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Don’t destroy our village

‘We welcome tourism but don’t endanger our way of life, ecosystem’
Published: 
Sunday, April 1, 2018
Las Cuevas residents:
Las Cuevas resident Ray Charles, fourth from left, with fishermen from the Las Cuevas Fishing Village Depot. PICTURE CHARLES KONG SOO

Villagers in Las Cuevas know tourism can stimulate economic and entrepreneurial opportunities, generate much-needed foreign exchange, and provide employment for the community.

They are not against development, as the scenic Las Cuevas Beach with its gentle waves and grey sand is a major tourist attraction and favourite among locals also.

The villagers are concerned, however, about unrestrained or over-development to the detriment of their way of life, livelihood such as fishing, ecotourism, the destruction of turtles, wildlife, their habitats, and the environment.

On April 4, 2016, a notice of violation was served by the EMA on the same property developer over the bulldozing and burning of 19 hectares of land at Las Cuevas Estate. However, no penalties or repair orders were issued.

In January 2018 The Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) made a call to the Government and the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) to take legal action against a property developer who was using excavators to modify the course of the Las Cuevas River and excavating sand from Las Cuevas Beach which is a known turtle nesting site.

On the businessman’s website he has under Pending Projects Development of 464 acres of land in Las Cuevas–having a Blue Flag status.

According to the Environmental Defence website, Blue Flag is a world-renowned eco-certification for beaches and marinas. A Blue Flag indicates that the beach or marina is clean and accessible; has great water quality; meets high safety standards; and is working hard to protect local shorelines and ecosystems.

Unfortunately, T&T lost that coveted Blue Flag Status in May 2017 when the Tourism Development Company (TDC), which was responsible for maintenance of the beach, was dissolved last year, and could no longer maintain compliance.

Of the 1,500 acres of land at Las Cuevas, the businessman’s 464 acres of land is being developed, which includes a proposed luxury beach resort.

When the businessman was contacted yesterday about the residents’ concerns and that they were willing to support a certain degree of development for the area, he said there was no development going on at present, and all that was done so far was to put in a service road to his land.

But tour guide Rodney McLean remains concerned about the future of the village.

“I’m really concerned about what is going in my village. So far, I see they want to do some development like what they did to Maracas.

“I’ve watched them destroy Maracas over and over and I don’t want that to happen to Las Cuevas which had been carrying the Blue Flag up to last year.

“I’m totally not satisfied with the development on Las Cuevas Beach. The EMA came and had a chat with us because we work with the Turtle Village Trust and it will hamper the turtles.

“They also want to build in the wetlands where all the excess water comes from El Tucuche or from the sea and settles. By tampering with this the sea water is now reaching all up inside Rincon village.”

The villager said he talked with EMA officials and told them how the proposed building plans on the beach with artificial lights and walls to cordon off the area will affect the leatherback, hawksbill, green and loggerhead turtles that come to the beach to lay their eggs.

McLean, who conducts turtle watching tours and hikes, said the lights can disorient the female turtles, which mistake them for the shoreline and follow the lights into the interior no matter what the distance when they are tired and exhausted and may fall prey to hunters or dogs.

He said lights from these developments can also cause hatchlings to become disoriented and wander inland and often die of dehydration, be eaten by predatory animals, or run over by vehicles.

McLean, who also works with the Ministry of Tourism in the area of lifeguarding and maintenance, said since the wetlands were tampered with, when taking people on tours in the area they have not seen any indigenous golden frog, iguana, and crab species.

He said the fishermen will be affected as well by the development. In the river at the end of the beach which locals call the “Ferry”, fish and crabs spawn in the river, and if the river course was diverted or dried up, or effluence from industries are poured into the sea, there will be no fish to sell as Las Cuevas was one of the places in T&T where people come to get the freshest fish such as kingfish and carite.

The area brings in $10-$11 per year in fish and seafood products—Aboud

According to Gary Aboud, corporate secretary of the FFOS, “Over the years there have been many violations and little enforcement. The authority vested in the EMA by Parliament is not being utilised in the way it should be.”

Aboud said Las Cuevas Bay was a captive area for bait species used by fishermen. “Any change in the salinity of the water would affect the school of bait fish that frequent that bay. If the fishermen can’t catch the bait, the a la vive fishery will collapse.”

He said he was making a brave estimate that the a la vive fishery in Las Cuevas is worth $6 million per annum. Aboud said Las Cuevas brings in $10 to 11 million per more a year in fish and seafood products which supports the village and people from the outside who fish there.

“Three will also be other social impact issues. If the economy of fishing collapses there will be social and economic hardship,” he added.

Agri-economist: Removing animals habitats results in deaths

Agricultural economist Omardath Maharaj said Las Cuevas, Valencia, and other areas of the country that experienced the removal of forest cover and natural habitat in favour of infrastructure construction were met with various issues in the immediate environments and eco-systems.

He said this resulted in the death and shifting of various animal populations from insects to larger, easily identifiable species such as caimans, iguanas, and crabs.

Maharaj said it also added further pressure on these species since in losing their habitat they become further exposed to predators including human interaction and subsequent death in the event that people were unaware of their capture, relocation, and release.

He said this relatively easier interaction between animal populations and humans can cause an emergence of the exotic pet trade which exposes humans to possible zoonotic diseases and other challenges and costs to national security such as those often seen on the southern coastline.

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