By Ronell Bridgemohan, Phd Research Assistant at University of Florida. “Water quality and quantity are critical issues for Caribbean islands, especially after storm events and subsequent flooding. Increasing levels of fecal pollution pose a potential economic constraint and hardship … I have personally been affected by water borne pathogens and as such it makes me more concerned about addressing this matter.
Over 2.6 billion people in the world lack adequate sanitation due to the unsafe disposal of human excreta (WHO 2004). However, in the Caribbean, water quality research is done in only some Caribbean islands for example Puerto Rico and the Bahamas. As a young researcher, I continuously seek funding or interested stakeholders in water quality science and research in my geographical area of interest (Trinidad & Tobago). Unfortunately, in my search, funding was only available to those islands I understand that have faced adverse recovery from past catastrophes. I am grateful that they are receiving attention but what about the other islands?
Water quality and quantity after storm and flooding
Prior studies by other researchers and myself have indicated that there is a very high level of fecal contamination from human and non-human sources and water borne pathogens at these recreational sites. Having lived in two different Caribbean islands for majority of my life I have seen the disparity in concern and treatment of some Caribbean island compared to others. Water quality and quantity are critical issues for these islands, especially after storm events and subsequent flooding. Increasing levels of fecal pollution pose a potential economic constraint and hardship for Caribbean islands as their economy primarily depends on a thriving coastal tourism industry.
Fecal contamination in freshwater and coastal marine
This is especially true in islands such as the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, where fecal contamination at public beaches is not routinely monitored. Fecal contamination of both freshwater and coastal marine areas that are used for recreational, shell fishing, agricultural and drinking water poses a danger to human health and their sustenance. In the Caribbean, water quality measurements, testing, monitoring, and microbial source tracking for contamination, especially fecal pollution, is neglected (Bachoon et al., 2010). The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is a dual-island Caribbean state and is the southernmost country of the Caribbean archipelago. Whilst living and working there I noticed the lack of water quality monitoring, testing and remediation, even though there are many governmental agencies whose sole responsibility is to do this.
Poor water quality and infectious diseases
The principal risk to public health is from ingestion of water contaminated with feces containing pathogens that cause infectious diseases such as cholera and other diarrheal diseases, dysenteries, and enteric fevers. I have personally been affected by water borne pathogens and as such it makes me more concerned about addressing this matter. I plead with these government agencies and organizations to take corrective actions.
Tourism, agriculture and fishing industries
The country’s issues of environmental degradation have historical roots not too different from those in the rest of the world and is credited largely to economic development and an increase of human population. This twin island state has very diverse flora and fauna, with beaches and recreational water bodies that are frequented by citizens and tourists. Besides the tourist industry, the agricultural and fishing industry is directly affected by water pollution.
In this country, the main route of fecal pollutants is those which enter the rivers via direct dumping, run-off from the land that travels downstream and flow into the marine environments. Human anthropogenic forces, which may not be immediately apparent, has a severe impact on coastal and marine environments. A projected estimate states: more than (75%) of marine pollution in the Caribbean is due to land-based sources and activities. The increasing levels of fecal pollution pose a potential economic constraint and hardship for Caribbean regions, as they primarily depend on its thriving coastal tourism industry. There has been a decrease in water quality in the country, thus it is no longer suitable for swimming according to international standards, even in the dry season.
Popular beaches and water quality
Bacteriological water quality studies conducted since 1981 by the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) of Trinidad and Tobago revealed that some of our popular beaches are sewage contaminated. Sources of this sewage contamination for these beaches and rivers can be attributed to seepage of sewage from pit latrines situated along river banks and coastlines, non-functional sewage treatment plants, poorly constructed septic tanks, and run-off from livestock farming operation. These extremely high levels of human and non-human fecal contamination are a clear indication that the water quality in many of the recreational beaches, rivers and the fishing bays in Trinidad are impaired.
Water quality monitoring
It is imperative that additional water quality monitoring and remediation be done to improve this problem, as not only would the health of the nation be threatened but the socio-economic paradigm as well. The high incident of fecal pollution and pathogenic bacteria at the public beaches is particularly alarming and represent a serious public health risk on the island.
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