This is not the first time I have pointed to the major threats to Caribbean coastlines (in particular, mangroves, swamp forest and wetlands in general) from developments, largely of the tourism variety: fancy villas, all inclusives, waterparks, spas, golf courses, marinas, cruise ship ports, and more. More often than not they are funded by “overseas investors,” with little input from the people who actually live there.
Our government agencies put out nice infographics and lovely videos of the importance of mangroves. Then something else happens. We hear of wetlands being cleared for yet another tourism development (with the permission of the same government agencies), and we see politicians and overseas investors with shiny spades in their hands, breaking ground. Now the mass market tourism model (is this even sensible, given COVID-19?) is being forced on the small, jewel-like island of Grenada. Yes, it is a gem, I assure you!
But I digress…Let’s just say that our Caribbean politicians generally pay lip service to environmental issues, including climate change. It sounds good, on the world stage. But at home, it’s a different matter. The case outlined below is yet another example of promises made, but not kept, a lack of transparency, confusion and obfuscation. Click on the links for more details, and you will find more photographs and maps on the BirdsCaribbean and petition websites.
And most importantly, please sign and share the petition! Thousands more signatures are needed!
This blog post – and this petition – is not just about birds. It is about all the mangrove species, the turtles, the fisheries, the sharks, the lobsters, the oysters, the insects, the snakes, the flowering plants, the coral reefs, the sea, the ponds, the rivers, the soil, rotting leaves, the sand …and the people of Grenada. We are all one. We have much to lose – and all to gain, if we learn to love and respect our environment.
BirdsCaribbean is expressing deep concern over three areas of Grenada — critical bird habitats and ecosystems — that are now being damaged from development: Mt. Hartman, La Sagesse, and Levera. This includes the island’s only Ramsar site (Levera) and other wetland and forest areas harboring a wide variety of wildlife, including endangered species of sea turtles, and the Critically Endangered Grenada Dove.
Projects underway in these three areas include large resorts, a marina, waterpark, and golf course, all of which will have wide-ranging and permanent negative consequences on the local ecosystems.
BirdsCaribbean is calling for the immediate cessation of destructive activities, pending the completion of proper Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and approvals, and full and transparent consultations with stakeholders.
BirdsCaribbean’s Executive Director Lisa Sorenson urges Grenada not to destroy or damage its last remaining wetlands. “Not only are these significant habitats for many vulnerable species of birds and endangered wildlife, wetland areas perform myriad important ecosystem services that improve the safety and health of local communities. These services are increasingly important and economically valuable in the face of climate change.”
Sorenson notes that Grenada is a leader for environmental conservation. It has recently embraced the concept of the “Blue Economy.” In 2013, Grenada went beyond its Caribbean neighbors’ commitments, pledging to protect 25% of its near-shore marine and coastal environment by 2020 under the Caribbean Challenge Initiative signed in 2013. Sadly, these developments and the failure to designate a majority of the protected areas proposed under its Protected Areas Systems Plan, make it increasingly unlikely that Grenada can meet its international obligations and national targets.
Sorenson pointed out that it appears that vegetation has been removed before an approved EIA/plan for all three projects, which would be in direct violation of Grenada’s Physical Planning Act of 2016. Moreover, the developments and the way they are being carried out does not seem consistent with Grenada’s own Blue Growth Coastal Master Plan, whose Guiding Principles and Goals call for Sustainability, the Precautionary Principle, Good Governance, and Equity.
WE STAND WITH OUR LOCAL PARTNERS AND CALL FOR ACTION FROM THE GOVERNMENT OF GRENADA TO PROTECT GRENADA’S INVALUABLE NATURAL ASSETS FROM DESTRUCTION. YOU CAN HELP – SIGN THE PETITION HERE AND SEE MORE WAYS TO HELP BELOW.
Local conservation groups and partners of BirdsCaribbean in Grenada are alarmed at the recent deforestation of these areas. Jane Nurse of the Grenada Land Actors Platform (GLAP) commented: “We have engaged with decision makers, including the developers and the Physical Planning Unit, but have encountered mostly disappointing negligence. In rectification, we demand that our communities and civil society are consulted before development projects of such a scale are undertaken.”
Other members of the GLAP questioned whether Grenada could accommodate these mega-projects, from water, sewerage, and solid waste treatment, to road infrastructure and airlift, particularly at a time when the world is heading towards one of its biggest recessions. Jody Daniel-Simon of Gaea Conservation Network added: “There are numerous examples of our lands being cleared with no considerations of the ecological impacts; sadly, many of these projects fail because of insufficient funds, leaving behind them only a trail of debts and destruction.”
Mt. Hartman: Last Refuge for the Critically Endangered Grenada Dove and Vital Wetlands
In the Mt. Hartman Estate, dry forest habitat is in the process of being cleared for a new resort and marina that will be developed by the Hartman Resort Group Ltd. Communications with the Grenadian Government’s Physical Planning Unit indicate that they are apparently unaware of the project and have not given any permission. There is no known EIA in progress.
The Mt. Hartman National Park was set up to protect habitat crucial to the survival of one of the rarest birds in the world, the Critically Endangered Grenada Dove, unique to Grenada. So special is the dove (there are only about 110 adults remaining) that it is recognized as Grenada’s National Bird. Over 90 other bird species have been recorded throughout the area, including the Grenada Hook-billed Kite, an Endangered subspecies, also endemic to Grenada.
Although the development falls just outside the National Park, it will be directly adjacent to it. Grenada Dove Biologist, Bonnie Rusk, indicated: “Development that is not done carefully, with sufficient mitigation to support the site’s ecosystem and species, will significantly impact the National Park and the purpose for which it was established—the conservation of the Grenada Dove.”
With its unique dry coastal scrub ecosystem and associated biodiversity, Mt. Hartman is internationally recognized as an Important Bird Area (IBA) and as an Endemic Bird Area (EBA) of the Lesser Antilles by BirdLife International, the world leader in bird conservation, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it.
The Mt. Hartman Estate also encompasses the largest expanse of black mangroves on the island, as well as red mangroves, providing an important “nursery” for fisheries stock to the Woburn fishing community. The mangroves and wetlands act as a buffer zone for land-based pollution, and a natural filter for water. Mangroves have repeatedly been shown to provide protection from storms, hurricanes, and floods. The two wetlands provide critical habitat for numerous species of resident and migratory shorebirds and waterbirds, including many species of conservation concern.
An artistic rendition for the resort (see image below) shows that one of the two vital wetlands and the adjacent mangrove in the Mt. Hartman Estate will be destroyed to create a Marina in Secret Harbor; the other one will be severely impacted by the development. “We successfully protected these wetlands from prior proposed developments,” commented Dr. Sorenson. “It would be a sad loss for one of Grenada’s last remaining wetlands to be destroyed. It is difficult to understand how this can happen when the Government has pledged to protect its vital coastal resources for the benefit of the Grenadian people.”
La Sagesse: Destruction of Habitat for Endangered Turtles (Six Senses/Range Developments)
At La Sagesse—listed as a Natural Landmark and Area of Cultural and Historical Interest—there has been extensive clearcutting of mangroves and other vegetation on the headland and around the salt pond, to build the 100-room, Six Senses Resort (tagline “Sustainable is not something we do; it is who we are”). Permission to do the clearing was given by the Physical Planning Unit. Phase II, separate from the Six Senses Resort, adds a 185-room Luxury Hotel, catering to families. Both projects are managed by Range Developments through the Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programme.
While the EIA and project plan have been approved, only one Town Hall style community meeting was held last week after clearing had already taken place, contrary to the recommendations made in the EIA. Further consultations with the local community are apparently in the works following public outcry. Following a review of the EIA and development plans by scientists from Gaea Conservation Network, the developers have since promised to work with them to develop a mangrove and pond restoration plan; they also claim to have harvested mangrove propagules for restoration purposes. In their 9-page review, Gaea Conservation Network highlighted a litany of environmental concerns that should have been addressed in the EIA, based on the Terms of Reference provided by the developer.
Before the extensive clear cutting, La Sagesse Pond supported white and buttonwood mangrove, providing cover for Critically Endangered hawksbill sea turtles. It is also a nesting site for the Endangered leatherback turtle. A diverse array of some 89 bird species attracts birding tours to this site. Under an older National Parks and Protected Areas plan, the area was proposed as a Protected Seascape due to its outstanding features including a mangrove estuary, salt pond, 3 beautiful beaches, interesting geological formations, coral reefs, and excellent examples of littoral woodland and thorn scrub cactus woodland.
Levera: Grenada’s Large, Highly Diverse Wetland of International Importance
The Levera Wetland is Grenada’s only Ramsar site, designated as a Wetland of International Importance on May 22, 2012. Despite an EIA still being under way, forest has already been removed to build temporary housing for a one billion dollar resort, to be constructed under the CBI programme by the Singapore Heng Sheng (Grenada) Development PTE LTD company, who now owns the property. The mega-resort will include a water park, golf course, villas, and 500-room hotels (see artistic renditions of the development in the gallery below).
As a Contracting Party of the Ramsar Convention, Grenada has agreed to the wise use of its wetlands. Ramsar describes “wise use” as the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and all the services they provide, for the benefit of people and nature.
The over 500-hectare highly productive ecosystem includes a variety of habitats: woodland, dry scrub forest, mangrove wetlands, beach, brackish pond, seagrass beds, and coral reefs. Surrounded by red, white, black and buttonwood mangroves, the large freshwater pond and beach area boast a large diversity of birds, with over 85 species documented on eBird Caribbean from 2006 to date. The site is also a critical area for the survival of the Grenada Hook-billed Kite, an Endangered sub-species endemic to Grenada.
Moreover, Levera is a critical habitat for numerous species of mammals, snakes and fish. The beach is the third largest nesting site for Endangered leatherback sea turtles in the Caribbean, with 600–1400 nesting activities recorded annually, according to Ocean Spirits (a local sea turtle NGO). Offshore, there are important foraging grounds for Endangered green sea turtles and Critically Endangered hawksbill sea turtles, as well as Critically Endangered elkhorn coral colonies growing in shallow waters close to the coastline.
Although the area is used by local fishermen and Grenadians for recreational purposes, there has been very little consultation with the community and no modification of the plans to address environmental and social concerns. Notably, a recent survey of stakeholders done in 2016 in the communities in and around Levera suggests that less than 15% of individuals support hotel development. More than two-thirds support the establishment of a National Park and Recreational Area and have suggestions for how they would like to see their community involved through a “co-management” approach.
It is unclear if the current deforestation—including for the purpose of building migrant workers’ barracks—was approved by the Physical Planning Unit, or whether an EIA has been undertaken for this development. Furthermore, there is strong evidence that funds for the Levera project have been grossly mismanaged in the past. (see here, here, here, and here). The development company’s website shares information on the Grenada Levera project from the home page, including a short video regarding the vision for this area (see photos in the gallery below) and how one can invest in the project through the CBI (Citizenship By Investment) programme.
Protect Grenada from Destructive Land Development – Final Thoughts
We must prevent future generations from wondering how Grenada managed to destroy so much of its natural habitat, a precious resource in which man and nature should exist in harmony. It’s not too late to put a stop to these developments, which are already having a significant damaging effect on the environment. Tourism is a key element of Grenada’s economy, but any new developments must take place within the context of true sustainability and sensitivity to these fragile ecosystems and the needs of local Grenadians.
In an online opinion piece dated August 25, 2020 in NowGrenada, S. Brian Samuel observes: “Naturally, tourism must play a central role in the regeneration of the Grenadian economy, but the crucial question is: What kind of tourism? You can’t fit square pegs into round holes; a country’s tourism strategy has to gel with its natural and human attributes.”
As our planet and people suffer from the global COVID-19 pandemic likely brought on by our abuse of nature, it is time to rethink tourism and development. As pointed out in this excellent NY Times article The Caribbean Dilemma, “Tourism has always been a two-edged sword for the region. It brought money for some, but also brought corruption, environmental degradation, and unchecked development.”