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Stop Illegal quarrying at Matura

Published: 
Sunday, March 26, 2017

There are reports of an illegal quarry operating in the Matura forest. An excavator is on site, destroying the trees and digging for gravel. It’s been going on for months. The worst thing is that it’s happening in plain sight of the police. An investigation must start. It is alleged that Mack-sized quarry trucks park near to the Matura police station during the day and transport gravel at night.

The quarry is on Orosco Road, the road that turtle watchers must take to get to Matura beach. This is a very special area for Trinidadians. Matura beach is one of the world’s most important leatherback turtle nesting sites. We bring our children here so that they can marvel at the majestic leatherback turtles that come ashore here. It is at Matura beach that children learn that a Trinidadian community can come together to protect one of the world’s iconic animals from extinction. It is here that they have proof that Trinidadians can rise to the challenge, achieve greatness and be protectors of the living earth.

This forest and beach should be sacrosanct. If we protect only one spot in Trinidad from illegal quarries, this is it. This is not just about protecting a forest next to a turtle nesting beach—this is about protecting hope for our country in one of our hope-spots.

The entrance to the quarry is where the asphalt pavement on Orosco Road ends. The road was partially paved some time ago and that’s where the contractor stopped. The excavator is usually parked 200 metres from the quarry, in the forest. The quarry used to operate 24/7 but now there is only activity is at night. Maybe this new clandestine behaviour is due to the increased number of visitors to the area now that turtle nesting season has started. Most visitors come at night but the quarry operators must feel safe, concealed by the night.

Four or five truckloads are transported each night. They must pass by the junction in the middle of the village. The police station is so close to the junction that the officers on duty must feel the vibration of the trucks. The destination is not yet known, but Trinidad is small and it’s only through deliberate obstruction that an investigation would not succeed. It’s easy to follow one of the trucks, or to put a GPS transmitter in one of them while they are parked near the police station, while nobody looks. So far it hasn’t been done.

If there’s one breed of environmental criminals that deserve special caution, it’s the illegal quarry gangs. There’s just too much money on the table. There are reports of people who have spoken out against the illegal quarry trade being killed. I have had veiled death threats issued to me by illegal quarry owners. It’s scary but if we don’t stand up for this, then we don’t stand for anything at all.

When it comes to environmental crimes and personal safety it’s not the big corporations that you have to worry about. If you give them a chance they will sue you and leave you penniless, but they won’t kill you. The small time crook who drives the Benz or the Range Rover paid for by nefarious activities, that’s the one who will go to all lengths to protect what he or she has.

The illegal quarry owners are a criminal subculture who live by the gun and die by the gun.

When Kyle de Lima and myself first got involved with environmental activism, at the time with Trini Eco Warriors, we said in an interview that we weren’t doing anything different in our lives, except we now “refuse to look the other way.” With all the lawlessness and fear in T&T the criminals expect us to look the other way to avoid trouble. But we can’t do that anymore if we want to save T&T. The lion rules by separating weak individuals from the herd, but if the herd sticks together it can easily kill the lion.

There’s a very considerable fine for illegal quarrying. It’s $500,000 and five years imprisonment for a first offence and $700,000 and seven years imprisonment the second time around. It’s time we see some illegal quarry owners charged and convicted, and ask the police why they do not act against these criminals operating in broad daylight.

If there’s one breed of environmental criminals that deserve special caution, it’s the illegal quarry gangs. There’s just too much money on the table. There are reports of people who have spoken out against the illegal quarry trade being killed. I have had veiled death threats issued to me by illegal quarry owners. It’s scary but if we don’t stand up for this, then we don’t stand for anything at all.

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