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Mangroves threatened by highway construction

Crab, conch, oyster catchers unite as...
Sunday, November 10, 2013
Contractors raise the berm to prevent flooding at Mosquito Creek.

A week after brackish water from the Gordineau mangroves flooded the Mosquito Creek inconveniencing hundreds of motorists, crab catchers have set up 24-hour surveillance to monitor the Oropouche swamp.



Mangroves stretching for a mile along the South Trunk Road from Paria Suites Hotel to the Gordineau River have been cleared to facilitate two lanes of the $7.2 billion Solomon Hochoy Highway Extension. This is what is being blamed for the flooding. Since then, OAS workers have built a berm (earthen ledge) to prevent the brackish water from flooding the road. However, president of the Crab, Conch and Oyster Association (CCOA) Robert Nandlal said since highway construction began, the mangroves have been threatened.


“Over 60 people earn their livelihoods by catching crabs, conch and oysters in the Oropouche swamp and since they cleared a mile of the mangroves the nurseries have been affected,” Nandlal explained. 



The highway is expected to pass through mangroves, located along the coastline at the Godineau swamp which is the breeding ground for 29 species of fish and numerous species of crustacean crabs, oysters, mammals, rodents, reptiles, amphibians and birds. The mangrove acts as a buffer between the sea and the land and is a feeding ground for shrimp and other commercial sea organisms that feed on the nutrients deposited at the mouth of the river.


While he was not against the construction of the highway, Nandlal said an elevated road over the mangroves was better for the environment. “We have to protect the eco-system. The Government has to remember that mangroves are protected around the world and to interfere with that would damage the entire eco-system,” Nandlal said. 


During a meeting with his members on Thursday, Nandlal said a decision was taken to provide 24-hour surveillance of the mangroves. He also called on other conservation groups such as the Papa Bois Conservation Group and Fishermen and Friends of the Sea to join their fight.



‘Oropouche swamp is the least protected’
Saying the Oropouche swamp was the least protected of the three swamps in Trinidad, Nandlal added the members were willing to work with the Government to protect the swamp. “We will be the watchdogs because we cannot allow our eco-system to be destroyed. Flooding of that magnitude has never occurred on the Mosquito Creek before. Usually we get sea water beating in and coming onto the road. This time the water from the swamp flooded the roadway causing hundreds of motorists to be affected,” Nandlal said.


He noted that proper engineering works must be executed to prevent further flooding. Meanwhile, director of the Papa Bois Conservation group Mark De Verteuil said his team was willing to work with the CCOA. “Mangroves are among the most important parts of the marine environment. They are incredibly important as nurseries for juvenile fish, sharks and other species,” De Verteuil said. He added that a causeway should have been built over the swamp rather than clearing down the mangroves.


“There were engineering possibilities to build a structure that would have allowed the free flow of fresh and sea water. It would have helped rejuvenate the swamp at the mosquito creek. However, a short-sighted decision was made to go for the cheapest option and this was the worst option for the environment,” De Verteuil said. He noted that culverts could have been built to allow the mingling of sea and fresh water, thereby preventing flooding.



‘Govt signed international convention to protect the mangroves’
De Verteuil said that T&T had signed an international convention to protect the mangroves. “The Government agreed to a no net loss of mangrove policy and that meant wherever it was removed it would have to be replanted. To my knowledge this promise has not been kept,” De Verteuil said. He added that all over T&T fishermen were complaining that they were not catching fish. “This is related to the loss of mangroves so we are appealing to the authorities to protect our mangroves,” De Verteuil said. 


During an interview last year, former works minister Jack Warner said it was too expensive to build a causeway over the Oropouche mangroves. He had said, “A causeway is almost double the cost of a highway and it will not solve of the problems with the mangroves because in any case you will have to damage the mangrove as such. We have some damage. We have professionals and experts who are deciding the best way to do it and in the end the mangrove will not be damaged.”



Nidco working swiftly to deals with flooding
Meanwhile works are going on apace to prevent further flooding at the Creek. National Infrastructure Development Company (Nidco) president Dr Carson Charles said last week that contractors will have to lift the berm (earthen ledge) to prevent the water. 



“At high tide, the water will back up in the mangrove and then it will go down at low tide. What is happening at high tide, when it starts to go into the mangrove, it is coming over at one point. It is reaching the berm and coming over into the road so they are repairing that. They also have to lift the berm so that at high tide the water will not reach and come over,” Charles said.


He added that the problem will be solved when the highway is built, because the entire roadway will be higher than the sea level. Efforts to contact Environment Minister Ganga Singh for comment proved futile as calls to his cellular phone went unanswered.


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