We frequently hear that Barbados needs more for visitors to do than sea, sun and sand. Heritage and ecotourism, we are told, are what’s needed. But, how can we have ecotourism without ecosystems? Gullies have reforested substantially since the 1950s, but most are so full of garbage that it is an embarrassment to take anyone to them. So apart from a few managed sites like Welchman Hall Gully (hats off to the Barbados National Trust and the manager there), forget gullies
What about reefs? Everyone loves to see a vibrant coral reef. Well, as our recent coral reef scorecard shows, we have decimated those reefs near-shore. Only SCUBA divers can get to the offshore bank reefs. Oh, ‘its climate change’ we hear. Rubbish, overfishing and land based pollution had demolished them long before, so all that was needed from climate change was a gentle push and down they went. There is no political courage whatsoever to address overfishing on reefs. And there is very little to prevent pollution from the land or sea. Oh, ‘we will grow corals and replant the reefs’ we hear. Come on, what’s the point of replanting corals in the same conditions that killed them in the first place? Until we address overfishing and land-based pollution through proper sewage and watershed management, forget reefs.
What about coastal wetlands and migratory bird watching? Bird watching is a big deal in many countries. Well, our coastal wetlands are at severe risk. We have Graeme Hall Swamp, which has been used as an emergency dump for sewage, to the extent that the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary has had to close and degradation is evident throughout the swamp. By the way, the Graeme Hall Swamp is our only internationally recognized nature area, a Ramsar Convention area, and look how we have treated it.
Chancery Lane swamp, a beautiful coastal wetland, is privately owned. It has survived one attempt to put a hotel in the middle of it, but who knows when a developer will finally convince the Government to allow development there. If developers can contemplate digging out Chapman Swamp, the last little piece of nature in the St. Lawrence area, then why not Chancery Lane?
Long Pond on the east coast is one of the last areas in Barbados where there is hope for a truly wild coastal natural area where one can be out of sight of artificial structures. There is a lot of pressure on Long Pond. Four-wheel drive enthusiasts rampage on the dunes and beach. Sewage comes down into it from Belleplaine. There is garbage and litter. People dig out grass and carry it away.
Walkers Reserve to the north is rehabilitating the sand mine there and trying a variety of revegetation techniques. Hats off to them, but it is a privately owned area. Its future depends on the owners and is not guaranteed. Just north of that, Green Pond,
a coastal wetland, Long Pond’s little sister, is also privately owned and proposals for significant development of the area loom.
All along the west coast are a few remnants of coastal wetlands where gullies enter the sea. Most have been reduced to concrete canals. The few that remain are diminished in size and are steadily being nibbled away by encroachment of adjacent development. These once protected our reefs from land-based pollution. They remind us of how coastal development always seems to take priority over coastal wetlands.
Bottom line, when will Barbados get serious about protecting its ecosystems, especially its coastal and marine ones? There were many policies and plans over the years.
Since 1998, we have had an official system of open spaces seven categories of parks and protected areas. The two most protected categories are Conservation Areas and National Forest Candidate Sites. Several have been proposed, none have been formally declare. The only official non-private conservation areas in Barbados are the Barbados Marine Reserve, based at Folkestone and Welchman Hall Gully. One open space category is the Barbados National Park, the Scotland District. This was declared in 2017, but all that was done was to put up signs. More on the National Park later.
Surely it is time to take the system of parks and protected areas that we have proposed on paper and match our international rhetoric with some serious local action. Otherwise, ecotourism talk is just talk.
The Land Conservancy Barbados consists of a group of environmentally conscious people working in various fields in Barbados who are concerned about biodiversity protection in Barbados.