Simpson Bay Lagoon ‘can be considered enviro-disaster’

SIMPSON BAY–Simpson Bay Lagoon can be considered an environmental disaster zone with thousands of gallons of vessel fuel still being leaked into the environment from land and sunken vessels, said Nature Foundation in a recently released assessment post-monster-Hurricane Irma.

Significant debris from various sources is still being recorded by the Foundation in all wetlands and coastal areas. From the previously estimated 120 sunken vessels of differing size in the last assessment that number has risen to more than 200. Vessel sizes range from five to 100 metres.
Very large quantities of fuel have been spilled into the Simpson Bay Lagoon and Oyster Pond wetlands from the large number of sunken vessels. Estimated fuel spilled in Simpson Bay Lagoon exceeds 200,000 gallons and is still being leaked.
The Nature Foundation has contacted authorities about this, but little assistance has been provided to date. The Foundation is concerned about the lasting impact this fuel spill will have on the environment and public health of the country.
“There has been very little support for clean-up activities from an environmental perspective. In order for successful mangrove restoration activities to commence the water-quality issue in Simpson Bay Lagoon has to be addressed,” the Foundation said.
The water quality of all wetlands and beaches is “still questionable” given the fuel-leakage issues and runoff from land. The Foundation will continue to assess water quality to determine the increase of contaminants.
An estimated 90 per cent of mature mangroves have been destroyed. The area of Mullet Pond, a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, has suffered particularly significant damage. Mangrove strands were also uprooted because sailboats tied onto mangrove roots illegally, causing significant damage. Most of these vessels have now sunk.
Most vessels have cleared out of the Mullet Pond area since the last assessments and the Nature Foundation has started with the clean-up of the site. A number of vessels will have to be salvaged in the area and this will take significant effort to complete.
It is also expected that solid waste disposal due to infrastructure challenges and clean-up will have significant impact on the community. The Philipsburg landfill was already over capacity before the storm and collected storm debris will contribute to the challenges regarding solid waste significantly.
The Nature Foundation is concerned regarding the management of the significant amount of solid waste and the disposal of such. It is also concerned about pests, including rodents and insects (flies and mosquitos, primarily) impacting the community.
The Man of War Shoal Marine Protected Area (National Marine Park) has suffered significant damage. Although in-depth assessments have not yet been made, rapid qualitative assessments have established that there has been significant storm damage to the Marine Park.
An estimated 50 per cent of coral colonies observed have suffered extensive damage and there is significant siltation still in the Marine Park. The Marine Park has only been in existence for six years and the area’s resiliency to recover from this significant weather event remains to be seen.
The Coral Nursery Project structures, acoustic hydrophone transmitter arrays, conch and seagrass experiments and scuba dive moorings are now non-existent due to the passage of the storm.
In the coming weeks, the Foundation will move towards re-installing critical dive moorings at locations where research projects were being conducted.
Beaches have experienced significant erosion due to the storm surge brought on by Hurricane Irma and there has been a significant impact on the Sea Turtle nesting habitat.
The 2017 Sea Turtle Nesting Season Monitoring Programme has been cancelled. Most beaches are still significantly covered by debris, both on land and submerged. The Foundation will continue to dive beaches to determine any submerged hazardous obstacles.
The Foundation reiterated its advisories to the public issued earlier this month. Residents are still urged not to eat fish, alive or dead, from surrounding waters. Seafood may be contaminated due to run-off and not safe to eat. Be careful when using beaches and follow instructions from Government not to burn garbage. Burning garbage is illegal and can release toxic chemicals in the air.
The first Terrestrial and Marine Assessments were carried out September 12-16. The second assessment was September 22-25. More assessments will follow in the coming weeks and months.

Source: The Daily Herald