Scientist: Removal of Tobago mangroves could cause flooding
Marine scientist Dr Anjani Ganase said the removal of mangroves for the Tobago Sandals project may lead to severe flooding in parts of southwest Tobago.
Dr Ganase wrote in Wild Tobago that the planned project for two major resorts, consisting of almost 1,000 rooms and producing almost 500,000 gallons of wastewater daily, could destroy the delicate ecosystem of the Buccoo Reef and Bon Accord Lagoon, which are internationally protected by the Ramsar Convention.
According to a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) application submitted to the Environmental Management Association (EMA), the project proposes to convert 17 percent of the land and create artificial wetlands, lakes, boardwalks, equestrian trails, roads and walkways.
Dr Ganase said the removal of mangroves could lead to a rise in flooding which could affect homes in southwest Tobago.
"Excavation and construction incursions in any – even relatively small - area of Bon Accord lagoon will surely destroy the already compromised Buccoo Reef ecosystem."
"In the face of climate change...we must retain the mangrove ecosystem surrounding Bon Accord Lagoon, to safeguard the structure of the coastline and the marine environment including Buccoo Reef."
"Otherwise all of Southwest Tobago and the communities there will be severely impacted by flooding and ocean rise that no “box drain” will alleviate. We have recently had the bitter experience of what happens in a wetland habitat."
Tobago Sandals CEC application
Dr Ganase said the mangrove forest serves not only as a home for over 100 different bird species but is a critical buffer against wave action and crucial in protecting Tobago from the effects of climate change.
The mangroves also serve as a nursery for many marine species, the destruction of which could have serious implications for marine ecosystems.
"Mangroves buffer wave action and encourage settlement of sediment; the root system traps land runoff and pollutants keeping the surrounding waters clear and stabilizing the coastline. The mangrove forest adjacent to Bon Accord Lagoon extends inland and along the shore and any expansion is reflective of their buffering capacity."
"If we remove the mangrove habitat, we lose the Buccoo Reef marine park. And even though this marine park still needs to be more effectively managed, it nevertheless functions in providing habitat to important fish species to grow."
"It still buffers against the wave action and maintains the sheltered Bon Accord lagoon environments. Buccoo reef extends to depths well beyond the surf and it is the living structure that is important for the stability of the area. Yes, we have killed larger sections of the shallow of Buccoo Reef but there is a living reef deeper down."
"We may not see it, but this reef is a habitat to be conserved, and a barrier in climate change. Small-island nations are most at risk to predicted impacts of coastal erosion, saltwater inundation, loss of fisheries stock, habitat loss and economic damages. More than ever we need to educate and empower citizens, to actively protect these mangrove forests," she said.
Dr Ganase said climate change is already affecting Trinidad and Tobago and the situation is urgent.
"Climate change is not a down-the-road priority. It is happening now and we need to act urgently in order to save businesses, communities and the lives and livelihoods of our most vulnerable citizens."
"The best strategy against climate change is to maintain diversity in our natural ecosystem to allow space for species to adapt. We need nature – our forests, our streams, and our wetlands - to adapt because nature is the source of food, income and water."
"If the mega-resort were to be built as declared in the CEC, the construction phase alone will destroy the stability of this ecosystem. The combined impacts of sediment along with the direct removal of part of the habitat will permanently alter the lagoon."
She pointed at Tobago's brand as an eco-destination and the inconsistency with such a commercial mega-resort.
"How do we expect to compete with the tourism industry that is well developed in neighbouring countries by trying to be exactly like everyone else?"
"This venture will fail because the island of Tobago is not like everywhere else."
"Every wet season we are flushed with the run-off from the Orinoco, which has resulted in a unique marine reef system that is like no other in the Caribbean."
"How are we going to protect our citizens and communities without innovation; and indeed by adopting a model that is already outdated?"
Dr Ganase said Tobago's natural assets must be preserved and referred to the National Protected Areas Systems Plan, which proposes protections for some of Tobago's reserves.
"Let us learn to utilize Tobago’s natural assets – the diversity of nature and its people - instead of importing an alien system. Let us learn from where we may have fallen short in the Hilton Tobago/Magdalena."
"There is a global recognition of Buccoo reef as synonymous with Tobago’s identity, yet we stand to lose this icon if we replace it with a franchise that does not even belong to Trinidad and Tobago."
She said Tobago's iconic Buccoo Reef, which draws thousands of visitors annually and generates tens of millions of dollars in revenue, must be protected at all costs.
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