Trinidad's Pitch Lake
By: Attorney Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth
Trinidad’s Pitch Lake is a world wonder. It is the largest and richest source of natural asphalt. The lake contains approximately 10 million tons of asphalt, spans 100 acres, and is approximately 250 feet deep. For reference, that is about 2 times bigger than Grand Central Station and deeper than the height of Cinderella’s castle at Disney World.
Legend says that a local tribe was celebrating a victory against a rival tribe. However, in the midst of their celebrations, they began to cook and eat the sacred hummingbird. God allegedly punished the group by opening the Earth and creating the Pitch Lake to swallow their souls. God left the Pitch Lake as a reminder to others of the tribe’s terrible sin. Local villages believe this legend because Amerindian artifacts and bones were found preserved (due to the asphalt) near the lake. The Amerindian word for asphalt was “piche.”
The Europeans first learned of the Pitch Lake when Sir Walter Raleigh visited the island in 1595, around the time he was looking for El Dorado. The natives took Raleigh to the lake and he used the asphalt to caulk his ship. The asphalt was “most excellent,” in his opinion, because it did not melt in the sun like the Norway asphalt.
In 1887, an American businessman secured a 42-year monopoly on the lake. As a result, many of the first asphalt roads in New York City, Washington D.C., and other eastern U.S. cities were paved using the asphalt from Trinidad’s Pitch Lake. In conjunction, much of the Pitch Lake’s profits went abroad to a foreign investor and not to the local Trinidadian population.
Scientifically speaking, Pitch Lake is located at the intersection of two faults. The oil at the intersection rises, the sun evaporates the lighter elements in the oil, and this process leaves behind the heavier elements creating the asphalt. Kerosene and oil also have been harvested from the Pitch Lake.
The Pitch Lake is not Trinidad’s only treasure. Its people and their culture are equally as valuable to the rest of the world.
Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth, Esq. is a trial-winning business and trademark attorney. She primarily helps new and small businesses with trademarks, formation, and name clearance searches. She writes articles on the importance of trademarks, trademark law updates, and also West Indian history (with an emphasis on India, Trinidad, Guyana, and the United States).
MDGR Law, P.A.
PO Box 101794 Fort Lauderdale, FL 33310-1794