CEC rules ignored at Grande Riviere
In July this year thousands of leatherback turtle eggs and hatchlings were crushed when the Ministry of Works entered the beach with bulldozers to move waterlogged sand from key nesting areas. This is the second in a three-part series by guest columnist Cathal Healy-Singh, an environmental engineer with over twenty years of diverse experience, who continues his examination on where we went wrong.
The credibility of longstanding Grande Riviere eco-hotelier, Piero Guerrini was questioned, as was that of the EMA itself and indeed of the national character of Trinidadians towards endangered species. An investigation of Piero reveals that he has championed the protection of turtle nesting at Grand Riviere for many years. He opened Mt Plaisir in 1994, a very small, low-impact hotel and went on to receive an award for entrepreneur of the year in 1998. A 2007 UNDP case study of Mt Plaisir referred to Piero’s “avid involvement in the protection of this endangered species.
According to the study, “more than 6,000 people purchased permits to see the turtles during their nesting season in 2005.
“From March to August the hotel burns no bright lights in the nighttime, since it would disturb the turtles when they beach for nesting.” The study commends Piero as having “developed a viable model for sustainable tourism through his interaction with the local community.” Anybody visiting Grande Riviere knows that Mt Plaisir is a welcoming, unobtrusive and safe place to spend the night. A quick tour of the EMA’s Web site is instructive. Under a banner declaring CEC is Law, the public can become educated about the Environmental Management Act (2000). An important instrument of this act is the Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) which designates a list of some forty-four (44) activities which, because of their “potential significant environmental impact” require that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) be carried out.
According to the EMA, the EIA process “provides an opportunity for all stakeholders to participate in the identification of issues of concern, practical alternatives, and opportunities to avoid or mitigate adverse impacts.” Two such activities relate to the “remedial exercise” referred to by the EMA’s CEO to redirect Grand Riviere to the sea. The first, activity 13 (c) is “coastal or offshore construction—modification and dredging activities” while the second activity 41(c) is “establishment of land drainage and irrigation—the realignment or modification of drainage or river systems”.
The EMA’s Web site reliably informs the public that, “if the CEC process did not exist (or is not applied – my note), it would be difficult to regulate critical environmental issues such as contamination of fresh waters and coastal waters, compromised air quality, increased loss of topsoil and flooding, contamination of land, social disruption and threat to livelihoods and declining human health.” In the case of Grande Riviere, the failure to apply law has resulted in the crushing of hundreds according to some, and thousands according to others, of baby leatherback turtles about to hatch and claw their way into the ocean to begin their Atlantic odyssey, swimming over 5,000 kilometres in two to three years. Some 3,000 to 4,000 females nest there every year resulting in more than 100,000 hatchlings. Today, only one in every thousand of these hatchlings makes it out of Grande Riviere Bay and back. They have been making this journey for over hundreds of millions of years.
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