Government takes immediate action to curb dumping of oil waste along coastlines
During the Tuesday January 30th, 2018 sitting of the Senate, Senator Wade Mark posed the question of the steps taken by the Government to curb the illegal dumping of oil waste along our coastline to the Honourable Camille Robinson-Regis, Minister of Planning and Development.
Minister Robinson-Regis’ response is provided below to assure the public via the media that the following steps are being taken.
The illegal dumping of oil waste along the coastline of Trinidad and Tobago where a number of incidents of this nature have occurred is cause for concern. Whether deliberate or accidental, the impacts of oil or oily waste pollution can have deleterious effects extending beyond damage to the natural environment, adversely impacting economic activity amongst sectors such as fishing, yachting, recreation and tourism. It is in this regard the Government of Trinidad and Tobago through its agencies are working toward the improvement of both response time for incidences as well as preventative and mitigation plans.
In treating with the issue, a proactive, coordinated approach is required whereby multiple entities, including State and non-state actors must work closely together to establish mechanisms to seamlessly execute the required activities related to early detection, emergency response, rehabilitation and punitive action for offending parties when such incidents occur, to minimize accidental spillage of such substances.
In this regard, the Institute of Marine Affairs, an agency under the Ministry of Planning and Development, has already begun implementation of an initiative specifically related to early detection. The IMA, in collaboration with Microsoft, Fujitsu Caribbean, Digicel and the fishing community of Claxton Bay and environs, installed a water quality monitoring buoy about a mile and a half off the coast of the Claxton Bay Fishing Depot at Claxton Bay. The water quality monitoring buoy launched as a proof of concept on October 25, 2017, is an initiative using state-of-the-art technology aimed at addressing marine pollution and other environmental matters in the Gulf of Paria. It is equipped with underwater sensors positioned to provide real-time data and critical insight into levels of pollution and other changes in the marine environment, that can better inform stakeholders about environmental incidents such as previously untraceable oil spills and inexplicable fish kills.
In instances where hydrocarbons are discharged into the marine environment and where a responsible party cannot be immediately identified, the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries has the power to activate its National Oil Spill Contingency Plan and initiate measures for containment, recovery and rehabilitation of affected areas. Given that oil spills in the marine environment are time sensitive in nature with impacts becoming more pervasive when not initially contained, several Ministries and agencies have been collaborating in an effort to provide response time and improve the response time for such occurrences. Discussions have been held with the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries and other parties to the response effort, namely the EMA, the IMA, the ODPM and the Maritime Services Division of the Ministry of Works and Transport, with a view to strengthening and improving the response rate to oil marine spill incidents and improving coordinating efforts, from the initial notification to implementation of the plan.
One factor currently being considered is the establishment of an Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management specifically to streamline all communications related to oil spill incidents, ensuring that timely and accurate information is received and disseminated.
Further to the above, at the onset of notification of incidents from the general public, special interest groups and other state entities, including, but not limited to, the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard, that have an active 24-hour presence in the coastal areas of interest. The EMA initiates its Emergency Response and Investigations Unit immediately following notification.
Another initiative being explored is the use of new technology for monitoring and tracking oil spills. The use of high frequency radar systems locally could provide a real-time tool to improve response time and the overall effectiveness of spill response. These high frequency radar systems measure the speed and direction of ocean surface currents in near real time. This initiative is a costly investment. However, it should be noted that organisations such as the US Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have successfully used high frequency radar systems to provide 24 hour, seven day a week response to oil spills.
As Minister with responsibility for the environment, the Honourable Camille Robinson-Regis is assuring the public that safeguarding the environment is a top priority that should not however only be pursued by Government, but is an exercise in which every citizen has a part to play as environmental pride is tantamount to national pride.