An oily sheen reflected a rainbow of colours on the murky waters of the Caroni Bird Sanctuary on Friday as investigators patrolled tributaries.
They were trying to determine the extent of the contamination from a spill in the sanctuary's carpark, alongside the Uriah Butler Highway.
Work crews were on site mopping up remnants of the oily substance, yet to be identified, from along the carpark drain and in the water, using absorbent pads. Three containment booms put in place on Thursday were still lying across drain number nine, snagged into place by mangrove roots.
The Caroni Bird Sanctuary is one of the main tourist attractions in the country for eco-tourism and boat tour operators transport scores of nature enthusiasts on both breakfast and sunset adventures in the swamp, where they can witness the scarlet ibis, flamingoes and other birds in their natural habitat.
EMA incident commander Steve Lalbeharry is leading the team, which includes staff of the Forestry Division, the Institute of Marine Affairs and other agencies.
In an interview at the visitors' site at the sanctuary on Friday, Lalbeharry said after several teams had inspected tributaries on Friday to the mouth of the Caroni River and the Gulf of Paria, it had been determined that the booms prevented most of the oily substance from getting into the protected wetlands.
He said the remaining sheen will dissipate naturally without the need for chemicals, and the river was still teeming with life, as fish were seen jumping in the canals.
Lalbeharry said while there were some dead fish, he was unable to say how many were spotted or what killed them. He called on the public to assist the agencies in determining how the oily substance got into the drain and has asked for footage from nearby national security CCTV cameras to help the investigations.
He said efforts to contain the hazardous liquid had been mostly successful in protecting the environment, but urged the public not to use any open flames near the sanctuary until the all-clear is given.
Three officers of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management were on site on Friday to deliver jumbo garbage bags and industrial gloves for workers to remove contaminated grass and other debris.
Lalbeharry said he was looking at all possible sources of the pollution and warned that if the investigation points to anyone culpable, the Environment Management Authority Act stipulates hefty fines.
Chaguanas West MP Dinesh Rambally was also there for a first-hand update on the extent of the damage and was happy to hear that the spill had not caused major damage to the protected sanctuary – home of one of Trinidad and Tobago's national birds, the scarlet ibis.
On Thursday night, until 11 pm Lalbeharry led the clean-up crew, who used a vacuum to suck the contaminant from the drain and gathered grass and other debris.
Lalbeharry said samples had been taken for analysis and could not say how the substance got there. He said while the substance had a "distinct, pungent, odour," he was reluctant to describe it as a hydrocarbon pending analysis. On Friday he said the EMA intended to investigate further.
In a statement on Friday, the EMA said around 5 pm on Thursday it received a report from the Forestry Division of a spill of oily material in the Caroni swamp and began a clean-up at 6.30 pm. An estimated three barrels of the substance was recovered by the vacuum truck.
"Absorbent booms, drone survey and initial assessment of the drainage of the potential source were conducted. A sample was taken by the Forestry Division, and this will be handed over to the IMA, however, no source has been identified," the statement said.
This story has been updated to include additional details. Read original below:
The Environmental Management Authority (EMA) will continue cleaning what appears to be a hydrocarbon by-product reportedly dumped into a drain at the Caroni Bird Sanctuary carpark on Thursday. It seeped into the protected wetland – home of one of Trinidad and Tobago's national birds, the scarlet ibis.
On Thursday night, workmen under the supervision of the EMA were suctioning black liquid, which gave off a nauseating scent resembling fuel, from a concrete drain in the carpark.
EMA incident commander Steve Lalbeharry could not identify the substance or how much had been spilled.
He said booms had been deployed in the swamp to prevent further damage to the environment.
The Caroni Bird Sanctuary is one of the main tourist attractions in the country for eco-tourism, and boat-tour operators transport scores of nature enthusiasts on both breakfast and sunset adventures in the swamp where they can witness the scarlet ibis, flamingoes and other birds in their natural habitat.
Lalbeharry said the EMA and other authorities began receiving reports of the incident around noon on Thursday and through a co-ordinated approach involving the Forestry Division, Heritage Petroleum, the Institute of Marine Affairs and other agencies.
He said samples had been taken for analysis and could not say how the yet-to-be-identified substance got there. Lalbeharry said on Friday the EMA intended to investigate further.
Avacuum truck had been called in to suction the substance in the drain, he said, and workers were seen removing grass and other debris to allow for a smoother operation on Thursday night.
He said while the substance had a "distinct, pungent, odour," he was reluctant to describe it as a hydrocarbon pending analysis.
Chaguanas West MP Dinesh Rambally came to help and expressed concern about the potential impact on the wildlife of the swamp.