Dr. Delmon Baker, Minister in the Ministry of Tobago Development (MTD) will soon be seeking Cabinet’s approval for his Ministry to implement a Maritime Monitoring System (MMS) around the island of Tobago for the purposes of monitoring the meteorological aspects of the marine environment and providing necessary warnings to appropriate individuals, in particularly members of the fishing community.
The fishing industry in Tobago undeniably plays a significant role in the employment of Tobagonians, and it is the financial mainstay of numerous villages on the island. Dr. Baker noted that there are one thousand (1000) persons directly involved in the fishing trade and another three thousand (3000) indirectly employed in the industry which accounts for 23 % of the island’s GDP.
Fishermen are often times challenged, and periodically they experience a variety of difficulties when engaging in their day-to-day activities which include, but not limited to the open sea. Their livelihoods are seriously threatened by thefts of fishing boats and equipment; the occasional straying into the Exclusive Economic Zones belonging to other Caribbean islands and its associated risk of being arrested; and technical difficulties experienced with their fishing boats and engines. Without any established system and means of communication, fishermen sometimes drift for days. Some are fortunate enough to be picked up by another vessel or alternatively they may succumb to dehydration due to excessive sun exposure.
Additionally, Tobago relies heavily on tourism for revenue. This sector contributes around fifty percent (50%) of the island’s GDP and employs a similar percentage of individuals. Many visitors arrive to the island via small water crafts i.e. sail boats and yachts, whilst there are already a number of reef vessels and tour recreational vessels for larger groups. This number is expected to increase with the planned development of at least two (2) marinas on the island. These boats, especially sail powered boats, take advantage of the tides and currents to manoeuvre itself. Water sports, recreational fishing, and sea and sun bathing are some of the major activities that attract tourists to the island. Currently there is no available system that may be used to inform visitors and locals about the maritime conditions that would impact their planned activities.
The MMS, if implemented, will basically address all of the above concerns through the use of three main modules, Weather, Communication and Safety.
i. Weather: Communication of data between the metrological office and the target population will be executed through the use of text messages, web sites, smart device applications and the general media.
ii. Communication: Fishermen will be able to sign up for and utilize a closed group service facilitated by the Ministry of Tobago Development, which will enable fishermen to communicate between themselves and the metrological office for updates using their specialised satellite devices.
iii. Safety and security at sea will be addressed though the installation of a satellite based global positioning system. The global positioning system component of the Small Water Craft System would be made available to the local fishermen to ensure that their boats do not stray out of Trinidad and Tobago’s maritime boundaries. In the event of engine failure or any other difficulty experienced, the system may be used to alert nearby vessels or the Coast Guard for assistance. The system will also monitor the vessel during off periods. In the event that there is an unplanned relocation of a vessel, the owner will be contacted to verify the security of his vessel. Failure would mean the engagement of the appropriate authorities to remedy the situation.
When the MMS system around Tobago is installed, it would be able to supply relevant and accurate marine meteorological data to individuals and organizations involved in ocean based activities around the island. These activities include but are not limited to commercial and recreational fishermen; surfers, beach goers and individuals involved in recreational water sports; engineering projects involving the construction of bridges, offshore drilling platforms, docks and other marine structures and; recreational boating by tourists visiting the island and also by locals.
It is expected that when approval is granted by the Cabinet, the new Metrological Services Building to be constructed will be considered an ideal location for the command centre of the Maritime Monitoring System.
Junior Quashie, President of the All Tobago Fisher Folk Association welcomes the programme by the Ministry of Tobago Development. He noted that it will bring a degree of security to the fishermen in Tobago. The mere fact that you could be at home and be notified that your vessel is being moved would help to ease the minds of fishermen. Quashie added that the theft of boats and engines happens all around Tobago and sometimes it may rarely occur and then suddenly it increases. In the meantime he stated that the fishing community is being sensitized to the nature of programme.
Various considerations for the system would also involve activities such as installation of Cellular Subscriber Identity Module (S.I.M.), cards and data plans for transmission of data to the Meteorological Office in Crown Point, creation of Blackberry, Apple and Google Android applications for smart device users, installation of a subscription based on text messages to enable individuals to abreast on weather conditions.
This initiative is currently in the technical review stage where the exact specifications for the system are being drafted and will be circulated for comments among relevant parties. It will become operational within the shortest possible timeframe. It is being managed by five members of the Projects Unit of the Ministry of Tobago Development. The Ministry of National Security is collaborating with the project.