RADHICA DE SILVA
Deep in the Trinity forests about 13 miles from the coast lies one of T&T's best-kept secrets—a warm salt water volcano or salt spring, possibly the only one of its kind in the world.
Salt Spring—the Rio Claro Salt Water Volcano—was recorded in a publication in 1959 by Swiss geologist Dr Hans Kugler, but it was only two years ago a team of 37 geologists went back to the site, defining it and making it known publicly.
Despite this, the volcano remains under-explored to many citizens. The rocks around the volcano are spongy beneath your feet. A coral-like formation known as "tufa" exists on the flanks of the volcano, which plunges around 250 feet downhill to meet the salt water river in the area, which is devoid of vegetation.
Researchers have been trying to ascertain why the water which flows from the volcano is salty, seeing that the nearest coast is 25 kilometres away.
Around 100 feet from the salt water volcano is a major oil seep, which also flows down toward the salt water river.
Senior geoscientist at Touchstone Exploration Xavier Moonan, who has been investigating the mysterious natural wonder, believes the outflow is actually trapped sea water coming from a Cretaceous reservoir dating 65 million years ago.
In an exclusive interview with Guardian Media, Moonan said the warm salt water emerges from the ground as a natural seep similar to mud volcanoes in other parts of the country.
"Accompanied by some oil, the salty water constantly flows and cascades radially down the hillside where the small streams merge to form Salt River. Salt River flows generally northward where it eventually merges with the larger Ortoire River that empties into the Atlantic on the east coast near Mayaro," Moonan said.
It was hunters who first came upon the volcano, which when viewed from drones appears as a whitish expansive puddle completely surrounded by dense tropical forest.
Moonan said the small hillside of very active oil and salt water seeps drew geologists by the droves.
"The American Association of Petroleum Geologists Young Professionals Trinidad and Tobago Chapter (AAPGYPTT) visited the site on a number of occasions, sampling the rocks, water, and oil emanating from the ground," Moonan said.
Noting that this site is quite unique, and quite possibly the only of its kind in the world, Moonan said it was much more than just another oil and salt water seep.
"Our very own La Brea Pitch Lake, for instance, is one of the largest natural oil seeps in the world. This Salt Water volcano is unique. We believe the salt water flow comes from trapped seawater flowing from an ancient Cretaceous reservoir," Moonan said.
He said proof of this comes from the results of an exploration well drilled by Exxon in the 1990s which showed a number of limestone-rich zones in the area which dates to the Cretaceous age. The rocks were found at depths of approximately 5,500 feet, Moonan explained. Closer examination of the "crunchy" rocks identified then as a carbonate deposit called tufa.
"It is generally grey to white and appears spongy in parts. They are very similar to the limestone deposits at Turure Watersteps in the Northern Range, which make up the walls of each terrace. At Turure the carbonate is being actively reprecipitated out of the river water. It is enriched in carbonate due to limestone rocks along the river tributaries further up the mountain," Moonan said.
"Based on the geological evolution of the Guayaguayare area, we strongly believe that the source of the carbonate for tufa precipitation comes from Cretaceous rocks, and furthermore, the saline waters which feed the Salt River are very likely being expelled from Cretaceous reservoirs as well," Moonan explained.
Like the Pitch Lake of La Brea and our many other mud volcanoes, Moonan believes the Salt Water volcano could generate mass foreign exchange to the country at a time when the economy is in shambles.
"In other parts of the world, a feature such as this would be significantly developed and marketed as a natural spa," he said.
"Companies such as Range Resources and Touchstone Exploration, who are actively exploring these areas for hydrocarbons have to date significantly supported the expeditions, testing and geological understanding of the feature," he said.
Getting to the volcano is not easy and only an experienced tour guide can get you there.
It takes two hours southward from the Trinidad Controlled Oilfield (TCO) Duckham Road, through very thick forest, to come upon the volcanic site.
Downstream from the salt water volcano, the Salt River crosses the Duckham Road, heading northeast to join the Poole River.
"Though its salinity has dropped from 23,000 ppm at the source to a brackish 6,000 ppm some 2.5 kilometres downstream, people can revel in this natural geologic phenomenon," Moonan said.
"With the right vision a good synergy of the science from the companies and marketing from the Regional Corporation, the Salt Water volcano can become a new geotouristic site that can redound in jobs and development for the people of Rio Claro, Guayaguayare," he added.
Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat who accompanied the team of geologists on the historic 2017 expedition to the volcano agreed that the volcano had the potential for tourism.
Chairman of the Mayaro Rio Claro Regional Corporation Glen Ram said that in 1959, Dr Hans Kugler recorded this feature as a salt spring in his work Surface Geology Map of Trinidad. Ram said with proper assistance, the Rio Claro Salt Water volcano could be developed into an international tourist site. He said the Corporation was willing to print brochures on the volcano to educate the population about its wonders once it receives funding from the Central Government.