Mega-Resorts for Southwest Tobago
Addressing a symposium organised by the Association of Real Estate Agents in October, 1997, John Humphrey (then acting Prime Minister) announced that four "mega-resorts" are about to be built in south west Tobago.
This scale of tourism development in south west Tobago generates a myriad of concerns both environmental and social. These include contamination of water tables and coastal waters, pollution of breeding grounds in and around lagoons and wetlands, net loss of mangroves, degradation of coral reefs, particularly our flagship Buccoo Reef, public access to beaches, surpassing of the carry capacity of the area, and training of an adequate Tobagonian employment pool. It diverges from the vision expressed in the Tourism Master Plan.
Together, the four resorts described by Mr. Humphrey represent 1000's of rooms and hundreds of condominiums and town houses. Three would include golf courses. Three would be located in areas of mangrove and associated lagoons and reef systems. Consequently, extreme care in planning is required to avoid damaging these fragile and fast disappearing ecosystems.
A vital component of every development planning process should be the preparation of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which evaluates the environmental threats posed by the development and suggests measures to mitigate these effects. One of the four "mega resorts" is currently preparing its third EIA. Another has succeeded in obtaining outline planning approval, with Government assistance, in spite of their preliminary EIA having been declared inadequate by Town and Country Planning, a view supported by a Review Committee of nine independent organisations. One of the four has not yet submitted any EIA.
To ensure that an EIA is effective, guidelines need to be formulated defining the EIA process. These guidelines should detail the requirements and sequencing of the assessment process. Adherence to the guidelines should be monitored by boards composed of relevant experts. The guidelines would be applicable to all developments regardless of size, that have components with environmental impacts. As yet, such guidelines do not exist in Trinidad and Tobago. This leaves the EIA process and its conclusions vulnerable to manipulation.
Balancing the need to protect the environment with the need for economic, social and physical development has become a major issue worldwide. The situation now confronting Tobago is a perfect example of this complex environment/development "balancing act" as it applies to a small developing island. Environment TOBAGO believes that this balance can be achieved by employing the principles of sustainable development. One of these principles is that the people must be involved in the planning process from beginning to end. This requires that the people be fully informed. All proposed development plans and the full EIA process must be made public. The people must be given time to study the proposals and be given a forum to express their views. A one-off afternoon public meeting at short notice does not represent public consultation.
The Government of Trinidad and Tobago is actively pursuing a policy of wetland protection. The Environmental Management Authority (EMA) is busy drafting legislation designed to protect many areas of our threatened environment. It remains unclear, however, whether this legislation will apply to Tobago or whether it will be the responsibility of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) to ensure that our island's environment is protected as we move rapidly into an era of unprecedented physical development.