Monday, March 20, 2006

Exploring Our Coasts & Waterfronts: Barbados, West Indies

CMRC's Sustainable Coasts Program periodically explores different shores and waterfronts to facilitate an information exchange among coastal communities and increase the knowledge of regional conservation and management practices worldwide. As part of this effort, the CMRC examines the social and economic history of these areas and describes the environmental issues facing coastal communities today. In this issue of Exploring Our Coasts & Waterfronts, we focus on the socio-economic and conservation issues found in the eastern Caribbean island of Barbados. JB

Located deep in the Lesser Antilles, Barbados is the easternmost island found in the windward Caribbean. Its unique geographic positioning, rich history and heavily British influenced culture make the island one of the most desirable locations to live and visit in the Northern Hemisphere. Barbados is positioned approximately 100 miles east of the islands of St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenada and is several hundred miles north of the South American Countries of Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname.

The island itself is relatively small measuring about 20 miles long by 10 miles wide. However, the country is packed with a high diversity of natural resources that include traditionally productive agricultural lands and amazing coastal ecosystems that are home to numerous tropical species of wildlife and plants. In addition, Barbados is one of the most highly populated areas of the eastern Caribbean, with almost 300,000 individuals inhabiting the island, and many, many more coming to visit each year.

Barbados - known by many as the "little England of the Caribbean" - was under British control for nearly 350 years leading up to its independence in 1966. For several hundred years the economy of Barbados was strongly agricultural, anchored by a thriving sugar industry and byproducts such as rum and molasses. In addition, the region produced several other local agricultural crops including yams, sweet potatoes, peanuts and cut flowers. Today Barbados is a independent state of the Commonwealth and keeps close ties with UK culture (especially in their love of the sport of cricket).

More recently, the local economy has shifted dramatically towards revenues from tourism associated activities. In 1970, tourism officially overtook agriculture as the island's number one source of income. Today nearly 75% of the islands GDP is derived from visitors to the island who come from near and far to enjoy the wonderful natural resources and exceptional weather the island has to offer.

The environmental resources of Barbados continue to be the centerpiece of the economy and "Bajan" (pronounced bay-jun) culture. Numerous beaches fringe the island and many coastal communities are based on ocean uses that have historically included fishing, swimming and boating. On the country's east coast, near Bathsheba, amazing beaches, rolling mountains and powerful surf are on display. The Bathsheba region has remained quite rural over the years and still retains its agricultural feel.

Near the west coast centers of Speightstown and Holetown the beaches are considerably calmer, and consequently many of the island's resorts have set up along the coast. The end result of the increasing development pressures has led to some environmental issues along the coast. However, the region is still rich in coastal resources, including amazing coral reefs with a multitude of colorful aquatic species such as barracuda and groupers; several species of sea turtles; and, many birds that patrol the nearshore zone for sustenance.

Bridgetown, the country's capital, is located in the protected southwest of the island. This area, when combined with the southern portion of the island, is the most developed and home to a large portion of the population. The capital contains major ports for both the local fishing fleet (flying fish is the national dish) and a thriving cruise industry. The southern portion of the island still contains many beautiful beaches despite the large amount of development.

The environmental challenges have recently come to the forefront of Barbados life. Continuing development of the tourism industry, especially in the coastal zone, has led to management issues such as habitat and species impacts, as well as increased pollution from stormwater runoff. While many beaches in the eastern shore have remained unspoiled, the western shore now has numerous shore protection structures, including seawalls, jetties and groins that accelerate erosion. Increasing pressures on infrastructure due to the rapid development of coastal resorts and golf courses has led to many pollutants draining directly to the ocean due to the limited treatment facilities and catchment basins. In addition, the popularity of eco-tourism related activities has led to a very active nearshore zone that is affected many aquatic species. Most notably, the practice of feeding sea-turtles has led to obesity in many of the local turtles.

Fortunately, a few groups are actively minding the shores to ensure that the coasts of Barbados remain both environmentally and economically viable. The Barbados Sea Turtle Project works to conserve the green, hawksbill, leatherback and loggerhead turtles that are found in the area's waters. The Project especially focuses on protecting the eggs and breeding beaches found along the shores of the island and also is examining the interaction of humans with different species to assist in developing a sustainable eco-tourism industry.

In addition, the Barbados government has a Coastal Zone Management Unit that focuses on conservation and management activities in throughout the islands shores. The Unit has created an Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan that put forward guidelines and next steps for the conservation of the island's coasts that looks to examine and manage the following:
  • integrated coastal zone management
  • sustainable development
  • marine environmental protection
  • sustainable use and conservation of marine living resources
Finally, several local resorts and tourism related activities have taken it upon themselves to act as stewards of the Bajan environment. Many facilities have attempted to create plans for reducing their impact on the islands natural resources. Several resorts reuse their wastewater for irrigation and limit the use of pesticides on golf courses. The international benchmarking program, Green Globe 21, is implemented by many tourism companies looking to limit their impacts and attract conscious travelers.

Barbados is an amazing country with impressive natural resources and a near perfect climate. For many years, the unique location of the island made it a hidden secret of the Caribbean. More recently, tourism has provided a great economic asset for the Bajan community, bringing travelers from the entire globe to its shores. However, the increase in tourism has also brought along development and associated environmental issues, especially for coastal ecosystems. Several organizations and businesses have focused their efforts on protecting the environmental and economic assets but only time will tell whether Barbados will be able to create a balance between development and conservation in the future.

For more information...

Barbados Sea Turtle Project

Barbados Coastal Zone Management Plan

Green Globe 21

Wikipedia Information on Barbados

Lonely Planet Barbados Guide

Google Map of Barbados,-59.563065&spn=0.295494,0.462799&t=k

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