what's really going on at Bon Accord Lagoon?

Aerial view of the Buccoo Reef system showing the Bon Accord

In March the top brass of the THA Division of Agriculture Marine Affairs and the Environment (the DAMME) along with someone best described as a broker, attempted to convince key stakeholders that the Bon Accord Lagoon needs a command center, a physical base to ‘control’ the misbehavior that alledgedly occurs there. The proposed locale for the security outpost is where Gaskin Bay Road (south) meets the mangrove belt and its hard to miss. Piles of garbage, unregulated traffic and loud noises are the norm as a growing amount of people try to access the reef and/or the non-stop party on No- Man’s Land.

Garbage piling up at Gibsons

Now the idea of establishing ‘presence’ is indeed something to commend the THA’s DAMME for as they climb out of yet another 3 year slumber. But instead of trying a fast one, should not the THA be dusting off those park management proposals given them by the Institute of Marine Affairs over ten years ago? And surely given these enlightened times, wouldn't it be advisable for island bosses to proceed as good sense dictates rather than attempt to dedicate public funds to the benefit a few greedy souls, enrich a somnolent (some say defunct) NGO and grease lord knows what private interests? Be that as it may, good practice dictates THA employ a large dollop of caution as they seek to develop the area around the Bon Accord Lagoon. Environmental caution here is best defined by three words ‘Environmental Impact Assessment’ – the EIA.

Yet civil society, whose input is key to output an effective EIA, does not always understand nor is always able to access THA mindset. But that knowledge is key to ensuring those who are in positions of responsibility make the right calls. Which is why Environment Tobago went for a closer look.
This the geography of the Buccoo marine reserve. Seen on a map its a five-sided block beginning at the Pigeon Point Park entrance (just past the cluster of shops after the Conrado Hotel) and extending to about a mile or so out (north) to sea where there was once a marker light. It goes on to another point east (where there was also another navigation light), and back to land just passing the ‘Graveyard’ (west of Buccoo Village). The reserve’s landward limits are a swathe of mangrove – fast diminishing these days due to spontaneous deveopment, to a point about 198 feet (or three chains) inland.

Everything within the Reserve has been earmarked for some time now to become the ‘Buccoo Marine Park’ and everything there defaults to the control of the THA. It's not that simple a situation though. The reserve’s ultimate authority is really the remit of the Minister (of any Ministry back in Port of Spain) burdened with the ‘Environment’ portfolio. Historically, given the fact that the geography is in Tobago’s and the political control is in Trinidad, nothing has really ever worked to benefit the Reserve. Ministers of Environment have largely kept away, probably in deference to the Tobago House of Assembly. Conversely, the Assembly never really saw it fit to get their hands dirty in the reef and the surrounding mangroves. This sad state of events probably remained because in the past Buccoo and Bon Accord's role as food source, food chain protector and potential to boost tourism weren’t priorities. All that changed this year./p>

2015 has thrown up quite a few surprises for Trinidad and Tobago. The most painful though is the low oil price and its concomitant effect on the T&T economy. Consequently Tobago - read this as the House of Assembly, has finally woken up to the fact that it has to produce something if it is to have money to spend. However barring stepping up productivity, a mindset which has never been the island’s selling point, the only thing left for the THA to do to do is secure its island’s assets, among which the once maligned Marine Park now ranks quite high. The problem for the Assembly is its faced with a Division not adequately endowed to manage such an endeavour.

One boat is too big for the job, the other way too small

‘Fisheries’ as the ones directly in charge of the Reserve has never invested properly in hardware or in human resources. The THA may argue otherwise, citing possession of its vast range of scuba gear (in a container lying back of Buccoo Village) and the readiness of a reef patrol fleet; which as all poachers know, is terribly undermanned even if they are actually shipshape. The thing is, the written reports of the state of affairs re: reef and lagoon are at considerable variance with the eyeball view. Which is probably why the THA now finds it germane to consider a new facility, another outpost from which to ‘take control’ of activities at the park. Sadly as regards the public purse, they are looking at acquiring a piece of property that will not address the endemic management problems of the Fisheries Division.

THA has already started to build a jetty over the old slipway despite having no EIA in hand

The earmarked plot, close to a slipway built by Mr. Ralph Gibson (RIP) was once set aside as a gift from CLICO to a Tobago-based environmental NGO whose best work is well documented a long time ago. The validity of that organisation as a bonafide civil society group may require some fancy footwork given its extremely short membership listing. An ethical issue probably looms there but there’ll be other questions for the THA to answer should ‘purchase’ of the plot proceed. From their close association on the public stage, the THA seems especially keen to involve that same dormant NGO in its future plans for the Lagoon and environs. But the transaction seems iffy at best since the title for the property in question may already reside with the State - the CLICO group having gone belly up under Lawrence Duprey in 2009.

The legality of the THA sending good cash to the bottomless pockets of a dead conglomerate whose assets were garnished by Government is a fragrant prospect to say the least. That it may instead pay another party who does not, have, hold, or was merely promised title is malfeasance beyond imagination - although in this country probably not without precedent. That it promises to emasculate the Fisheries Division’s mandate for which there is already a substantive team in place, even a park manager on payroll, is another consideration entirely.

irresponsible usage of the Lagoon area

As such, questions are begging for answers. Will the building of a facility touted for the mangrove belt in the Reserve not represent a negative factor for the preservation of a functional ecology around Bon Accord Lagoon? Will ad-hoc steps to ‘protect users’ at Gibson Jetty not make a mockery out of the Restricted Areas Order? The Order states clearly that all works to jetties must be subject to a comprehensive environmental impact assessment. But surprise surprise, the tone of certain people - and these include the odd environmentalist turned politician, implies that an EIA will merely suffocate, slow or shutdown what ought to happen down at the Lagoon. Odds are no one, not the THA, not the would-be beneficiaries of any transactions that may occur done there, realize that a properly commissioned and duly executed EIA, will work to the benefit for all concerned. This includes people, nature and economy. Anyway, in a previous post Environment Tobago promised to keep an eye at developments because its hard to reverse bad ideas once they are in place. However ET hopes the THA will do the right thing, the stakes this rounds are too high for tomfoolery.