central, the plains went under and farmers wept. 

They were later compensated in the tens off thousands of dollars.