Beauty in danger
THE PRISTINE SURROUNDINGS would never lead one to guess that such beauty was in danger from an invading toxic beast.
The 240-acre Graeme Hall space, comprising 81 acres of wetlands, a 35-acre sanctuary and other areas earmarked for recreation are, according to owner Peter Allard, under severe assault.
“These assaults are not controlled by us and threaten not just the health of the wetland, but its very survival,” wrote the Canadian-born Allard, who continues to voice his concern on the venue’s website after first revealing them nearly three years ago.
“The sad fact is that the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary and the wetland are under severe assaults from the outside,” he wrote.
According to the property’s supervisor, Barbara Garcia, “nothing has changed”.
Placing some of the blame on Government, Allard stated that he and other shareholders had spent about $70 million to restore the wetland, which is a designated Ramsar site – based on the convention on wetlands of international importance and deriving its name from the city of Ramsar in Iran where the international treaty was signed in 1971.
However, after 14 years of restoration, the owners filed complaints alleging that Barbados had violated two conventions on wetlands and on biodiversity treaties, as well as the Canada-Barbados Investment Tax Treaty.
The charges are that for over a decade, Government policies had allowed continuous and increasing pollution, including “raw sewage dumping [and] high density land development immediately adjacent to the wetland”.
Increasing fish and crab kills along with “unpredictable water levels and toxic algae” were also noted by Allard and his group, which includes the Friends of Graeme Hall who signed a 6 000-strong petition six years ago.
While no comment could be obtained from Government over the weekend, historian and environmental activist Dr Karl Watson, a former member of the sanctuary’s committee, said Barbados simply could not maintain a Ramsar wetland site on its own.
“Something like the issue of maintenance of a wetland site requires a special level of expertise that we don’t have in Barbados. Because it is surrounded by dense housing and a highway, it requires some degree of management in terms of heavy metal run-off especially after rain,” Watson said.
But for Allard, what may be the ultimate death knell is 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,” Allard explained.
This means that once the mangrove forest dies, freshwater organisms will compete with and dominate any fledgling mangrove system.
Watson also confirmed that in the Government-owned segment of the swamp, nearly 100 acres, “there is a lot of spread of invading plants compromising the water area”.
In the meantime, residential and commercial development continues apace.
The sanctuary was closed in 2008, ending the public’s access to the aviaries, exhibits and trails, while the restaurant, with its breathtaking view of the lake, is all that remains open.