Jetty off Little Tobago

Tour operators in Speyside are angry because the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) has issued a notice prohibiting visitors from using the jetty on Little Tobago.

The jetty was recently damaged by rough seas.

But tour operators said they have been asking for the jetty to be repaired for several years and after recent bad weather left parts of the jetty unusable, they came together and are making efforts to restore the jetty.

They say the THA went ahead and shut down visits to the island without talking to them.

Little Tobago is also known as the Bird of Paradise.

According to residents, the island was previously owned by an English settler named Sir William Ingram who introduced a colony of Birds of Paradise on the isolated space.

The birds were imported from New Guinea because the species was near in extinction.

However after his passing the island was presented to the Government of T&T in 1924 on the condition that it be maintained as a bird sanctuary.

At present, there is no electricity on the island which remains uninhabited, except for a wide range of plants and animals. The only sign of human existence is a derelict government building.

The island is famous for bird watching and hiking.

Tour operators in Speyside said although the pandemic has devastated the sector, reducing their earnings by as much as 80 to 90 per cent, domestic tourism has been giving them some hope.

One of the tour operators, Sean Robinson, said he has been in operations for 25 years.

He said, “If not for the locals I don’t know what we would have done. They have kept us going on weekends and busy periods like Christmas and the upcoming Easter weekend.”

Robinson said he was fully booked for a number of group tours for the upcoming weekend but he will now have to cancel those bookings because the jetty is the only way to safely access the island.

“That puts myself and all the reef boat operators and tour operators out of business until the jetty is repaired because we need the jetty to safely land people and safely take them on to Little Tobago,” he said.

Robinson said the water on the outskirts of the island is about 10 feet deep, ideal for diving but to dock close to the shore would place himself and visitors at risk.

Robinson said he is heart broken by the latest development as the THA has left the property to waste in spite of its revenue earning potential.

“This jetty has been discussed over the last 25 to 30 years, budgets have been approved on multiple occasions for the reconstruction of a new jetty here and nothing has ever been done and now the little we had is now gone, its really disappointing to know that none of the operators will not be able to make any money when it comes to bird watching on little Tobago,” he said.

Another operator Troy Byron said he was also disappointed as the tour boat operators have recently come together and decided to repair the jetty themselves.

He said the THA went ahead and prohibited access without speaking with them.

“I’ve been in operations for at least 20 years, there are not a lot of opportunities for persons in this part of the island but we were able to create a lives for ourselves, the pandemic hit us hard a number of persons are out of business,” Byron said.

He said the few people that have been able to weather the storm will now have to join the others on the bread line. Byron said the approach taken by the THA is also very disappointing.

He added, “We took the decision to help ourselves. They could have come to us and say well we closing the area and we would have sat with them to show how we plan to go about the repairs to ensure that its up to standard and everything is good—we are willing to help ourselves but they just surpassed us.”

Guardian Media reached out to secretary for Tourism Culture and Transportation Ancil Dennis for a comment on how the THA planned to treat with the issue.

He directed the news team to secretary for Infrastructure Quarries and Environment Kwesi DesVignes. But up to late yesterday there was no response from Des Vignes.