Climate Change Brings Warmer, Wetter Weather to Trinidad

Imtiaz Khan remembers the rains of his childhood as being light and providing welcome relief from the summer heat. A heavy shower, he said, would arrive only about once a month during the rainy season.

Now 48, and president of the Carli Bay Fishing Association, Mr. Khan said the rains were something to dread. Storms are so regular, he said, there is serious flooding every year. The heavy downpours carry sediment into the bay, turning the sea cloudy and brown. Mangrove nurseries have been washed away. Clams, oysters, mussels and many species of fish are in decline.

“The fish go where there is more food and where they can reproduce,” Mr. Khan said. “That’s not here anymore.”

Trinidad and Tobago is facing a familiar challenge. Its leaders believe that oil and gas production are vital to the economy, but exploitation of those resources is causing climate change, which is taking an especially hard toll on the people and environment.

Like other Trinidadians, Mr. Khan takes a middle-of-the-road approach to climate change and fossil fuels, which he doesn’t want to eliminate because they have helped lift the living standards in his country. “You can’t stop the oil and gas, but we need a better balance,” he said.

He noted that the fishermen need to sail out farther and farther beyond the bay to get their catch, and they were in ever fiercer competition with fishermen from neighboring Venezuela, as a result.

To the south, on the beach at the L’Anse Mitan fishing village, the beach erosion is so severe that a large statue of St. Peter is on the verge of collapse. Storms and currents are coming to shore so strongly that the fishermen have started to beach their boats in the high grass.

“Everyone’s pulling in their boats and staying home,” said Bernard Hospedales, a local fisherman.

The Trinidadian government highlighted the country’s climate challenges in a 2021 report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“Trinidad and Tobago is already experiencing the adverse impacts of climate change, such as sea level rise, increased ambient temperature and extreme weather systems,” Camille Robinson-Regis, then the minister of planning and now minister of social development, wrote in a foreword to the report. She noted that climate change could undermine efforts to ease poverty and improve health care.

The island nation’s climate has historically been highly variable. Climate change has made it more so. And Trinidad’s average temperature has risen two and half times above the global average from 1946 to 2019, according to the government report to the U.N. Over the past four decades, heavy rain that last multiple days has also been more frequent.

Watermelon farmers complain that dry seasons are drier, forcing them to water more frequently. Then, when the rainy season comes, fierce rains damage plants and lower watermelon yields.

“Watermelons can’t compete with oil and gas,” said Teeluckram Khemrag, who was selling his produce on a roadside on the southern end of Trinidad island.

Other businesses are also hurting. Bally’s by the Sea Hotel and Resort, a 17-room beachside motel in Mayaro, was empty of guests on a recent April afternoon. Nisha Churai, the hotel supervisor, blamed the gobs of rotting seaweed — known as sargassum — coating the beach, along with the country’s weak economy.

“It smells funny,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to be around that either.”

Tons of sargassum that thrive in warming waters and on agricultural runoff are gathering on beaches across the Caribbean. The seaweed tangles in fishing nets, and it interferes with the nesting of turtles.

Dave Ali, an oil and gas platform worker who lives down the street, said the amount of the heavy brown seaweed amassing on the beach had grown every year since about 2014.

“I love the idea of solar and wind, but we won’t leave oil and gas in our lifetime,” he said, sipping a beer on his porch. “We’re a small country. There is only so much we can do.”