Disaster Relief, Disaster Response

Tobago Oil Spill Crisis: ADRA and Church Volunteers Continue Response Operations to Save The Coastline

ADRA workers and volunteers help clean up fuel oil spills on Tobago’s beaches. Photo credit: ADRA Trinidad and Tobago

SILVER SPRING, MD (May 1, 2024) – On the morning of February 7, Trinidad and Tobago’s fishermen set out under the usual azure skies, their boats slicing through the tranquil waters. But this day would mark a profound shift in the island’s serenity. Instead of the familiar blue expanse, they encountered a foreboding darkness—a visual testament to a looming ecological catastrophe.

The cause? A barge, laden with a staggering 35,000 barrels of fuel oil, had met its demise on a reef just off Tobago’s coast. As it succumbed to the depths, it unleashed a deluge of toxic crude, staining the coastline and threatening the delicate balance of the marine ecosystem, the wildlife, and the island’s shores. Instantly, it became a national emergency forcing several beach resorts to ban guests from the once pristine beaches.

ADRA staff and volunteers conclude special training and wear protective uniforms to remove think oil from Tobago’s shores. Photo credit: ADRA Trinidad and Tobago

In response to the crisis, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) sprang into action, rallying volunteers from across the community and the Adventist Church. Together with the Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), they embarked on a herculean cleanup effort to combat the thick oil slick that now marred Tobago’s sea.

“Many have been faced with the trauma of the experience since their livelihoods and loved ones are threatened.  Working together, we can make a meaningful difference in our nation and our community,” said Wilfred Desvignes, ADRA director for the Tobago Seventh-day Adventist Conference.

ADRA staff prepares to deliver essential supplies and food to communities affected by the oil spill. Photo credit: ADRA Trinidad and Tobago

Armed with hoes, rakes, and shovels, over 40 ADRA volunteers toiled to scrape away the viscous asphalt, forming heaps that awaited clearance by heavy machinery. The hazardous conditions demanded caution and special training for the volunteers from TEMA and the Office of Disaster Preparedness. They wore protective equipment and rotated in four-hour shifts to minimize exposure to toxic fumes.

“The disaster severely damaged the coastal area. The fishing and tourism industries have suffered significantly as a result of the spill, but things are gradually returning to normal. ADRA and Adventist church volunteers have been on the frontlines supporting the clean-up efforts since the early stages of the crisis and continue working with the Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) to restore the region. We have also donated hundreds of emergency food, water, and essential supplies to help affected communities, “ says Dr. Alexander Isaacs, ADRA director for the Caribbean Union of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Despite the magnitude of the clean-up operation, government officials recently reported significant headway, with 97 percent of the affected area cleared. Yet, the journey to full recovery is far from over, demanding continued vigilance and cooperation from Tobago’s resilient residents.

“By offering a compassionate and stewardship-focused response to this oil crisis, ADRA, and our Adventist Church leadership and volunteers reaffirm their continued dedication to community welfare and environmental preservation.  It is our moral and civic responsibility to care for our environment, and together with the local authorities, we will continue ongoing relief efforts to reclaim Tobago’s vibrant ecosystem and beautiful shores, one step at a time.”

ADRA has been a crucial partner of the Trinidad and Tobago government in disaster response. It has previously aided the government in emergency response operations to assist fire victims, as well as reconstruction projects. ADRA additionally assisted with relief efforts in Grenada, Dominica, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines following the 2021 volcano eruption.

Aerial view of houses in the red zone damaged by the La Soufriere volcanic ash.
Photo credit: Kerry Kerr

ADRA is grateful for the continued support of donors who help serve vulnerable communities in the Caribbean and worldwide. On Saturday, May 11, all communities are encouraged to donate to the Disaster and Famine Relief Offering which supports ADRA’s life-changing projects for the most disadvantaged people globally, as well as the work of Adventist Community Services. Please give today at ADRA.org/DFRO.

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About ADRA

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency is the international humanitarian arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church serving in 118 countries. Its work empowers communities and changes lives around the globe by providing sustainable community development and disaster relief. ADRA’s purpose is to serve humanity so all may live as God intended.

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