THE Tobago House of Assembly (THA) is looking into the possibility of a Tobago law to manage its marine space, Chief Secretary and Secretary of Tourism, Culture and Transportation, Ancil Dennis has said. He spoke last week in the budget debate at the Assembly Legislature in Scarborough.
“There is need to bring regulation, ensure that safety standards are maintained, as well as to ensure that law and order is brought so that visitors and locals would not only be safe, but they would also experience an improved product,” he said. A critical part of that has to do with the management of the marine park on the island, he said.
“The Marine Park is a critical space, a very important space not only to the tourism sector, but to the people of Tobago and the people of this country.”
He said his division, in collaboration with the Division of Food Production, Forestry and Fisheries, led by Secretary Hayden Spencer, has begun a process to bring law and order and to regulate the space so that it can be managed sustainably and that all in Tobago can reap the rewards.
The opening date has been postponed to July 6, By that date, he said, every vessel or person who wishes to use the space must have a pass and therefore all vessels will be licensed.
“We are also collaborating with the reef boat owners to ensure that we put a system in place, that would put an end of some of the unwelcome activities in that area.
"We are...preparing to take advantage of the domestic sector, because we understand that it would be the mainstay of the Tobago tourism sector for some time.”
He said covid19 has presented unique opportunities and the assembly can use the period of closure of the Buccoo Marine park to implement a policy that could not have been implemented effectively otherwise.
He said reef boat operators would be well uniformed, boats would be in pristine condition, they would use a sales booth where people would buy tickets, the boats would use a "turn" system and there would be safety and order "not only on the water but even at the entrance to Store Bay.”
Dennis' sentiments were echoed by Assistant Secretary of Tourism, Culture and Transportation Shomari Hector who said that he visited both Store Bay and Pigeon Point "to ensure that the necessary preparatory works are undertaken, even as we are prepared to return to that sense of normalcy."
"I'm saying to the people of Tobago that you would have to lend support to this initiative even as new guidelines are being implemented and instituted, not just for your own well-being but for that of those who would ultimately visit our shores.
"The ad hoc way in which business was done in the past ... the touting that sought to discomfort tourist and locals alike can no longer be facilitated," he said.
In a press release, the Division of Food Production, Forestry and Fisheries said access to the Buccoo Reef Marine Park is still restricted and when it reopens people will need permits to go in.
It said application forms and permit fees along with terms and conditions for access would be available at the Department of Marine Resources and Fisheries at Milshirv Administrative Complex, Shirvan Road.
But it added: “Payment of a permit fee is necessary for access to the park; however, this fee will be waived until December 2020. Thereafter, all vessels wishing to access or transit through the park (are) required to acquire a valid permit." A list of registered boats approved to operate in the park will be published for the benefit of visitors, it said.