The Institute of Marine Affairs has dispatched a team to conduct initial ecological assessments of mangroves, beaches and other areas affected by the oil spill of 7th February, caused when the crew-less vessel, Gulf Stream, capsized nearshore Cove Bay on the Atlantic side of Tobago.
In a media release, the IMA said the team analysed data from satellite imagery product providers such as The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to track the movement of the oil-like substance over distance and time, as well as mined years of rich historical data amassed by IMA for monitoring Tobago's marine and coastal environments.
It said from this, preliminary priority sites were determined for: where IMA technicians should collect oil samples; those most vulnerable or susceptible areas (based on both ecological and socio-economic value) impacted by the hazard; as well as areas for restoration and rehabilitation.
It said at one such site, for example, the team observed an oil-like substance entering the sheltered lagoon area in Petit Trou, inundating the sensitive mangrove ecosystem.
"This once thriving stand began exhibiting dieback prior to the spill incident and so is now considered extremely vulnerable."
The IMA said the team, headed by IMA Director Dr Ava Maxam, met with the Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly, Farley Augustine, Allan Stewart, the Head of the Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), Marc Rudder, Chief Technical Officer at the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries (MEEI), Gillian Stanislaus, Environmental Programme Officer II at the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) in Tobago and other members of the response team, which comprised officials from Heritage Petroleum Company Limited, the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard and others, to report their initial findings and provide advice on how cleanup activities should proceed given that some of the affected areas are ecologically sensitive such as the nesting grounds of the critically endangered Hawksbill turtle.
On 11th February 2024, the IMA also collected samples for oil fingerprinting, that is, to determine whether there is a link between impacted areas and effluent emanating from the source at the overturned vessel.
It said this is in addition to samples previously received on February 8th from The Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard. Along with oil fingerprinting, samples will be continuously processed for dissolved and dispersed petroleum hydrocarbons (DDPH) to determine the concentration of hydrocarbons in the water column over time, until results indicate a return to pre-incident levels. "This monitoring will form part of IMA's plan to recover and restore the affected sites."