THA sees the (green) light

THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine. - File photo
THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine. - File photo

LAST WEEK, Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Farley Augustine described illegal excavation at Turtle Beach in Courland Bay as the work of a madman. The digging destroyed a nesting site for leatherback turtles in May.

It’s a welcome reversal of the THA’s earlier attitude to the island’s environment.

Soon after taking office, Mr Augustine’s team proceeded to put up a stage in the sea at Rockly Bay which nobody asked for, demonstrated little value and was plagued by inept construction.

The THA’s Secretary of Infrastructure, Trevor James, responded to the concerns of the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) with apparent annoyance, suggesting that hosting the island’s first October carnival in 2022 was his first concern.

Under law, significant coastal works of this sort require a certificate of environmental clearance from the EMA.

The THA would again lock horns with the EMA in June 2023, when a standoff over clearances required for work already under way on the Shirvan/Store Bay Local Connector Road ended up being heard in the High Court, which issued an injunction to block the work.

But Mr Augustine’s change of heart on environmental compliance may have been triggered by February’s oil spill, which shut down beaches on the island after the Gulfstream barge overturned on a reef off the southeast coast of Tobago, spilling more than 50,000 barrels of oil and triggering business shutdowns.

The island received a supplementary allocation of $50 million from the Central Government, which will cover only part of the cost of clean-up and recovery efforts. Food vouchers worth $1,000 were distributed to stakeholders who were directly affected, including fishermen.

To date, no business or individual has been identified as being responsible for the destructive and costly spill.

When it comes to the environment, Mr Augustine’s late-blooming awareness might have been triggered by the sight of miles of Tobago’s beaches covered in an oil slick.

That appalling image might have brought home to the rest of his administration too that conserving the environment isn’t a simple or minor matter, and careless errors can have devastating long-term consequences.

The THA must also pursue what happened at Turtle Beach to determine if it is a case of sand theft. Tobago has occasionally had to respond to illegal mining of its beaches in the past, and the practice is a growing concern in Caribbean countries which don’t have naturally occurring sand mines to provide this critical construction material.

In 2008, 400 metres of a beach at Coral Springs, Jamaica – an estimated 706,000 cubic feet of sand – were stolen overnight.

It deserves a forward-looking and consistent response from the THA, because telling tourists the island can offer only sun and sea just doesn’t have the same ring to it.


"THA sees the (green) light"

More in this section