Development or Destruction

It is generally said the price of development is high. The need to balance development, such that the focus on short term benefits does not mask the long term economic, environmental and social costs, is a
challenge for many countries.

In the case of developing countries, particularly small islands like Carriacou and Petite Martinique, addressing this challenge could only be considered a mammoth task. It requires extensive consultations, the development of a strategy and follow-up actions in an objective sober manner.

That is why political parties (ruling and opposition) that seek to satisfy their constituents by delivering short term benefits based on catchy promises must be careful and should provide good leadership by asking, like the Rotarians do, “Is it fair to all concerned and will it be beneficial to all concerned?”

For some time now, I have been concerned about how the programmes for development are impacting on the sustainability of Carriacou. There have been in recent times many discussions about issues such as soil erosion and sand mining; the entry of alien animal species like the frog; the decline of the productivity of the oyster beds; and the apparent lack of systems for waste disposal when the landfill at Dumfries reaches its maximum capacity.

While these issues remain important, I want to veer away from these to comment on the increased number of boats (pleasure and working) that remain in the Tyrell Bay for very long periods continuously.

During the drought of 2010, the gutters on the side of the roads in Tyrell Bay, once hidden by overgrown bushes became bare thereby exposing large quantities of household type solid wastes. Efforts by
members or residents of the community enabled some level of clean up.

However, the question remained as to how such large volumes of garbage end up in those gutters. I recall getting an explanation that some persons provided a collection service to the yachts anchored in the harbour and,  instead of disposing of such garbage properly, threw them under the bushes, hidden away until they were exposed during the dry season.

I have not verified the truth of this allegation but I consider it plausible.This allegation, however, brought to focus another matter that considered a number of times when I observed the large number of boats in Tyrell Bay. These boats are floating homes that generate solid waste and waste water.

One of the major concerns in these situations is whether or not the waste water, particularly the black water (water that comes from the toilets) is adequately treated. Untreated waste water which is a problem in developing countries is initially an invisible type of pollution, detectable by continuous laboratory testing.

There are generally four options that boat owners can use for managing their waste water:
Onshore facilities (such as public toilets, bathrooms and laundry facilities); an onboard portable toilet for later disposal ashore or in open waters where discharge is permitted; an onboard waste water holding tank for later disposal ashore where pump-out facilities are provided, or in open waters where discharge is permitted ; and Onboard waste water treatment systems.

It is known that responsible disposal of sewage from ships and pleasure boats has not always been adequately addressed as given even in the developed countries with mature regulations. So in the case of Carriacou, we must be forced to speculate on what may be happening.

My own concern was heightened, when in conversation with three women, all on different occasions, I was told that they would never eat Jacks or fish that are caught in or adjacent to Tyrell Bay. If villagers who are used to eating fish caught fresh from the Bay start switching to other sources of fish, particularly imported processed fish, there must be something negative that is influencing their decision.

The reason given was that the Bay is polluted from black water evidenced by the faeces that can be seen floating in the water from time to time. If this allegation is true, then the concern must not only be about eating the fish caught in that water but there must also be concern for persons who use the beach particularly for swimming.

Even if the allegations of pollution are incorrect, the question that must be answered is, “How is the waste water from these boats that remain in the harbour for long periods treated?” This brings me to a number of other questions as they relate specifically to Carriacou.

How is the boat-generated pollution in the Bay impacting on the oyster beds and the offshore reefs?  What is the carrying capacity of the Bay? In other words what is the maximum number of boats that should be allowed in the Bay at any given time? Is there a framework by the Ministry of Health and or the Port Authority for the monitoring of these boats and their holding tanks?

Currently, there is an Act which provides for the management of waste, in conformity with the best environmental practices, and for related matters called THE WASTE MANAGEMENT ACT, CAP 334A [Act No. 16 of 2001].

It is instructive to note that Section 33 (1) says: ” A person who knowingly deposits or causes to be deposited any litter or other waste in or any ……..territorial waters, beach, foreshore, marine waters……without lawful authority (the proof of which lies on the person) commits an offence. PENALTY: A fine of $50,000.00 and imprisonment for six months”. But who is enforcing the Act?

While regulations exist there are no provisions in the regulations for pump-out facilities and, as far as I know, there are no existing pump-out stations on the island for these boats to empty their holding tanks. Should we wait to amend the existing Act or should action be taken now?

Should consideration be given to introducing regulations that would mandate that all boaters  keep a detailed log of the amount of sewage they had aboard, including details on where it was discharged and, the time it took to discharge?

Should the authorities provide incentives for ensuring the proper management of waste water from visiting boats? Is there need to re-engineer the Ministry of Carriacou and Petite Martinique Affairs to address emerging challenges of waste water pollution?

In my opinion, these small islands like Carriacou and Petite Martinique are too ecologically fragile to continue with development programmes which have negative impacts.

The discussion on the environmental aspects of development programmes should not be limited to Carriacou and Petite Martinique. Similar discussion seems to be pertinent to the mainland – Grenada. We must learn from the experiences of other countries.

In 2008, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said that the Pacific region is facing a litter crisis due to inadequate treatment of domestic waste water and inadequate solid waste disposal.

The UN agency further warned that waste is as much of a problem to the Pacific as rising sea levels, over-fishing, water shortages and inadequate sanitation services, all of which are challenges for small islands.

There are lessons that we can learn from such cases. However, there is the need for us to debate these issues objectively, relying on factual evidence and avoiding impulsive defence by various interest groups.

Finally, although I have highlighted the problems posed by the large number of boats in the Bay, it must also be recognised that land-based activities can also be partly responsible for the quality of water in the Bay.

The increasing use of septic tank systems in the urbanisation of the areas along the shoreline, for which there are no viable mechanisms to ensure proper and regular maintenance, would also be contributing to the pollution load in the Bay.

In Turkey in 2010, new regulations intended to address the problem of waste water pollution brought responses like this: “What this means to foreigners like myself who have cruised and lived aboard a boat in Turkey for over a decade is that we feel we are no longer welcome in Turkey’s marinas or along the coast. Further, it appears that there is a conflict – while the Ministry of Tourism is encouraging tourism, the environmentalists are discouraging it.” We can expect similar reactions.

To avoid a piecemeal approach to solving the problem, should we consider having a national sewage disposal policy that includes all aspect of sewage disposal, is this too far-fetched? The regulation would need to be upgraded based on the policy. There is also the question of who would monitor the activities and enforce the policy.

What is the long term cost of ignoring the situation?

I would love to hear from others on our islands development on an apolitical platform.

Dr. Everson Peters

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