Thoughts from Peter Allard
It is with extreme regret that we must continue to keep the Exhibits, Aviaries and Interpretive trails closed at to the general public at the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary. However, the Lakeside Lawn is open so that people may come and have a snack or refreshment while enjoying the view of the Lake.
Over the past 15 years we spent about US $35 million to help restore our portion of the Graeme Hall Wetland, now designated as a RAMSAR site, a wetland of international importance recognized by the Convention on Wetlands Treaty.
Many know the Sanctuary as being the finest nature park in Barbados, home to the last significant mangrove and sedge wetland on the island. To preserve the area, less than 10% of the Sanctuary's habitat has been developed with interpretive exhibits, trails and support facilities.
It has been a major centre for environmental conservation, education and research.
But the sad fact is that the Sanctuary and the wetland are under severe assaults from the outside. These assaults are not controlled by us and threaten not just the health of the wetland, but its very survival.
After years of fruitless pleading with the Government of Barbados to repair critical environmental control structures and enforce environmental laws, in 2009 we were compelled to file formal complaints with the Ministry of the Environment. These complaints allege that Barbados has violated the Convention on Wetlands and the Convention on Biodiversity Treaties, as well as the Canada-Barbados Investment Tax Treaty.
The complaints are on our website: www.graemehall.com/legal/.
These complaints allege that for over a decade, de-facto policies have been adopted by Government that allow continuous and increasing pollution including raw sewage dumping, encourage high density land development immediately adjacent to the wetland, and ignore environmental stakeholder interests within the site.
There have been increasing fish and crab kills in recent years along with unpredictable water levels and toxic algae blooms.
What may be the ultimate death knell for the wetland is this: A recent Study (Mangrove Ecosystem Assessment, www.graemehall.com/reference) conducted by noted environmental scientists from the United States confirms that the ecosystem has become essentially a freshwater system rather than a brackish estuarine system. Seawater is unable to enter the wetland because of a government-controlled and mismanaged sluice gate that controls drainage and tidal seawater charges, and because government-sanctioned development has closed off other traditional sea-to-wetland waterways. As a result, freshwater drainage is now overwhelming the wetland, and while Barbados' most significant mangrove woodland can indeed survive in fresh water, any open area in the mangrove system caused by catastrophic hurricane, fire or disease will mean that the mangrove will not grow back.
The Study conclusions are clear. Once the mangrove forest dies, freshwater organisms will compete with and dominate any fledgling mangrove system trying to restore itself.
If the government of Barbados does nothing to study and correct the situation using sound science, the disappearance of the mangrove forest is all but assured.
No private investment in a nature reserve can possibly withstand such external forces. Ultimately, environmental protections for multiple generations must stem from government leadership, whose environmental policies must be based in sound science, not politics.
Most of us know that environmental preservation comes at a price that is not easily justified using common economic investment rules. But we believe that the Sanctuary and its associated 240-acre wetland and upland buffer lands are to Barbados what the 842-acre Central Park was to New York nearly 140 years ago.
We were pleased to see that in 2007 over 6,000 Barbadians signed a Friends of Graeme Hall petition in favor of creating the 240-acre Graeme Hall National Park. As the largest green space on the South Coast between the Airport and Bridgetown, the proposed National Park would include the designated 81-acre RAMSAR wetland, the 35-acre Sanctuary, and recreational lands.
Unfortunately, despite the citizen Petition for a national park, a new government zoning policy calls for commercial and residential development for the majority of the area. You can see the changes in our Resources Section on our website:
In fact, the proposed 240-acre National Park at Graeme Hall is comprised of lands that were originally recommended for protection under the 1988 Barbados National Physical Development Plan.
The 1988 Physical Development Plan was developed by visionary land use experts from Barbados and the United Nations. In conformance with good urban planning practices, it promised that approximately 300 acres would be preserved as a green buffer for conservation and recreation between the urban areas of Greater Bridgetown and Oistins.
This influenced our decision to acquire Sanctuary lands in 1994 as the 1988 Physical Development Plan assured us that the lands around the conservation investment would be kept as protective buffers for the sensitive wetland habitat.
But according to the new 2003 Physical Development Plan now advocated by Government, residential and commercial development will be at our doorstep, stopped only by the 100-year floodplain boundary. The Government plan does not lead with proactive policy to provide buffers for the wetland or preserve parkland.
Given that the only protected area is within the 100-year floodplain, it means that the people of Barbados will lose all the high ground originally promised as parkland.
As someone 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 place on the South Coast.
Can we put a price on such things when they are lost?
It is up to the people of Barbados to determine what they want to do to preserve the 240-acre green space at Graeme Hall, of which the Sanctuary is a part.
If you want to save Graeme Hall and support the effort to create Graeme Hall National Park, we encourage you to contact The Friends of Graeme Hall (www.graemehallnationalpark.org) and work with them to convince the leaders of Barbados to do the right thing. You can also meet with other concerned people on the Internet, such as on Facebook's Save Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary social network group.
Peter A. Allard
October 9, 2010