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UN body monitors La Brea fish kill

Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Dead fish which washed up on Sable beach, La Brea, last month. Residents continue to complain of fish kill washing ashore almost daily. PHOTO: RISHI RAGOONATH

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), an international environment watchdog, says it is monitoring with concern the fish kills that have been washing ashore at La Brea. Christopher Corbin, UNEP Caribbean Regional Co-ordinating Unit, Caribbean Environment Programme CEP, and Assessment and Management of Environmental Pollution (AMEP) programme officer, confirmed in an e-mail to the T&T Guardian that the agency was keeping watch over the fish kills.



Three weeks ago, dead fish began washing ashore at Coffee, Point Sable and Station Beaches, all of which were heavily affected by the December 17 Petrotrin oil spill. 



Fisherman and Friends of the Sea secretary Gary Aboud has attributed the death of the fish to Petrotrin’s use of the controversial dispersant Corexit A9500 during the initial days of the clean-up. However, the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) has since said the preliminary report into the fish kill had revealed that the dispersant was not responsible for the fish deaths. 


Corbin, in the e-mail, said: “As a contracting party to the Cartagena Convention and in particular the Oil Spills Protocol, we (UNEP/CEP) have been monitoring the situation and are of course quite concerned with the impacts being experienced, as reported in the national media including potential impacts on livelihoods (fishermen), human health and now through fish kills.” 



The Cartagena Convention, according to the UNEP/CEP Web site, “is a comprehensive, umbrella agreement for the protection and development of the marine environment.” Corbin, who is also attached to the secretariat of the Cartagena Convention, admitted that since the December oil spill and its impacts were essentially in territorial waters, the secretariat could take no further action, “unless it receives a specific request for some form of technical assistance from our national focal point—the Ministry of Environment.”


He said the secretariat would only be activated when the impacts were felt in neighbouring countries and thus became a transboundary issue, so that “specific provisions of the convention and the Oil Spills Protocol will come into play requiring sharing of more specific information on the spill and the impacts.”


He said the Institute of Marine Affairs was recognised as one of UNEP/CEP’s specialised agencies or regional activity centres for land-based sources of marine pollution, and would have the necessary capacity to do an assessment of the situation and possible risks, such as those from the fish kills.


Corbin said while UNEP/CEP had not been formally approached by the T&T Government for assistance, in collaboration with its UNEP/International Maritime Organisation (IMO) joint Regional Activity Centre for the Oil Spills Protocol-based in Curacao, it has provided recommendations on experts who could assist in the assessment process. 


“This was based on an approach by the Government to the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Information and Training Centre for the Wider Caribbean (REMPEITC-Caribe) Regional Activity Centre (RAC),” he said. Corbin said he was not certain if a direct request was made from Government or through the UN framework, the UNDP national office in Trinidad, or the IMO Caribbean adviser based in Trinidad.



Resident complains

Coffee Beach resident Oneca Branker-Showers, speaking with the T&T Guardian, said dead fish were still washing ashore, including more species, such as catfish and moonshine. Branker-Showers said residents were still enduring the stench of rotting fish along the shoreline at Coffee beach and rashes have broken out on her five-year-old nephew’s skin and another woman and her six-year-old son.


She lamented that no one seemed to care about the residents along the shoreline, because no one had cleaned up the dead fish. “We do not have a choice here. We have to take it and live with it. We have to eat as normal. No one here will go and clean that. Who going to go closer to that to inhale that? Nobody want to go there, they afraid to touch,” she lamented. “It’s very hard for us. We do not know what is going on, no one telling us anything.” 


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