10 of T&T's biggest environmental issues in 2019
Photo credits L-R, clockwise: Guyananan Red howler courtesy Wikipedia; Solar panels photo by Chelsea on Unsplash; LED bulb photo by Zain Ali on Pexels; Styrofoam photo by Caleb Lucas on Unsplash.
2019 saw tumultuous events in the world of environmental conservation globally, and Trinidad and Tobago was no exception.
As a Small Island Developing State (SID), Trinidad and Tobago is at great risk of damage from the effects of climate change, including storms, sea-level rise, loss of habitat, and damage to food supplies due to temperature changes.
Nevertheless, stakeholders continue to fight for the country’s environmental survival.
Here are 10 environmental issues which made headlines in Trinidad and Tobago in 2019:
1. Styrofoam ban from January 1, 2020
Government announced a ban on the importation of Styrofoam products which was due to take effect by January 1, 2020. The measures were being taken to assist with the switch over to environmentally-friendly packaging.
Finance Minister Colm Imbert said in his October 2019 Budget presentation that local Styrofoam manufacturers will be required to include additives to make their products biodegradable.
Details on the logistics of the planned switch were still vague as to date, the country does not have an industrial composting facility.
2. Increased fines for illegal dumping, illegal fires
Government doubled fines and penalties for littering and illegal dumping in 2019 in an effort to crack down on polluters.
As per the Finance Act 2018, fines under the Litter Act were increased by 100 percent, while fines for illegal fires were also increased from $1,500 to $5,000.
Instead of a $4,000 fine, anyone caught dumping garbage illegally could be fined up to $8,000.
Meanwhile, anyone caught setting outdoor fires without the relevant permit could be fined up to $20,000 from January 2019.
3. Increased poaching fines
Government also increased fines for poaching and other illegal hunting measures in 2019.
Under the Finance Act, 2018, anyone caught hunting during the Close Season (March 1-September 30), hunting in a Game Sanctuary or hunting protected animals could be charged up to $10,000 or imprisoned for up to three months.
Persons caught without the relevant permits on State lands could be fined up to $1,500 and or fined up to $4,000 for failing to obtain a state game license.
Hunters who resist, assault or obstruct a game warden from exercising their duties could also be fined up to $10,000 and/or jailed for up to three months.
Anyone who refuses to state their place of abode before the courts could be fined up to $5,000 or jailed for up to 30 days.
Anyone caught exporting animals without the relevant permits could be fined $10,000 (up from $2,000) or imprisoned for up to six months.
For crimes where no specific fine was specified, persons could be fined up to $5,000 (up from $200).
4. Red Howler to become Environmentally Sensitive Species (ESS)
In February 2019, Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries, Clarence Rambharat, said requests had been made to have the Red Howler Monkey declared an Environmentally Sensitive Species (ESS).
Once approved, anyone tampering with or harming a Red Howler Monkey could be fined up to $100,000 or imprisoned for up to two years.
5. Sandals Tobago project halted
Amid a flurry of debate from citizens and stakeholders, international resort company Sandals announced it would not be going forward with a planned five-star, 900-room resort project near Tobago’s Buccoo Reef.
Despite assurances by the resort that all environmental factors would be taken into consideration for the project’s design, many environmental groups were of the opinion that the project would irreparably damage the Buccoo Reef and nearby Bon Accord Lagoon, both protected wetland sites under the Ramsar Convention.
6. EMA appoints committee for the Aripo Savannas
The Environmental Management Authority (EMA) announced in 2019 that a Management Advisory Committee (MAC) was appointed to assess and monitor the protected Aripo Savannas.
The development was announced following government’s victory at the courts to go ahead with a highway extension project which borders the area, which is an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA).
In 1934 the Long Stretch Forest which contains the Aripo Savannas was proclaimed a Reserve. In 1980 the area was proposed as a Scientific Reserve and in 1987 the Savannas was declared a Prohibited Area under Trinidad & Tobago’s Forests Act.
The EMA said the Aripo Savannas Strict Nature Reserve is the most sensitive of the ESA, which consist of the largest remaining natural savanna ecosystem, with endemic flora and threatened animal species, such as the Ocelot, Scarlet shouldered Parrotlet, White-tailed Golden throat Hummingbird, Red-bellied Macaw, several species of rare orchids, moriche palms, the sundew, etc.
7. Consultations held on proposed Toco Port Facility
In December 2019, public consultations were held on a proposed project for a port facility in Toco.
Environmental groups have raised concerns regarding the port’s location and the possibility of it affecting the migration routes of protected leatherback turtles, which nest along Trinidad’s northern coast.
NIDCO said in May 2019 however that Toco Beach was not considered a turtle nesting site. The company said the nesting site in Toco was identified as Mission Beach which is west of the proposed port and about 500 metres away.
The planned port facility proposes to have parking for at least 150 vehicles, a wastewater treatment plant, site drainage, access roads and a bridge entrance.
Development for the port will include dredging, piling and other marine activities.
8. Capybaras declared vermin, hunting ban on iguanas extended
Some conservationists expressed concern after government amended hunting legislation to include the capybara under a list of animals declared as vermin.
Amendments were also made to hunting regulations for iguanas, limiting the hunting period to October 1 - December 31, 2019.
A ban was also placed on the hunting of waterfowl.
9. Tax removal on LED bulbs, solar heating equipment
Finance Colm Imbert announced in his 2019 budget that all duties and taxes would be removed from LED bulbs, in an effort to help citizens to practice sustainable energy use.
Government also announced a 100 percent tax removal on solar water heating equipment.
10. Piarco Airport to get $TTD 30M solar park
In December 2019, government announced that the Piarco International Airport would be benefitting from a state-of-the-art solar park facility, with the help of grant funding from the European Union.
According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Planning and Development, the EU and government agreed to the installation of a commercial-scale solar panel system.
The Ministry said the €4 million grant-funded project (About TT$30 million) is estimated to begin in the first quarter of 2020, and the implementation will take place over a period of 48 months.
The Ministry said the solar panel system will have an annual generation capacity of 1,443,830 Kilowatt-hours (kWh).