Felicity is best known as the community in central Trinidad that hosts the most lavish displays of deyas for the Hindu religious festival of Divali. But not too far from its bustling streets is a hidden gem—a lush mangrove flourishes where the Gulf of Paria meets the Madame Espagnole River.
Increasing numbers of scarlet ibis have started roosting in these swamplands by the hundreds. However, the once pristine area is slowly becoming an eyesore because of indiscriminate dumping of garbage. There are huge heaps of garbage scattered along the trail leading to the mouth of the river, unsightly piles of old mattresses, broken furniture, old appliances, toys, paint buckets and containers, clothing, car parts and broken glass.
Red and white mangrove trees line the sides of the dirt road just off Bernard Road, Felicity. A short 30-minute walk to the river’s mouth makes this site more accessible than the Caroni Swamp to see the protected scarlet ibis in their natural habitat.
The mangroves are also vital to human existence, as they keep and store carbon dioxide (CO2) in their roots and soil and help to curb the effects of global warming. You can read more about their importance here.
Several weeks ago, a Guardian Media investigation revealed that at this site, poachers are hunting and killing the ibis by the dozens daily. No one has been arrested or charged to date but residents say the poaching has slowed down significantly.
Stephan Mahadeo, a young farmer who spends his days a short distance away from the mangrove tending to his crops said as a boy he used to frolic in the river with his friends. To do that would be a major health risk, he said.
“It is just too dirty and there is broken glass and bottles thrown all over. It is way too dangerous for anyone to bathe here,” Mahadeo said.
A large sign posted in the area warns against illegal dumping, yet every available space along the trail was covered in garbage.
Old coolers, plastics and other solid waste are tangled in the roots of the mangrove and in several areas there are signs of “die-back”—when mangroves die—where their roots have become clogged with slabs of concrete and rusting pieces of steel still embedded.
Large sections of scorched earth and burnt foliage indicate where fires were lit to get rid of garbage.
Mahadeo said people in the community make “cooks” and lime by the riverside daily.
n Continues on Page A15
“Those people are just coming to lime, they accustomed to how the place is but the same way they are enjoying this site, we could have had tourists and visitors coming every day to see the Ibis and walk through the swamp. But with all this rubbish, nobody would want to come here if the place is so nasty,” he said
At the mouth of the river, the silence is interrupted by the insistent buzzing of thousands of flies feeding on the carcass of an unrecognisable animal. Small fishes and crabs can be seen feeding by the water’s edge, among the discarded car mats and tyres.
“It is still a beautiful sight if you can look past the dumping and the flies, you could really enjoy yourself here. This is an opportunity that is just being wasted because no one cares enough to do anything about it,” Mahadeo said
Another resident, who asked to be identified only as Chris, believes the area is being kept in that state is to facilitate illegal activities.
“When the community is asleep at night, any criminal could come through here with anything. You could see the evidence of boats pulling right up to the shoreline and the fact that the public won’t come in here because it’s nasty just gives those people another layer of protection,” he said.
According to Chris, guns and illegal immigrants are being brought into the area every night.
“If there is no one to stop them, no one to police the area, then why would they stop? That is the biggest undercover trade in Felicity,” he said.
Directly opposite the sign that warns against dumping is a large piece of land with a small shed where loads of garbage have been dumped. A man who was working on the property said the land is privately owned and the garbage is being used to “full up” the area.
“Right now we trying to get stuff that could full up here, so we could level it out and do a lil’ business on it,” he said.
Asked if he was not concerned about the effects on the environment, he replied: “If it was some big shot doing this, you would never see alyuh come to report that. This is private land. We could do what we want and we doing it.”
Broadbridge: Raise fines to deter dumpers
Environmentalist Stephen Broadbridge believes increasing dumping from $4,000 to $100,000 might deter people bent on destroying the environment. He is also suggesting that vehicles used to dump be seized by the state and offenders jailed. The current legislation includes two fines—one for individuals with a $4,000 fine or six-month prison term and one for corporate entities which carries an $8,000 fine.
“The thing is that situation in Felicity is not unique to that area. Anywhere in this country that people see a little clear area with no houses around or close to a forested area, they dump their garbage,” he said.
“Enough is enough. It is time for the fines to be as ridiculous as these people. Do not give them any chance to do it again. When someone thinks about dumping their waste and polluting the environment, they must be scared to even have the thought.”
Broadbridge said illegal dumping kills wildlife and pollutes the food chain.
“When garbage is dumped, it kills animals. They get tangled in it, it gets into their food chain, the burning releases toxins into the environment and into the water table. It is a very damaging type of pollution and even if it doesn’t get burnt and it just decays, it still releases toxins into the environment,” he explained.
He said like Felicity, areas like Carli Bay have a huge potential for becoming eco-tourism destinations.
“We have so many areas where you can see the scarlet ibis. Carli Bay was one of the first areas to have flamingos and all of that is being wasted because it is embarrassing to take visitors into an area for bird watching when they are surrounded by piles of garbage.”
Kazim: No raising of fines
Local Government Minister Kazim Hosein said his ministry and the Estate Management and Business Development Company (EMBD) are on a nationwide clean-up drive.
Hosein said they have been to Camden Road, Couva, and areas in Princes Town where dumping is prevalent.
“What we are doing right now is enforcing the law. We had one man charged recently in Penal and that was done by an officer from the EMBD, so we are going ahead with full force,” he said.
Asked if he would consider Broadbridge’s suggestion to increase the fine, Hosein said: “No, there is a fine right now and we just have to enforce the law. The fines were raised last year already and we are going to enforce it.”