Tropical AVP continues hurricane preparation, relief efforts in Eastern Caribbean

“Almost always, Tropical is the first ship in port after a storm.”

By Hilary Reeves

Mark Lopez knows firsthand the devastation of a Caribbean hurricane.

Born and raised in Jamaica, he still remembers the way Hurricane Gilbert – a rare Category 5 storm – destroyed his family’s island home in 1988.

_RMF3376small“I had just left the island for school in Canada and was unable to speak to my family for two weeks,” he said. “The entire island was crushed. We lost the roof of our home. Picture every leaf off the trees, a tropical winter-scape with rubble everywhere. Most Caribbean nations don’t have the resources necessary to make a quick recovery when hit. It takes years and years to rebuild.”

According to Lopez, assistant vice president of Eastern Caribbean Trade at Florida-based Tropical Shipping, hurricanes and tropical storms have had a major impact on most of the company’s ports throughout its 50-year history. In August, Tropical Storm Erika dumped 12 inches of rain on the island nation of Dominica, causing severe flooding and landslides that killed 30 people and caused an estimated $200-million dollars worth of infrastructure damage.

Tropical Shipping was recently awarded a Special Recognition Award from the Dominica Diaspora Community of South Florida, partnering with the City of Miramar and under the stewardship of Erika Diaspora Relief, for the company’s assistance during the post-storm recovery efforts on Dominica. Lopez accepted the award on Tropical’s behalf.

“The award was presented to Tropical Shipping for our overall response to the needs in Dominica, and the swiftness with which we responded,” Lopez explained. “Tamara Lowe, our Island Manager, and her team on island lived every minute of it. Tamara was right there at every Office of Disaster Management meeting, and met face to face with every customer to discuss their damages and needs. We also met repeatedly with the Dominican community in Florida to address their needs.”

“Picture every leaf off the trees, a tropical winter-scape with rubble everywhere. Most Caribbean nations don’t have the resources necessary to make a quick recovery when hit.”

Lopez’s father was Jamaican, his mother Trinidadian, and his maternal grandparents Barbadian. Though most Caribbean islands are separate nations, there’s still the same sense of family in the region that he remembers as a child.

“All of my family is back in Jamaica. My mum is in Kingston and is a semi-retired travel agent. My sister runs the Sandals Foundation, which does conservation work throughout the Caribbean, and is married to a Trinidadian and has two children. My brother is an architect in Jamaica, married a Barbadian, and also has two children. We’re keeping the mixed-up Caribbean legacy alive,” he laughed. “Growing up in Jamaica was a treasured experience. My father loved to fish, so we spent all our free time around the ocean.”

Lopez said he grew into an inherent love of the sea and wanted to be a marine biologist, and later a hotelier. He worked at Jamaica’s Sandals resort every summer doing everything from dishwashing to eventually leading scuba diving expeditions. Lopez left Jamaica after high school to attend the University of Western Ontario where he studied economics.

“I don’t think ‘shipping’ is often on anyone’s career radar screens,” he said, adding that he nevertheless moved to Miami after graduation and began working for Cari-freight, a company formed by several large trading companies in the Caribbean.

_RMF3384-2small“Prior to joining Tropical 12 years ago, I was always on the commercial side of the business,” Lopez explained. “I lived in Antigua as the Leeward Islands Trade Manager for Tecmarine Lines, which was subsequently acquired by Tropical Shipping.”

Lopez said the eastern Caribbean still feels like home, and he feels compelled to continue working for community and environmental causes throughout the region.

“Tropical Shipping is viewed as a first responder there,” he said. “Almost always, Tropical is the first ship in port after a storm, bringing in critical supplies: food, water, and relief goods loaded by organizations such as the Red Cross, and building materials in the months that follow. Making sure our team and their families are safe is job number one. We then reach out to our customers to make sure they and theirs are safe, and see what needs they have. In the days that follow, we work closely with local and regional disaster management agencies to provide logistics, advice, and support.”

Lopez said Tropical Shipping will continue offering customers Disaster Management Workshops designed to bring together the private and public sector to talk about disaster response coordination and business continuity.

“We had a very successful workshop in Barbados this summer where, as a result, the private sector has agreed to form an emergency operations center to work alongside the governments,” he said. “It was well received by all and spoke volumes of Tropical’s commitment.”

In his free time, Lopez dives, and – “don’t laugh,” he said – likes to bird-watch.

“I work diligently for coral reef and terrestrial forest conservation through Our Reefs: Caribbean Connections, and BirdsCaribbean.”.

Although Lopez’s father died decades ago, he said he tries to emulate his strong, yet caring manner and love of community – qualities he also sees personified in Tropical CEO Rick Murrell.

“I had the good fortune of working with him very early on after joining Tropical,” he said. “His philosophy and dedication to the social and economic health of these amazing islands we serve was something I had not seen before.  It was inspiring and motivating to say the least, and I hope we as a company continue to emulate those values.”