Yachts Pollute Tobago's Waters
After two years of frustrated appeals to those in authority to control sewage illegally released from moored yachts, the residents of Charlotteville staged a small but effective protest at the end of December.
Effective in terms of the considerable media coverage and increased public awareness of this issue which impacts on all Tobagonians. Effective because it may have been responsible for the mass exodus of yachts from Pirates Bay within days of the protest.
But for how long will the yachts be gone without determined action by the government authorities to enforce law preventing dumping of sewage from boats in nearshore waters? How can the government and local community provide alternatives to this? How can Tobagonians sustainably manage the yachting industry so it provides economic benefits without posing health hazards?
Yachts release sewage
The Charlotteville protest was stimulated by increasing reports from bathers and fishermen of faeces floating in the water and becoming trapped in nets.
In December forty-two yachts were moored in the small area in Pirates Bay, a situation not uncommon during peak seasons of the year. A similar scenario also takes place in other bays around Tobago, notably in the Mount Irvine area. Such a high density of yachts in small bays can have a significant polluting impact on the water.
Some yachts have holding tanks with each having a capacity to store sewage for a few days, after which time the tank must be emptied. The law in T&T mandates that tanks must be emptied in open sea and not nearshore waters, but unfortunately this law is not enforced. Other yachts have no holding tanks and therefore release sewage as the toilets (heads) are used.
Yachts around Tobago seem to frequently release sewage from holding tanks while moored in bays to avoid the hassle of a trip offshore to empty tanks. Several yacht captains admitted just this when interviewed by residents of Charlotteville.
Facilities the answer
One answer to the problem of moored yachts dumping sewage from full holding tanks into nearshore waters is the construction of proper facilities for the collection of this waste. Environment TOBAGO (ET) and the Environment Committee of the Tobago branch of the T&T Hotel & Tourism Association have recommended that a facility to pump and collect sewage waste from yachts be built in Charlotteville. This can be either on shore with a link to the jetty or on a floating barge.
This would also include bathing and toilet facilities for use by those on the yachts, which would then remove the source of the problem, as waste would no longer be accumulating so quickly on the boats.
Yacht captains expressed that they would be willing to pay up to $100 TT per day for use of such facilities, which is the rate charged in one Trinidad facility in Chaguaramas. This facility would employ local persons and so provide direct employment and economic, and well as health, benefits to the village.
Sewage also from land sources
Pollution of Tobago’s waters by human and animal faeces is a widespread problem around Tobago. A study on water quality at some of the popular bathing beaches around the island was started in 1996 by ET. Secondary school students did the field research.
The study found that that levels of coliform bacteria, indicating the presence of sewage, exceeded US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards by several times, and in the cases of some storm drains and river mouths by hundreds of times.
Water pollution rules for T&T were drafted by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) and are now being considered in Cabinet, and when passed will set similar stringent requirements for water quality.
The ET study identified pig farm wastes, improperly constructed or poorly maintained septic systems and pit latrines, and non-functioning commercial treatment plants as some of the possible sources of sewage finding its way into Tobago’s coastal waters. These are also very serious problems that need to be urgently addressed.
Sewage pollution a serious health hazard
Sewage pollution has serious health implications for humans, with faecal coliform bacteria being indicators of the possible presence of other organisms causing diseases such as typhoid and skin, gastric, and ear/nose/throat infections.
Sewage also represents a high source of nutrients, which can cause algal blooms that smother sedentary marine organisms. Excessive algal growth is damaging corals in reefs around Tobago.
Dirty water hurts tourism
Ironically, the pristine waters that attract tourists to Tobago are being increasingly polluted, in part by the tourism industry itself as is seen in the case of sewage from yachts. The declining quality of our waters will have, and possibly is already having, an impact on tourism.
ET has collaborated with the Tobago branch of the T&T Hotel & Tourism Association to hold a workshop on "Tobago's Water's: A New Life" to look at how water quality impacts on and it affected by the tourism industry in Tobago. This workshop was held on Tuesday 23rd January at Grafton Beach Resort, and was facilitated by Dr Ronald McLean, a visiting environmental management consultant with extensive experience in this field. Issues coming out of this workshop will be reported on in a future ET column. - Nicole Leotaud, Education Coordinator - 22 January 2001