Tobago’s air quality remains heavily impacted by the Saharan dust event that occurred over the weekend, even as skies over Trinidad begin to clear up. This, according to the administration and communications representative for Environment Tobago, Sean McCoon, who visited Trinidad to celebrate Father’s Day on Sunday, June 21, 2020 when the phenomenon first intensified. McCoon was able to compare conditions on both islands as he returned to Tobago the day after on June 22, 2020.
In speaking with Cari-Bois Environmental News Network, McCoon said “from comparing and contrasting the two places, the visibility here in Tobago is a lot lower, at least in the southwestern part of the island.” He described the experience of flying home by saying “normally, when we are landing, you could see like five to ten miles ahead and this time you couldn’t even see that.”
The Environmental Management Authority’s (EMA) Air Quality Index (AQI) for Tobago, monitored at its station at Signal Hill, gave its first-ever ‘Hazardous’ Air Quality warning on June 21, 2020 which meant that “everyone should avoid all physical activity outdoors.” It has since reduced its reading to ‘Unhealthy’ as of Tuesday, June 23, 2020, which indicates that “people with heart or lung disease, older adults, children, and people with respiratory ailments and allergies should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion.”
The monitoring station at Point Lisas, Trinidad, gave readings of ‘Unhealthy’ and ‘Sensitive Groups,’ for the same time period.
Cari-Bois Environmental News Network asked McCoon if he had witnessed the mild improvements in air quality described in the EMA’s updated warning today (June 23) and he responded affirmatively stating “It’s now a little clearer than yesterday but visibility is still poor. If I stand on my balcony, I can’t see beyond five miles.”
McCoon was also asked about what concerns are being shared by Tobago residents regarding the Saharan dust event and he noted that many were already on high alert over respiratory ailments because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the Saharan dust event was exacerbating their fears.
Asked whether there were concerns about how this may affect the partial reopening of Tobago’s tourism sector, McCoon responded that it had not yet become an issue but the situation was still very uncertain.
“We are finding that the question of tourism could be very interesting because as beaches and public recreational areas are now open, you will obviously find that if the visibility is poor, people may not want to go…but I see a few Trinis coming up right now and they seem to be going to the beach.”
Environment Tobago is a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization that prides itself on 23 years of advocating for the welfare of the local environment.