The Sanctioned Destruction of the Last Mangrove in Barbados: The Sewage Plant and Sluice Gate

Figure 1. Graeme Hall Lake Polluted by the South Coast Sewage Plant. Picture taken by Environmental Experts Consultants, May 2019.

Figure 1. Graeme Hall Lake Polluted by the South Coast Sewage Plant. Picture taken by Environmental Experts Consultants, May 2019.

For over two decades, the Government of Barbados (the “Government”) has permitted the destruction of the last mangrove on the island of Barbados through continuous negligent actions, and skillfully using two key weapons: a broken sluice gate and malfunctioning sewage treatment plant. 

Sluice Gate

The ocean is the lifeline for a mangrove. The intimacy with the ocean assures life to this unique ecosystem. The urbanization over the past 100 years has changed the geography and has prevented the ocean water from mingling with the mangroves in Graeme Hall. A sluice gate was initially constructed in the 1920s, with three extensions in the following 50 years due to beach accretion.

Throughout the 1960s, the sluice gate was regularly maintained and functioned properly resulting in the water quality from the mangrove to be visually clear as it allowed for the necessary tidal flow. The sluice gate, when raised, regulates outflow to the sea permitting mixing of ocean saltwater and the Sanctuary lake freshwater. It allows for the natural biotic interchange in a mangrove setting, via natural connections through mangroves bordering the lake, to the bisecting canal.

The sluice gate has been virtually inoperable by the Government since 1994. The Government has failed to maintain and operate the sluice gate which is vital for the existence of a healthy mangrove forest. The sluice gate was opened irregularly between 1997 and 2004, and no more than a handful of occasions between 2005 and 2009.

Without the proper maintenance and operation of the sluice gate, the salt water from the ocean is unable to enter and mix with the waterbodies in the Sanctuary resulting in the destruction of the mangroves by losing their competitive advantage to freshwater plants.

South Coast Sewage Treatment Plant

The Government owns and operates the South Coast Sewage Treatment Plant (the “SCSP”) which adjoins the property of Graeme Hall. The SCSP has been continuously contaminating the water and land of the Sanctuary for more than a decade forcing the Sanctuary to close its gates to the public on December 15, 2008.

In 2010 and 2019, environmental experts conducted extensive laboratory studies whereby both reports confirmed high levels of fecal matter and other pollutants contaminating the Sanctuary and surrounding area. The reports recommend the restriction of public access to the lake due to the possible risk of serious health concerns.

The most recent report confirmed that from 2010 to 2019, there were some notable parameters that indicated the fecal bacteria (Enterococci and E. Coli) concentrations were up to two orders of magnitude greater and total phosphorus concentrations were approximately 10 times higher and ammonia concentrations were roughly 40 times greater. For over a decade, the eco-tourist site and protected wetland has been treated as a conventional wastewater dump (facultative lagoon) by the Government of Barbados.

As a local Barbadian parent once told us, it will soon be nearly impossible for a child to find a place to ride a bicycle safely or for a family to have a picnic in a tranquil spot on the South Coast.

Can we put a price on such things when they are lost?

If the Government of Barbados continues to neglect the damage caused to the wetland and fail to initiate corrective actions using sound science, the disappearance of the mangrove forest is all but assured.