Natural Heritage|

By Robin Mahon

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Progress with environmental sustainability in Barbados in 50 years of independence.

Barbados is heavily dependent on the service provided by its natural assets. This is especially so
for the coastal and marine ecosystems that support tourism, but fisheries for food, supporting
services such as coastline protection, and aesthetic and cultural services are also highly
important. The ecosystems that provide these services are under threat from pollution,
overexploitation and destruction of habitats. Barbados is well connected with global initiatives
for sustainable use of ecosystems and has done well with strategic and sectoral planning as well
as legislation. However, implementation has been weak in some very prominent areas: coastal
and marine ecosystems, illegal dumping and littering, and development of parks and protected
areas.All stakeholder groups – Government of Barbados, private sector, NGOs – have a collective part
to play in addressing this situation; as do all Barbadians as individuals. Specific recommendations
for each of these groups are provided. The national notion that this is a ‘government
responsibility’ must be dispelled. Most notably, the Government of Barbados does not appear to
be providing the holistic vision and leadership that is needed. A guiding mechanism that involves
stakeholders of all types is needed.
If there is any country in the world that has the potential to fully incorporate environment into
sustainability, it is Barbados. Small size can work to our benefit; it makes comprehensive planning
and monitoring much more feasible. We have the intellectual capacity, knowledge and
implementation skills to achieve this goal. Once we get enough people to realize that this is a job
for everyone, not just the Government of Barbados, we will have the critical mass to make full
use of those capacities.



This report examines progress with environmental sustainability in Barbados after 50 years as an
independent country. This is a big topic, with implications for virtually every aspect of life in
Barbados. So how can this topic best be tackled? I will start with some context, by looking at
several global processes and ideas that have had significant bearing on the way that environment
and sustainability has been addressed in Barbados. This is to ensure that we are all starting out
on the same page. Then I will look more closely at why we need to be concerned about the
relationship between environment and sustainability – what does the environment do for us here
in Barbados? I will then examine what we have been doing toward sustainability and how well
we have been doing it. Based on this, I will try to identify the major gaps in our efforts. Finally, I
will close with some ideas for what we need to do to fill those gaps.


In reflecting on trends and accomplishments in environment and sustainability since Barbados
gained independence in 1966, it is clear that most of the thinking globally on this topic has
evolved since then, or even in the last 30 years. This is not to say that there was no attention to
natural heritage and the environment before that. From as early as 1878, for example, Barbados
had a law in place to conserve sea eggs. There are actually several earlier laws that sought to
conserve or at least protect the environment for human use – so this is just one example. As
pointed out by Carmichael (1996) in his review of progress with sustainability in the first 30 years
of independence, conservation was practiced in many ways, both pre- and post-independence,
simply out of economic necessity. Soil conservation is a prime example, with khus khus grass
bordering most sugarcane fields. However, in this report I will focus on the last 20 to 30 years in
which there has been a major series of developments at the global level that have influenced our
approach to sustainability.
The beginning of concerted global attention to environment and sustainability is often taken to
be the landmark 1972 – United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (United Nations
1973). It gave rise to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). A decade later in 1983
the World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland Commission) was
established and resulted in the publication of “Our Common Future” in 1987, which popularized
the term “sustainable development” (WCED 1987). This is where we get the classic definition of
sustainable development as being: “development which meets the needs of the present without
compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
These developments led to the 1993 United Nations Conference on Environment and
Development (UNCED), also known as the Rio Conference, out of which came Agenda 21, the
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC)
and the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD), as well as ideas such as taking a more
holistic ecosystem approach to sustainable development. The follow-up World Summit on
Sustainable Development, 10 years later in South Africa (Rio+10), gave us the Millennium
Development Goals (MDGs), based on the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (UNGA 2000; MEA 2005). These goals, with a focus on eliminating poverty, were to guide sustainable development
through to 2015. Globally, we did not do as well in achieving the MDGs as we might have wished,
but we did recognize the importance of having agreed global level goals and targets and setting
the global agenda. So much so, that in 2014, there was Rio+20, the United Nations Conference
on Sustainable Development, at which this approach was renewed. This gave us the 2030 Agenda
for Sustainable Development and 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with associated
targets that are to guide us to 2030 (United Nations 2016). Barbados participated fully in the
development of these and has accepted them as its guiding goals.
In parallel, we have had the three global conferences for Small Island Developing States (SIDS):
in Barbados in 1994, Mauritius in 2005 and Samoa in 2015. These gave us the Barbados
Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (BPOA),
the Mauritius Strategy for the further Implementation (MSI) of the BPOA and the Samoa Pathway
(UNGA 1994; 2005; 2014; Figure 1). These have provided direction that is specific to the needs of

Figure 1: Major milestones in the global approach to sustainable development

All of this historical perspective is to make the point that the development of policy for sustainable development in Barbados is taking place in a structured global context that gives all countries access to a wide range of concepts, information and implementation support. What we have seen over this time is that thinking about the environment has shifted from being about 5 conservation for its own sake, and seeing environmentalists as anti- any kind of development, to seeing it as an essential component of human well-being and consequently, critical for sustainable development. This recognition is embodied in the idea that there are three pillars of sustainable development, all of which must receive serious attention and must be dealt with in an integrated fashion, as illustrated by Figure 2 (Kates et al. 2005). 

Figure 2: The three pillars of sustainable development: social, economic and environment

This was a major step forward, but operationalizing it has been challenging for most countries.
The tools have been evolving, but the job is far from complete. Economic considerations and
indicators of development continue to dominate the discussion. However, quality of life as the
ultimate goal, not pure economic growth, is gaining increasing attention around the world.
Perhaps, as many writers are currently saying, it is time to say goodbye to Gross Domestic Product
(GDP) as a measure of development and adopt indicators that more fully reflect our values and
aspirations (Costanza et al. 2014). We need much more discussion on this question in Barbados.
This will not be the main focus of this report, but it is fundamental to where Barbados may want
to go, as a country, with respect to sustainable development. We also need to think about where
and how we have this conversation so that it includes everyone.


The connection between environment and sustainable development has led to a global focus on
why the environment is so important to sustainability. In addressing this question, the concept
of Ecosystem Services has emerged. This way of looking at the environment is relatively new and
is further explained in Figure 3. It is really a product of the global Millennium Ecosystem
Assessment (MEA) which was completed in 2004 (MEA 2005).

Figure 3: The Ecosystem Services perspective has become an important aspect of sustainable development (Source: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005)

The general formulation of ecosystem services shows four categories: supporting, provisioning,
regulating and cultural. All are important to Barbados.
Some of the critical ecosystems services for Barbados are:

  • Supporting – Ecological functions such as soil generation, nutrient cycling and
    pollination that underpin ecosystem function;
  • Provisioning – This is the most obvious one, mainly fisheries, potable water and wild
  • Regulating – These are less obvious functions such as beach protection by reefs and
    beach vegetation, filtration of runoff by coastal habitats, and uptake of nutrients by
    vegetation before they get into drinking or coastal waters;
  • Aesthetic – These are places where we take visitors to show off Barbados, or go to
    ourselves to enjoy iconic views such as Culpepper Island and Ragged Point, St. John’s
    Church and North Point (Figure 4);

  • Educational – This is where we go and take our children to learn about nature –
    Folkestone Marine Park, Graeme Hall and Welchman Hall Gully; and so on (Figure 5);

  • Recreational and Spiritual – These are the places where we go to relax and regroup in
    natural surroundings; places like Bath, River Bay, Folkestone or just the coast anywhere
    on the island.
Figure 4: Aesthetic ecosystem services, iconic views in Barbados (a) Culpepper Island, (b) the east coast from St John’s Church
Figure 5: Educational ecosystem services: (a) Folkestone Park and Marine Reserve, (b) Graeme Hall, (c) Welchman Hall Gully

A lot of thinking and research has developed around the idea of ecosystem services: questions
like how do we quantify their value and how to incorporate them into national accounting? For
example, what happens if you destroy a coastal wetland and replace it with a marina so that it
no longer protects the reef from sediment and pollution in runoff, and then the reef degrades
allowing the waves to erode the beach?
Sometimes we can replace these services; but there is a cost to replacing them. For example, we
can build a breakwater to protect the beach. The cost of the breakwater is easy to estimate, but
what about cost of any losses to fisherfolk due to the degraded reef? This is more difficult to
estimate. Then there is any loss of recreational or aesthetic value to locals and visitors with
implications for tourism revenues. This is difficult to estimate but a very real consequence. Then,
there is the question of who bears these costs? In the case of a development, the developer could
be asked to bear at least some of them. Otherwise, if the government pays for them, the
developer gets a free ride at the expense of the taxpayer. I am not going to go any further into
these questions, but I raise them to illustrate how thinking is changing due to the ecosystem
services perspective. It is how we must think about our ecosystems and the services they provide
if we are to fully integrate environment into sustainable development.


Keeping ecosystem services in mind, let us turn our attention to what is threatening the
ecosystems that provide them. The three major categories of threats – overexploitation,
pollution, and habitat destruction – are all present in Barbados. I do not have time to cover them
in detail, and I suspect we are all familiar with them; but I will have a quick look at some of the
most prominent ones.

Overexploitation of natural resources

Regarding overexploitation of natural resources, we are referring primarily to marine resources.
The main offshore ones that we harvest – flyingfish, dolphinfish, kingfish – are not currently
overexploited, and the others, tunas and billfishes are largely out of our hands as they have
oceanwide distribution and are managed by the International Commission for the Conservation
of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) (Mahon and McConney 2004). However, we do still need to play our
small part in managing them.
Where we do have cause for considerable concern regarding overexploitation is our coastal
resources, mainly reef species that are harvested for food. These resources are known to be
severely depleted (McConney 2011). They have been depleted for a long time by a range of
fishing practices: spearfishing and the use of fish pots and seines (Simpson et al., 2014) (Figure
6). Some of these practices are destructive or inappropriate. The practice of ‘chubbing’ where
seine nets are set over live coral bottom is particularly damaging. ‘Chubbing’ catches large
numbers of small fishes, especially parrotfishes and surgeonfishes which are critical to reef health
(Maharaj et al. 2011). It also destroys the sea life on the sea floor (Figure 7).

Figure 6: Spearfishing is uncontrolled and removes many small fishes including parrotfishes

While these destructive practices are serious, the real problem is simply that there is too much
fishing and removing more fish than the marine ecosystem can support. This is a problem for
small and large-scale fisheries worldwide. Reducing the amount of fishing is a major challenge.

There is also the practice of harvesting of corals and other sea life for sale as curios. Corals are
slow growing and cannot sustain high levels of harvesting. Despite it being illegal to harvest
corals, they can be seen on sale quite openly, for example on the beach behind the Holetown
Police Station, St. James, and on the roadside in St Lawrence Gap, Christ Church (Figure 8).

Figure 7: ‘Chubbing’, the use of a seine net often over live coral bottom removes many small individuals such as the surgeonfish shown inset, and also destroys the sea floor (photo by Corrie Scott, inset by David Gill).
Figure 8: Corals and other sea life are illegally harvested for sale to tourists and are openly on display.

One major success story with regard to overexploitation is sea turtles. Thanks to the joint efforts
of the Barbados Sea Turtle Project here at The University of West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill Campus,
and the Government of Barbados, hawksbill sea turtle nesting populations have recovered
considerably. There are still significant threats to nesting habitat on beaches due to beach erosion
and beach lighting. However, things are moving in the right direction (Horrocks and Browne,


Ecosystems are threatened by pollution in all its forms. This includes groundwater contamination
by nutrients, chemicals and waterborne diseases, which is always a threat of major concern.
Groundwater is monitored quite intensively. Therefore, I will not deal with groundwater further.
Air pollution is largely a localized problem, except when we experience African dust storms
(which are beyond our control), or extensive fires which occur in the dry season, burning
vegetation and with it a lot of accumulated plastic, releasing some very toxic substances such as
dioxins in unknown concentrations and with unknown impacts. This is a solid waste management
problem. Also of concern are effects of agricultural chemicals – chiefly pesticides – on terrestrial
ecosystems. They impact biodiversity in general and also specifically beneficial plants and
animals, such as bees. We know very little about these impacts, and they are not monitored.
In contrast, we know a lot about pollution of coastal water systems by inputs from agriculture,
domestic wastewater, sewage and surface runoff. Much of this ends up in our gullies and manmade drains, from where it goes into the sea. The Gully Ecosystems Management Study found
widespread discharge of liquid waste into gullies. For example, instances where animal pens on
gully slopes simply drain into the gully are commonplace (Figure 9).

Figure 9: An animal pen that drains directly into a gully

To further illustrate how serious this problem is, I will refer to three studies conducted by UWI at
(1) Long Pond, St. Andrew, (2) in the Conset Bay, St. John watershed and (3) at Oistins, Christ
Church, which suggest that it is quite significant, not only for ecosystem health, but for human
health as well (Gosine and Mahon 2014; Sutherland 2009; Alleyne et al. 1999). At all three sites,
total fecal coliform bacteria counts were well in excess of acceptable standards. In Conset Bay,
nutrients were also at unacceptably high levels. In Oistins, an urban setting, where watercourses
are mainly concrete drains; there were additional problems such as a direct release of
commercial laundry water and a lot of solid waste entering the sea at five outfalls in the
immediate Oistins area (Figure 10). Pollutants and nutrients also end up in the shallow
groundwater near the coast largely through domestic soakaways and suck-wells from where it is
carried into the sea by freshwater fluxes. The implications of these pollutants for coastal
ecosystems are enormous, resulting in everything from localized death of marine systems near
outfalls, to damage from the overgrowth of algae and smothering by sediments.

Figure 10: Multiple drains in Oistins (above) take runoff with solid (below left) and liquid waste (below right) straight into the sea.

This brings us to the problem of disposal of solid waste. This is a chronic problem ranging from
massive illegal dumpsites in gullies and other out-of-the-way places, to the discarding of small
quantities of domestic garbage on roadsides, vacant lots, and so on, to widespread littering.
The Gully Ecosystems Management Study found 369 solid waste dumps sites in gullies across
the island (Figure 11). These are especially prevalent where communities border gullies and at
bridges where roads cross them (Figure 12). I challenge anyone to find a publicly accessible
location in Barbados where there is not solid waste of some sort within a 100-metre radius.

Figure 11: The incidence and types of solid waste in gullies as determined by the Gully Ecosystems Management Study in 2005 (Source: Stantec 2003).
Figure 12: Solid waste is routinely dumped into gullies in Barbados: Jack-in-Box Gully (left), near Lion Castle (right).

Physical destruction of natural systems

Physical destruction of habitats, primarily in the name of development, is also a serious threat to
ecosystems in Barbados. One area that we can say has improved is inland wooded areas. In his
chapter in Preserving Paradise, Dr Karl Watson gives an excellent account of the changes in our
vegetation from early colonization, through almost total deforestation, including gullies, through
to the present, where most gullies, steep sloping and under-cliff areas have become reforested
(Watson 2011). In this chapter, he wrote that, “There is now more standing forest on Barbados
than there has been at any time since 1660.” This does not mean that all is well in these areas
and that we can forget about them. There are also many threats to these wooded areas —
pesticides, disposal of wastes and inappropriate land use; quantity has been increasing, quality
not so much.
The picture for coastal and marine habitats is much less rosy. On the south and west coasts, apart
from a few pockets such as Holetown Hole, Graeme Hall Swamp and Chancery Lane Swamp
(Figure 13), coastal habitats have been largely obliterated by coastal development; some of it
quite recently. And, a few years ago we almost lost Chancery Lane to a large development, if not
for a public outcry that caused the developer to reconsider.

Figure 13: Two of the few remaining coastal wetlands: Chancery Lane, Christ Church (left), and Long Pond, St. Andrew (right).

On the west coast, there would have been more than twenty coastal ponds and associated plants
and animals, between Half Moon Fort, St Lucy, and Bridgetown, St Michael, one for each
watershed draining into the sea. Most have been converted into concrete drains (Figure 14). This
has continued until quite recently, for example, at the northern end of Paynes Bay, St James,
where the pond adjacent to the Sands development was converted into a covered concrete
channel. These drains now take runoff from gullies and surrounding coastal areas straight into
the sea, complete with the full range of pollutants (Tosic et al. 2009). The remaining few ponds
have been substantially reduced in size. One, however, has been imaginatively incorporated into
the landscaping of the Coral Reef Club hotel, and is very attractive and interesting. This loss of
coastal wetland systems means we have lost the ecosystem services that they provide: regulation
of the quantity and quality of water entering the sea; the biodiversity that is unique to them, and
the simple pleasure of having some natural habitats on the coast.

Figure 14: Most of the small wetlands on the west coast have been converted into concrete drains (left, centre) through which water with pollutants, and solid waste drains directly into the sea adjacent to coral reefs but these can be attractive and interesting natural habitats if incorporated into the coastal landscape as at Coral Reef Club (right).
Figure 14: Most of the small wetlands on the west coast have been converted into concrete drains (left, centre) through which water with pollutants, and solid waste drains directly into the sea adjacent to coral reefs but these can be attractive and interesting natural habitats if incorporated into the coastal landscape as at Coral Reef Club (right).

As regards coral reefs, direct physical destruction is relatively rare. There is no need: we have
more or less destroyed them with a combination of pollution and overfishing. There are,
however, issues such as anchor damage and some direct destruction due to development, such
as at the Shallow Draft Harbour and other coastal developments that extend onto reefs. So, we
must be vigilant.

Overarching threat of climate change and climate variability

To add to these threats, we have the overarching global threat of climate change and climate
variability, the effects of which we have already begun to see. We can expect a variety of impacts
on our ecosystems. We can expect changes in rainfall patterns that may lead to flooding and
drought. We can expect coastal erosion from sea level rise. We can expect impacts on reefs from
ocean acidification and coral bleaching. Then there are things that will be unexpected, like the
huge recent influxes of sargassum seaweed (Figure 15). I am not going to say more on climate
change and climate variability than that we can expect that healthy ecosystems will deal with
climate change threats better than stressed and degraded ones.

Figure 15: Sargassum on our beaches is a new and little understood threat to the environment and the tourism industry

Are we exceeding acceptable limits to development?

Before I move on from threats, I must touch on a more challenging topic. Not all threats are due
to activities that are illegal or even bad. Some of them are the cumulative effect of a lot of small
activities that are individually acceptable losses of ecosystem services; within limits. Suppose all
the development that could be permitted by the Physical Development Plan took place, would
the end product still be within acceptable limits? I use the word ‘acceptable’ deliberately,
because there are no clear and unequivocal answers as to what limits to development should be.
These limits should be guided by technical information, but are a societal decision. They should
be based on what we as citizens would like to see as the ultimate long-term state of this country.
For example, should we have eliminated the last significant area of coastal wetland on the west
coast at Six Men’s Bay to build the Port Ferdinand Marina (Figure16)?
We should be asking questions such as:

  •  How much loss of ecosystem services are we prepared to accept in order to achieve a
    specific level of physical development?

  • At what point will we have given up so much that further physical development, does
    not increase quality of life, but actually decreases it?

I do not think we have addressed these questions adequately with input of the full range of
stakeholders. Answers to these questions are fundamental to how we integrate environment
into sustainable development. Indeed, I wonder whether we even have the institutional
arrangements in place to address such questions transparently. I will return to this.

Figure 16: One of the last wetlands on the west coast (left) that could have served to filter and clean water before it enters the sea was dredged out to construct a marina, now Port Ferdinand (right). How much natural capital can be lost before it is too much?


Next, we need to look at how the overexploitation, pollution and habitat destruction threats
that were just described are being governed. By governance I do not mean just government. I
mean all the people who are affected and who can affect what happens. We usually think of
these in three categories:

  • Public Sector,
  • Private Sector,
  • Civil Society.
    Ideally, we would look in detail at what these three categories of stakeholders have been doing.
    However, I am going to focus mainly on the Government of Barbados, whose mandate it is to
    ensure that environmental concerns are integrated into sustainable development; and then I will
    make some brief comments on the other two categories.


To assess how well our government has done in addressing their mandate, we would want to

  • Is Barbados engaged with the relevant international agreements and processes?
  • Are agreements and other concerns adequately reflected in policies, legislation, plans?
  • Are government departments actually implementing these plans?
  • Is implementation making a difference?

    A full analysis of these questions for all threats is a daunting task. But, it ought to be happening
    on an ongoing basis, and the question of what institutional arrangements are in place to do this
    should also be on our minds.

Is Barbados engaged with the relevant international agreements and processes?

Barbados has signed on to twenty-nine international agreements that are relevant to the
environmental issues that the country faces:

  • Biodiversity
  • Marine pollution
  • Chemical and hazardous wastes
  • Fisheries
  • Climate change (Carter and Singh 2010)
    This engagement is important because it connects us with global principles and values and
    provides access for our technical people to current thinking, information, training and support.
    The Government of Barbados is stretched to participate fully in all these conventions, but for the
    most part, Barbados is present and respected, and the technical people are well aware of what
    is going on at global and regional levels.

National level policies and plans
Barbados has a sound history of strategic and physical development planning. The most recent
four of these plans show that the majority of the major threats I mentioned are reflected, to
varying degrees. The 1993-2000 Development Plan devoted only five of 277 pages to
environmental considerations, but it hit all the critical issues (Government of Barbados 1993).
Then, in 2004, the Barbados Sustainable Development Policy was prepared by the National
Commission on Sustainable Development (NCSD), established 1997-2002, in response to the
Barbados Programme of Action (NCSD 2004). This commission brought together expertise from
many government departments, academia, private sector and civil society, in a way that had not happened before and has not happened since for sustainable development. The purpose of this
policy was “to provide a definition for Barbados of Sustainable Development to guide all levels of
national decision-making.” It did this very well, primarily for environmental issues, and in detail.
It remains until today the most comprehensive document on integrating environmental concerns
into sustainable development in Barbados. In the 2005 strategic plan, environment was rolled
into one of six goals ‘strengthening the physical infrastructure and preserving the environment’.
Interesting bedfellows those two! However, the plan was much weaker than the policy which
had been published the year before, and did not refer to it. It has thirteen strategies for achieving
environmental sustainability but only five very general targets, such as ‘eliminating illegal
dumping’ and ‘a more aware public’ (Government of Barbados 2005).

The most recent Barbados Growth and Development Strategy, 2013-2020, refers back to the
Barbados Sustainable Development Policy as the basis for transitioning Barbados into a green
economy, to be taken together with the recommendations of the Green Economy Scoping Study
(GESS) published in 2014 (Moore et al. 2013; Government of Barbados 2013). The GESS provided
analysis and recommendations for greening in tourism, agriculture, fisheries, transportation and
housing. The Growth and Development Strategy goes on to provide a comprehensive set of
sector specific strategies for environmental sustainability.
I want to also draw attention to the 2003 Physical Development Plan, which includes considerable
scope for environmental conservation and management (Government of Barbados 2003). Then,
there is the treatment of environment and sustainability in the 2011 protocol for the social
partnership, which covers a wide range of issues that the partners agreed they should address:

  •  Public awareness of pollutants
  • Reduction of noise and light pollution
  • Use of environmentally friendly technology
  • Sustainability of the coastal and marine environment
  • Efficient land use policy for sustainable development
  • Protection of quality and quantity of potable water
  • Solid waste management that emphasizes recycling
  • Safe disposal of sewage and industrial waste
  • Monitoring of chemical and other hazardous substances
  • Reduction of wrapping and packaging materials
  • Reduction in consumption of fossil fuels
  • Enforcement of all legislation and regulations for environmental sustainability
  • Research into renewable energy
  • Sustainable transport policies (Government of Barbados 2011)
    These documents show us that while the environmental pillar of sustainable development may
    not always have featured on an equal footing with social and economic considerations, it was
    there with sufficient strength to generate significant expectations.
    Sectoral policies and plans Barbados has also been well served by sectoral plans that address the key threats, and provide considerably more detail than the national level plans There is a series of fisheries management plans (Barbados Fisheries Division 2004) from 1996 to 2004, (but none since, despite being a requirement of the Fisheries Act), coastal zone management plans (Coastal Zone Management Unit 1998; 1999), and site specific plans such as those for Harrison’s Cave, Folkestone Marine Park and the Carlisle Bay (AXYS 2000a; b; c). The 2014 Tourism Master Plan is very explicit about the critical importance of environmental sustainability to the continued viability of the tourism industry, with an entire volume of the report series devoted to environment (EPG 2014). There are also a Gully Ecosystem Management Plan (2005) and a National Biodiversity Strategy and
    Action Plan (2002) (EPG 2005; Government of Barbados, 2002). We have invested a lot of effort in planning, usually based on good information, and done a relatively good job of it. This effort
    and the high quality of the plans produced lead us to expect that they will be implemented and
    that benefits will be realized.
    There are over twenty-five pieces of legislation that are relevant to the sustainable use of natural
    resources. Responsibility for implementing these is spread among several ministries and
    statutory bodies. This fragmentation of responsibility is itself an institutional problem that I will
    return to later. A glaring gap in the legal framework for environment and sustainable
    development is legislation to address human impacts on our terrestrial ecosystems and
    biodiversity. In 1998 the Environmental Management and Land Use Project (EMLUP)
    recommended two Acts to address these problems:
  • An Environmental Management Act and
  • A National Parks Act (Government of Barbados, 1999)
    It provided drafts of these acts. The Environmental Management Act was to give effect to our
    commitments to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the regional agreement on Specially
    Protected Areas and Wildlife (the SPAW Protocol of the Cartagena Convention) (UNEP 2016). It
    addressed key areas such as:
  • Discharges into the environment
  • Waste management and disposal
  • Environmental impact assessment
  • Toxic substances and pesticides
  • A system of parks and protected areas
    This Act would allow the Government of Barbados to address littering and dumping directly
    rather than through the Health Services Act. The second recommended piece of legislation, the
    National Parks Act, was intended to address the development of a system of parks and protected
    areas. These two pieces of legislation have reportedly been working their way through the system
    since they were first drafted in 1998. Eighteen years for preparation and enactment of legislation
    that is so critical to sustainable development in Barbados seems a very long time. It suggests a
    low priority for our environmental pillar.

Are government departments actually implementing these plans, and is implementation making a difference?

Answering these questions is where things become very difficult. I know of no publicly available
reports on the performance of the Government of Barbados regarding implementation of environmental sustainability. Indeed, such an evaluation of government departments in relation
to their mandates, and of the government overall in relation to strategic plans and policies for
environment, would be a very challenging exercise. However, as previously indicated this
monitoring should be ongoing and the findings should be public. What can be said, without being
comprehensive, is that there is evidence that considerable progress has been made in many areas
of environmental management and in the incorporation of environmental considerations into
sustainable development. 

Three major thematic gaps

As would be expected, among the many successes we can find several areas where
implementation has failed us. I am not going to try and enumerate these failures in detail.
However, there are some glaring implementation gaps that are large enough, and sufficiently ‘in
our faces’ that they may blind us to all the progress that has been made and lead us, and visitors,
to believe that the environment is a not a priority in Barbados. These are:

  • Protection of coastal marine ecosystems
  • Protection of terrestrial (and coastal marine) habitats by dumping and littering
  • A system of parks and protected areas in place
    I will say a little bit about what is being done to address each of these gaps before I move on to
    the Private Sector and Civil Society and two other gaps that are institutional.

Degraded coastal ecosystems

We have seen a lot of effort put into managing coastal development through measures such as
setbacks, protecting the shoreline with walkways, groynes and breakwaters. We have also seen
action taken to protect reefs, such as, requiring booms during construction to protect them from
sediments, fines for vessels that damage reefs with their anchors, relocating corals from areas
where construction may damage them, and even the establishment of a marine protected area
(Mahon and Mascia 2003). Yet, as mentioned earlier, our coastal marine ecosystems remain
seriously degraded by fishing and pollution (Figure 17).
As regards fishing, although the Fisheries Act was passed in 1995, and there have been several
fisheries management plans, apart from some very basic regulations when the Act was first
passed (trap escape panels, no lobster with eggs, no drift nets, minimum fish pot mesh size,
minimum mesh size for a seine net) there has been virtually nothing to ensure conservation of
inshore fishery resources. Anyone can fish, virtually anywhere and can take as much fish of any
kind and any size as they like. We know from global experience that an open-access unregulated
fishery, such as this, is doomed to overexploitation, and this is what has happened. This should
not be seen as a reason to vilify fishers. If there are no restrictions, they cannot be expected to
stop or decrease fishing on their own.

Figure 17: Barbados reefs have been heavily degraded and most fringing and nearshore reefs look like the picture on the left, while they should look like the picture on the right (photos by Hazel Oxenford)

Furthermore, it is important to recognize that the depletion of these resources has contributed
to reef degradation. Herbivorous fishes like parrotfish and surgeonfish eat algae and keep it from
overgrowing the reef and killing corals or making the substrate unfit for colonization by corals.
Other Caribbean countries Belize, Turks and Caicos, and Bonaire, have realized how important it
is to have populations of herbivorous fishes on reefs, especially parrotfish and have banned
catching them (Mumby and Harborne 2010).
As regards land-based pollution, despite the Marine Pollution Control Act being passed in 1998
with provision for stringent control of what goes into the sea, no regulations have been passed.
However, the South Coast Sewerage Project was a huge investment to reduce land-based
pollution, especially from soakaways. Subsequently, some recovery of reefs has been seen on the
south coast, but surface runoff continues to bring nutrients and other pollutants into the sea.
And, in the absence of protection and recovery of the herbivorous reef fishes, recovery of corals
and associated marine life has at best been slow and patchy. On the West Coast the sewerage
Project is on hold, and runoff from gully outlets, drains, etc. is an even greater threat than on the
south coast (Tosic 2007). Essentially, we are pouring fertilizer into the sea while removing all the
herbivores. The result of this degradation is loss of livelihoods for fishers, loss of food security
and loss of services to the tourism industry. Again, for it to take twenty-one and eighteen years,
respectively, for serious provisions to have been put in place to protect such a critical resource
for our citizens and our economy seems incomprehensible.

Illegal dumping and littering

Barbados has made considerable progress through the Solid Waste Management Programme
(Government of Barbados 1993). We have seen improvements in landfill management and
monitoring at the main landfill site. The transition from an open system to a sanitary engineered
system has significantly reduced the problems of odours and the frequency of fires. We have seen a recycling industry spring up and it appears to be weathering the current global low prices
for most recyclables, especially plastics. We have a functioning (but limited) waste sorting and
recovery facility at Vaucluse.4 The upshot of all this is a significant reduction in the quantity of
waste ending up in the landfill.
What we have not been able to manage are the two most in-your-face environmental problems
that we have in Barbados: illegal dumping and littering. In addition to the variety of potential
problems caused by these practices – marine and drinking water pollution, breeding of
mosquitoes and rats – the result is just plain ugliness (Figure 18). If, as a UWI study has shown,
visitors are willing to pay more for clean beaches and beach access ways, then it stands to reason
that a clean countryside matters to them too (Schuhmann 2012). If plans to have a national park
with income generating outdoor activities in support of a Green Economy are to be successful,
the park must be clean. This is a gap that must be filled urgently by either making the Health
Services Act regulations work, or by passing and implementing the Environmental Management
Act, or its equivalent, which has been eighteen years in the making. 

Figure 18: Illegal dumping is a common sight all over Barbados.

Parks and protected areas

I have mentioned the creeping habitat destruction from development that is stripping the island
of coastal terrestrial habitats. And, we have the coastal marine degradation that I just described.
One of the ways for a country to address these problems is a network of parks and protected
areas. This idea has been on the books in Barbados for decades and is yet to be realized. The Physical Development Plan (PDP) (Government of Barbados 2003) provides for six
categories of open space:

  •  OS 1 The Barbados National Park
  •  OS 2 Natural Heritage Conservation Areas
  •  OS 3 Coastal Landscape Zone
  •  OS 4 Public Parks and Open Spaces
  •  OS 5 National Attractions
  •  OS 6 Barbados National Forest Candidate Sites
    All of them have a role to play in protecting our ecosystems and creating environmental
    awareness. We have several ‘National Attractions’, and a good number of ‘Public Parks’. The
    Barbados National Park was proposed in 1967 and has been revisited in at least 10 different
    studies and proposals including the PDP which includes a strategic plan for the national park
    (Figure 19). In June 2016, we saw the launch of the Barbados National Park, which was a big step
    and very encouraging. However, the National Park strategic plan is only one part of the overall
    picture, and it is a very general one since, given its complexity – towns, communities, small
    business, agriculture – there will be a great deal of detailed work to do to ensure that the vision
    for the park is translated into reality.
Figure 19: The Physical Development Plan 2003 includes a strategic plan for the National Park.

Regrettably, Barbados still does not have any ‘Natural Heritage Conservation Areas’ or ‘National
Forest Candidate Sites’, although designation of Turners Hall Woods has been pending for
decades. These are the two critical categories for environmental conservation, and also for
ecotourism. A national system of parks and protected areas should protect representative areas
of all the major types of habitats that are found in a country. Under OS2 and OS6 we need to
protect this diversity on land and in the sea, as illustrated in Table 1. These must be protected in
large enough areas to retain the ecosystem functions. The National Parks Act that has been in
preparation for eighteen years provides for a National Parks Board and a National Parks Plan,
which are essential for a fully functional system of conservation areas.

An institutional gap

Now, let us reflect quickly on the institutional arrangements in place for government to integrate
environment into sustainability. I have referred to these several times previously in this report. I
would argue that the Government of Barbados has not provided for the complexity of this
challenge, either at the level of providing overarching vision and policy guidance, or at the level
of monitoring performance. Except briefly with the Sustainable Development Commission, the
Government of Barbados does not appear to be making full use of the wide diversity of skills and
experience that is available in Barbados. This is an institutional gap. There is the need for
something akin to that Commission to be established on a permanent basis to provide that
integration of thinking, especially for the longer-term, as well as monitoring and reporting on

Private sector

One of the best ways to conserve natural resources and to promote sustainability is for them to
be supporting livelihoods and generating revenues. Private enterprises, large and small, have
been active in promoting sustainability. Businesses have developed in areas as diverse as:

  • Alternative energy generation
  • Solar water heating
  • Water harvesting and reuse
  • Agroprocessing
  • Recycling
  • Organic farming
  • Environmental auditing
  • Workplace and home greening
  • Ecotourism and more
    There are also public-private partnerships for operations such as Sustainable Barbados Recycling
    Centre (SBRC) and the desalination plant on Spring Garden Highway. We have also seen
    leadership in sustainable development from the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry
    and many individual businesses. One could conclude that the private sector is aware of Green
    Economy opportunities and willing to develop them if they appear feasible. However, we must
    bear in mind that many of these opportunities depend on ecosystem services, and a Green
    Economy must be underpinned by environmental sustainability.

Civil society

Many civil society initiatives in Barbados support environmental sustainability. These range from
the long-standing Barbados Museum and Historical Society and Barbados National Trust, to
newcomers such as the Coral Reef Alliance (CORALL), established in 2016. In between, we have
seen organizations such as the Barbados Environmental Association (1988), the Future Centre
Trust (1997), the Barbados Chapter of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network and the
Barbados Marine Trust, pursue programmes that have cleaned up coasts and gullies, promoted
marine parks, extended awareness of the importance of environment, and much more. Not all
have survived, but all have made a significant contribution. Most of the NGOs that have waxed
and waned have depended on the vision, energy and efforts of a small number of people who,
for whatever reasons, were not able to build the constituency and institutional structure needed
for the long-term.
There are also issue specific NGOs, such as for organic farming, noise pollution, fisheries,
permaculture, bees, and so on, that address the specific concerns of their members. Finally, there
are also many valuable contributions from private individuals and groups such as:

  • Woodbourne Shorebird Reserve
  • Arbib Nature Trail
  • Graeme Hall
  • Be the Change Barbados
  • Slow Food and more
    There is a lot going on in civil society. Yet, despite all this activity, there is a significant gap here
    also. Most civil society organizations with an interest in environment, focus on awareness and
    projects aimed at improving conditions. What we are missing in Barbados is a watchdog NGO
    that seeks to monitor the performance of the Government of Barbados and private sector in
    relation to their policies and plans, and to hold them accountable. Yes, we sometimes respond
    vocally as individuals or groups, and even with some success, to happenings, such as the
    Greenland Landfill, or the waste to energy plant, but that is more reactive than proactive. We do
    not have an NGO that is consistent and proactively monitoring government and private sector,
    and in my view this is a significant gap that needs to be filled.


I have covered a lot of ground, so before I wrap up, let me try to summarize. The general picture
is one of the Government of Barbados having engaged in agreements at the international level;
having developed policies and plans reflecting these agreements; having revised or developed
much of the necessary legislation – although there are some very serious gaps here. They have
pursued implementation through a variety of programmes and activities that I would call a “soft
approach”. All of this provides a good foundation of progress upon which to build. There are
many people in government, private sector and civil society making significant efforts, and those
who are responsible for implementation know what needs to be done, and, I believe, how to do
What we do not see is a willingness to take regulatory action, and where regulations exist,
enforcement action, in several critical areas, even when it is clearly essential. I am talking about
preventing individuals from doing things that are clearly not in the best interest of the country.
This unwillingness to act suggests that the environmental pillar of sustainable development is not
getting the serious commitment that it requires. Given the amount of time that has elapsed
without regulatory action or enforcement by the Government of Barbados, I think we can
conclude that it will not happen if left entirely to them. Filling the two institutional gaps that I
flagged might help with this:

  • A multi-stakeholder ‘environmental sustainability mechanism’ for guiding and
    monitoring progress with environment and sustainable development
  • A civil society body to promote accountability
    It would take many more pages to reflect adequately on why these gaps exist. There are the
    usual candidates:
  • Insufficient
    o human resources
    o financial resources
    o political will
  • and others
    Yes, we can always use more and better trained people, and more money, but the nature of the
    gaps is such that this cannot be the whole answer, or even the main answer. Political will must
    ultimately come from the people. When the people of Barbados demand that ecosystem services
    are sustained, not just in documents, but in reality, we will see the major gaps filled. Therefore,
    as the saying goes, when we point the finger of blame, in this case at political will, there are three
    fingers pointing back at us.


So, to wrap up, what do we need to do? There is no silver bullet. The problem is complex and
requires a diversity of responses from all the stakeholders. Following are some suggestions for
the major players.


To the technocrats, keep the programmatic activities going and growing, they are making a
difference; but, push to get the critical legislation and regulations in place and acted upon. To the
decision-makers, establish an “Environmental Sustainability Mechanism” to promote and
monitor the incorporation of environmental considerations into sustainability that engages the
full range of governmental, non-governmental and private sector actors.

Private sector

Take up the Green Economy challenge; monitor and reduce the environmental footprint; invest
in the ‘Environmental Sustainability Mechanism’ and, if Government of Barbados does not take
up the recommendation, take the lead.

Civil society

Continue building on the productive activities already in progress, and also building the critical
mass needed for environmental stewardship to become a part of Barbados’ culture. Invest in the
‘Environmental Sustainability Mechanism’ and, if neither the Government of Barbados nor the
private sector take up the recommendation, take the lead. Establish an NGO that monitors and
challenges the Government of Barbados on its performance.


Monitor and reduce environmental footprint; choose green. Engage. Dare to expect and to
challenge when expectations are not met. Remember, as Alice Walker said, “the most common
way that people give up their power is thinking they don’t have any”.


If there is any country in the world that has the potential to fully incorporate environment into
sustainability, it is Barbados. Small size can work to our benefit; it makes comprehensive planning
and monitoring much more feasible. We have the intellectual capacity, knowledge and
implementation skills to achieve this goal. Once we get enough people to realize that this is a job
for everyone, not just the Government of Barbados, we will have the critical mass to make full
use of those capacities.


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