Step carefully on Toco reefs

Zoanthids found on Toco’s coral reefs. Photo by Stanton Belford - STANTON BELFORD
Zoanthids found on Toco’s coral reefs. Photo by Stanton Belford - STANTON BELFORD

Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan announced last week that the planned Toco port would not have a significant impact on the coral reefs of the north-east coast.

The Toco port project is envisioned as a way to improve the movement of cargo between our two islands. The project has been the subject of significant cross-examination, which includes concerns about inadequate road access improvement plans for increased traffic to the proposed port, the social impact on a secluded region of the country and most compellingly, the environmental effect of the project on a largely untouched natural space.

Sinanan was responding to concerns raised about what large-scale marine construction would do to the shoreline of Toco, which is home to the only coral reefs in Trinidad. Nidco has asked ERM, the evaluation company contracted to provide the environmental impact assessment for the project, to review these concerns.

The company’s findings suggest that the reefs do not provide a home to any species which are endangered or vulnerable, and noted that the flow of the current would not have significantly affected the reefs at Salybia Bay or Grand L’Anse. That evaluation of the reefs of Toco may be scientifically correct, but it does not account for the remarkable persistence of the reefs that exist there, an organic growth and likely genetic adaptation to conditions that normally would have extinguished coral growth in these areas.

Because this diversity and biological potential is hidden from casual view and because of its range into deeper waters, the scientific possibilities have not been adequately mapped or investigated. That hasn’t stopped scientists from evaluating what’s readily accessible to divers and has stoked curiosity about what else may remain to be found in the only coral reefs to exist on the island of Trinidad.

We urge both the Ministry of Works and the EMA to measure several times before making any irrevocable cuts that will be the result of this major construction project.

The fate of Tobago's reefs is an instruction in what happens when small interventions by humans are multiplied over time and accelerate damage in ways that are completely unforeseen. In 2012, machinery from a seismic testing device was found dumped on a Tobago reef, damaging sponges and corals. By 2019, the Institute of Marine Affairs had announced a coral bleaching alert, signalling environmental damage to Tobago’s reef system.

Damage to a delicate reef system won't be corrected during the lifetimes of anyone alive today. Reefs repair themselves, even when left alone, on timelines that are counted in decades. Supreme care for this delicate environment is warranted. There is no need for unnecessary haste in planning effective remediation for the Toco project.


"Step carefully on Toco reefs"

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