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Faeces, fish waste not stopping sea bathers at Flat Rock
Despite test results from the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) which reveal that the waters off King’s Wharf are polluted with faeces and waste from the fish market, members of the San Fernando Sea Bathers’ Association claim the beach there has healing powers.
The sea bathers’ group, which has existed for the past 20 years, told the Sunday Guardian that members have been bathing in the area known as Flat Rock for decades and no report is going to change that.
Last month, the IMA released their report on the State of the Marine Environment which revealed that bacteriological water quality studies conducted since 1981 on popular beaches showed they were contaminated with sewage. Some sources of contamination were non-functional sewage treatment plants, seepages from latrine pits built on river banks and along the coastline, improperly constructed septic tanks and run-off from livestock farming operations.
Stepping out of the seemingly clear water last week, Franklin Ishmael said bathing there soothes his joint pains. Ishmael continues to visit Flat Rock almost every morning, despite the reports of pollution.
“I’ve heard it from several persons bathing here, but no one seems to want to stop. Most of them said the water is doing well for them. As for me, I enjoy every moment of it. The sea cleans itself as far as I know, so I really don’t have a problem with bathing here,” Ishmael said.
He explained that he had a surgery on his ankles a few years ago and as he got older, he suffered from severe pain. Since joining the Flat Rock fun, he said the pain had decreased significantly.
“I try to be here every morning before I go out to work because it makes me feel good. I really look forward to the exercise every morning rather than going to the park. With a half an hour in, I get my belly exercise, foot exercise and all the joints. It works well for me.”
Anthony Gonzales, who suffers from a pinched nerve in his lower back, said he also experiences a relief during his morning beach bath.
“I have a pinched nerve that acts up at times. Recently, it was acting up pretty badly and somebody told me that salt water will do well. I used to watch the water and tell myself it’s polluted or it is nasty, but then I decided to come and on the first day I came, I was able to do much better than before. By the end of the week, I was doing much better,” Gonzales said. Although there have been talks about the water being contaminated, he said he will continue to take his daily beach bath.
Calling Flat Rock the “Maracas Bay of south Trinidad,” Eric Wheeler, who has been swimming there for the past 45 years, said he too plans to continue bathing despite concerns about pollution. Wheeler said he has never heard a complaint from someone falling ill or seen anyone developing a rash from the beach.
However, he is worried about erosion and that pollution could eventually make their slice of paradise toxic. He said many times they have had to clean garbage from the beachfront as people often come to lime there after partying on the party boat Southern Elegance. Bottles, KFC boxes and other waste litter the waterfront. The sea bathers usually collect the garbage and put them into bags and bins to be discarded, but often the bins are stolen.
“You see how clean and nice here is now, by the time weekend, cars will park, eat KFC and leave it there. We don’t do that as the bathers. This is also a parking zone where people come from a party and they make little limes, drink and leave the bottles there. We the people who bathe here come with garbage bags and the people ignore it. The culture in Trinidad is different,” Wheeler said.
He, like many others, wants the authorities to find ways to charge people for throwing their garbage in the watercourses and building latrine pits on the river banks and near the seawall.
“I am not worried about the quality of water because the sea is really a healing water and the salt always heal you from arthritis and all kinds of things. Just like you would not have a cold, but when you leave the sea your nose is running...I will continue to bathe, but these people should be charged for polluting the sea.”
On an overcast Thursday morning last week, almost 20 people gathered for their morning swim, most of them unaware of the IMA report. But whether it’s faeces or garbage flowing into the Gulf, they are not giving up their beach for anything.
What the IMA report says
In assessing the bathing water quality, the IMA used the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Quality Criteria for Water (1976) in the absence of any local bathing beach standard. They rated the water quality as “Good,” “Poor” and “Very Poor.” Of those beaches tested were Las Cuevas Bay, Maracas Bay, Williams Bay, Chagville, Welcome Bay and the San Fernando coastline from the Roodal Cemetery to the Marabella River. Along the San Fernando coastline is the popular Flat Rock beach, earmarked for the $1.3 billion San Fernando Waterfront Development Programme and which was taken to Cabinet earlier this year.
The IMA report stated that the water quality south of King’s Wharf, where Flat Rock is located, is very poor as it is contaminated by waste from the fish market. North of King’s Wharf was also labelled as “Very Poor” while area north of the San Fernando Yacht Club is contaminated with sewage seepage from latrine pit dug within a few meters of the seawall and discharge from the polluted Guaracara River bordering Petrotrin and the Marabella River.
The Train Line community is situated between Guaracara River and Marabella River which are both sources of contaminants to the Gulf of Paria. Several squatters in the Train Line have latrine pits and improperly constructed septic tank soakaways running into the river and sea.
Contamination causes severe diseases
According to the report, swimming in polluted water can cause illnesses, especially if the water is swallowed. These include viruses such as gastroenteritis, hepatitis, respiratory illnesses, ear, nose and throat ailment, salmonella, E Coli, skin rashes and pink eyes. While swimming-related illnesses are not usually severe or life-threatening, gastroenteritis can take a severe toll on infants, the elderly and patients with immune system problems