A RESEARCH officer of the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) on Thursday issued a warning to the public in relation to sea-bathing at Chaguaramas. According to Sheldon Ramoutar, swimmers should avoid bathing at Welcome Bay throughout the year and at Williams Bay during and after rain. The IMA official called for signage along the coast cautioning bathers, more regular testing, and greater public education.
The State should urgently attend to these matters. There have long been concerns about the water quality at Chaguaramas. A cursory examination of that stretch of coastline reveals high levels of pollution: from rubbish to the dense concentration of vessels that moor there, inevitably disposing of waste.
But the IMA’s findings appear to be the most recent confirmation of the problem. They paint an even more complex and alarming picture of the hazards involved.
“The high bacteria levels toward the western end were likely due to land-based run-off and the westerly flow of currents, which brings debris from all other locations to this area,” said Ramoutar.
In other words, pollutants from densely populated areas of western Trinidad end up at Chaguaramas thanks to run-off.
Some may be tempted to brush aside these findings in pursuit of a dip, nostalgic for the innocence of childhood days when the world was not so complicated, and pollution had not reached the level it has. Sadly, the risks are far from negligible.
“If a toddler or a person with an open wound or a person swallows water while they bathe in waters that are contaminated, they stand a greater chance of getting sick,” Ramoutar said. “I urge the public to avoid poor water-quality areas.”
At the very least, he said, “Try to avoid bathing where there are drains and some rivers flowing into the sea.”
The IMA is a specialist statutory agency falling under the Ministry of Planning. That same ministry has, under successive governments, been charged with the redevelopment of the area. A few years ago, under a previous government, millions were spent on a new boardwalk there.
What attention was paid to water quality? Was a regular scheme of testing in place? Was it wise to implicitly invite people to frolic in waters that were potentially filled with pathogens?
It’s disconcerting to think of the lack of co-ordination between state agencies on this issue. It’s shocking to think this may have also been simply an oversight in the overall development plans for the area.
The history of the Chaguaramas peninsula is one that teaches many lessons about the link between enjoyment of our natural resources and our sovereignty. It’s disappointing that notwithstanding the strategic importance of the area, its potential as a tourism hub, as well as the right of every citizen to enjoyment of our beaches, we have not developed more rigorous water testing standards.