Environmental authorities have so far refused to comment on what appears to a national disaster that has started to happen.
However, when a team from Barbados TODAY visited Coles Cave in St Thomas recently, they were first greeted by the awful stench of discarded molasses, which upon further investigation revealed a much bigger problem arising from the seepage of hundreds of tonnes of the tar-like substance into the cave, which up until recently has been a popular tourist attraction.
However, if anything, the cave is now proving a turn off for those who were previously attracted to the fact that “it has not been altered as much by man” as the nearby Harrison’s Cave — the island’s leading tourist attraction, located a mere 0.4 miles from the dumpsite Mount Wilton Plantation, where several containers of molasses have been dumped.
To make matters worse, the problem of dumping which has now affected Coles is not an illegal one.
Barbados TODAY understands that it has been done with the blessing of this island’s environmental protection authorities. Official sources further reveal that over the past 20 years, the waste material, which originated in the sugar terminal in the Bridgetown Port, has been “legally” discarded in containers from the terminal at the port.
However, those containers have become rusty with age, leading to the seepage of hundreds of tonnes of molasses into the cave.
Aware of the situation, authorities have been frantically trying to clean up the site, while lies on a watercourse and therefore poses a serious threat to the drinking water supply in the St Thomas area. On our second visit to the area in recent weeks, we observed several workmen with Bobcats attempting to clear the deluge.
When contacted today for comment on the situation, Minister of the Environment Dr Denis Lowe, who is overseas, directed us to his Permanent Secretary Edison Alleyne.
Director of the Environmental Protection Department Anthony Headley also directed us to Alleyne who could not be reached initially, but during a brief telephone conversation with Barbados TODAY this evening, he said he would need permission from the minister to speak to us.
But even when told that Lowe had directed us to him, Alleyne’s response was a terse: “Put it in writing”.
Nonetheless, based on our observations, the once crystal clear water at Coles Cave has now been transformed into a dingy brown oily sludge while the cave’s once magnificent rock formations are now stained with tar-coloured molasses and the air filled with the stench of poisonous hydrogen sulphide that can only lead to depletion the oxygen content in the water.
To make matters worse, bats live in some parts of the cave and where their guano has come into contact with the molasses a black and yellow fungus resembling seaweed has formed.
Already, several tour companies have stopped conducting excursions to Coles Cave due to the unsafe and toxic conditions there.
One tour guide, who was in the area at the time, complained bitterly to Barbados TODAY about the state of the rock formations, which now carry the indelible stain and stench of hardened molasses.
“We were taking some foreign exchange university students in the cave when we started to smell something stink, but we carried on thinking it was just some smell blowing through the gully.
However, when we got by the first small water in the cave, it looked and smelt like a septic system had burst into the cave and the tour got cancelled on the spot,” he reported.
An avid hiker, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, described the situation, as “an ecological disaster of epic proportions!
“This is a vein of our island and we have poisoned her. The consequences of this will unfold for years to come” he lamented, while one worker at a nearby farm in Walkes Spring, which has traditionally pumped water from the cave for watering agricultural crops, reported that after seeing molasses trucks heading up to the dump site at the Mount Wilton Plantation, “we see our water turn brown.
“It had us worried at first cause our leaves started to brown, then they catch back themselves. Now our holding container is filling up wid molasses and blocking our pipe. The boss gin have to pelt it away cause that can’t clean out just so,” he added.
The owner of the Mount Wilton farm also said he was saddened by the situation but surprised to learn that similar dumping was taking place on his land.
However, he told Barbados TODAY he had tried to no avail to stop the nasty dumping habit, while concluding that the damage had already been done.
Pointing to a large amount of molasses in a section of the gully, which was estimated to be more than a foot deep in some areas, another resident said he was hoping that it did not rain since it was on those occasions that the molasses was most easily transported into the cave.
And with the island’s premiere attraction located not far away, a warning was also sounded that Harrison’s Cave could sooner suffer the same contaminated fate as Coles, even though there is no such impact to report at this stage. (RG/MJ)