Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) commend Minister of Planning and Development the Hon. Camille Robinson-Regis for her initiative to approve additional areas of forest for protection and sustainable use. However the Minister fails to realize the contradiction of her own statements with the decisions of her own cabinet members. Our nation has 35 designated forest/nature reserves, all of which are being destroyed by either the Government, by unsustainable, illegal, unapproved, unauthorized construction works, and by land grabbing squatter opportunists under the watchful eye of elected governments.
What is the purpose of designating additional protected areas if the existing ones are being bulldozed and used unsustainably, contrary to their designation?
A few obvious examples of this ongoing Government hypocrisy include:
-Almost a century ago, on 11th January 1934, the Long Stretch Forest Reserve (LSFR) was declared a protected forest reserve under the Forest Ordinance Chapter 141 of 1916. In 1987, the LSFR was awarded further protection as a prohibited area under subsidiary legislation (the Forest Act (1915), Forest (Prohibited Areas) Order). Despite this proclamation and additional legal protection, the Ministry of Works and Transport (MOWT) has this year bulldozed over 50 hectares of the LSFR to construct a 4 lane highway along the southern boundary of the legally designated environmentally sensitive area (ESA), the Aripo Savannas, from Cumuto to Sangre Grande.
- In 1998, the then Government succeeded in litigation all the way to the Privy Council against 42 illegal squatters residing in the LSFR. Today 20 years later, no enforcement action was ever taken and the problem of illegal land grabbing has escalated nationwide. In 2003, it was estimated that approximately 375 hectares of land within the Aripo Savannas which is being squatted on and yet, no intervention by past and present Governments. Fast forward to 2014 where the Ministry of Land and Marine Resources reported that almost 100 acres of pristine forest reserve has been cleared by illegal developers … with scant regard for the environmental impact. According to Minister Rambharat, there are literally “thousands of people living on protected lands across the country. In east Trinidad, 11 forest reserves have been occupied by squatters”.
- The MOWT has proposed to construct the second phase of the extension of the Churchill Roosevelt Highway Project from Sangre Grande to Toco which will require the removal of 16.2 hectares of the Matura Forest Reserve and 30 hectares from the Valencia Forest Reserve and will impact on eight (8) of the ten (10) legally designated environmentally sensitive species (ESS) in Trinidad and Tobago. The results of a biological baseline survey conducted by the University of the West Indies (UWI) showed that over 80% of the area is undisturbed tropical forest: evergreen seasonal forest or Mora forest.
- Another notable example is the Melajo Forest which drains into the RIVER which is the habitat of the West Indian Manatee, an ESS. This area was declared a Forest Reserve under the Forests
Dear Editor \ newsroom, Date: 13th August, 2018
Act Ch. 66:01 (rev.2009) yet in 2016, the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), (who fall under the responsible umbrella of Minister Regis) has continued to issue new certificates of environmental clearance (CEC) thereby permitting quarry activities in the Melajo Forest Reserve while the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries (MEEI) continue to grant additional licenses for quarry operations within the Melajo Forest. Earlier this year, the MMEI advertised for “Invitations to Bid for Mining and/or Processing Licenses for Mining Block A, B, C, D, E and F situated in the Melajo Forest Reserve (Sand and Gravel), Matura”. Is this not in contradiction to Minister Regis statements?
Our country has a multiplicity of laws providing the legal basis for establishing and designating protected areas which has led to shared Ministerial responsibility, a lack of co-ordination by various Government entities, usage conflict of these protected areas and most of all failure to protect these rich biodiverse areas resulting in a failure to uphold the laws of our country. Shouldn’t Minister Regis also have a responsible legislative agenda? Shouldn’t she first ensure a synchronized cabinet conduct and initiatives? Couldn’t Minister Regis first protect present reserves instead of adding more?
Gary Aboud Corporate Secretary Fishermen and Friends of the Sea