High Court Judge Frank Seepersad says there should be stiffer penalties for those who damage the environment through illegal quarrying, littering and oil spills.
Delivering a sermon at the Susamachar Presbyterian Church on Sunday, Seepersad called on citizens to plant more trees, use more LED light bulbs and recycle as much as they can.
He lamented the death of the corals at the Buccoo Reef, and noted that T&T was fast losing other natural treasures because of exploitation.
“When we look at the world around us it is undeniable that our planet is in crisis. There is a global food shortage. Sea levels have risen...the days are getting hotter. When the floods come it is astonishing to see the amount of garbage that is strewn into our nations’ watercourses,” Seepersad said.
As a small island state, he said, citizens must be concerned about the environment and urged all citizens to act as stewards of the environment.
“We cannot sit by and allow our environment to be subjected to wanton destruction for short term rewards. When illegal quarrying takes place natural habitats are destroyed and this negatively impacts the wildlife, watercourses and the surrounding communities,” Seepersad said.
He noted that existing laws were not effectively assisting in the protection of the environment.
“There is a need for a suitable legislative framework to foster sustainable development, the use of our country’s resources and the conservation of wildlife.
“A quick glance at our present laws reveals a shocking truth that the penalties for environmental damage and destruction are minimal and hardly operate as a deterrent,” he said.
He noted that coral reefs should be protected.
“As we focus upon economic diversity and the development of tourism, coral reefs can be a huge attraction but they are extremely delicate and provide a home to a wide variety of marine life. Coral takes hundreds of years to grow one metre and we must protect them and ensure that access is regulated. What was allowed to happen to the Buccoo Reef should never happen to any other reef,” he added.
Seepersad said if someone damaged a reef with a boat anchor, the penalty of $1,000 was hardly a deterrent. Such minimal penalties amounted to a slap in the face of sustainable use and protection of our resources.
He added, “If a citizen is caught littering, depending on whether the perpetrator is an individual or body corporate, under section 3 (6) of the Litter Act, the fine can range between $4,000 to $8,000.” Seepersad also said the devastating floods of October 2018 occurred largely because of indiscriminate dumping in watercourses.
“Oil spills from boats kill marine life, pollute beaches and affect the livelihood of fishermen who have to support their families. Under the Oil pollution and Territorial Act, the penalty for the discharge of oil into our territorial waters is $10,000. This sum is insignificant when one considers the cost associated with the clean up an oil spill,” he said.
Seepersad explained that in 2011, citizens were prohibited from killing or removing turtles and eggs but under the Fisheries Act, the penalty for such a breach was merely $2,000.
Saying citizens must recognise the environmental crisis and take steps immediately to salvage what was left, Seepersad made several recommendations.
“We could pledge to discontinue the use of single-use plastics like plastic spoons, forks, plates and cups. We need to wean off plastic bags utilising reusable bags. We can save the trees by minimising our use of paper,” he noted.
Seepersad also said the youth could be mobilised to actively clean their surroundings by having co-ordinated visits to our beaches and rivers.
“As a nation, we must hold each other accountable when we pollute our environment and we need to actively enforce our existing environmental laws. We should also consider the implementation of more stringent penalties. We should actively embrace the use of solar energy. Solar panels could be fixed to the roofs of our homes so that some appliances or water heaters can be powered,” he noted.
Seepersad further said the use of long-lasting bulbs like LED bulbs could assist in reducing greenhouse gas emissions while electric cars could also have a lasting impact on saving the planet.