Daily CSR
Daily CSR

Daily CSR
Daily news about corporate social responsibility, ethics and sustainability

Chinese Developers threaten Antigua’s Marine Ecology


Although Barbuda Labour Party stormed into power in June 2014 with the promise of transforming Antigua’s economy into a Caribbean powerhouse, the way it has gone about doing so could potentially be a major environmental disaster. Read on to find out more.

Gaston Browne led his Barbuda Labour Party to a resounding victory at the polls in June 2014. His pledge to the nation was to transform Antigua into an economic powerhouse in the Caribbean. He stuck to his promise and the first 100 days of his office saw him approve a number of private investment projects valued at more than $3 billion.

The largest project scheduled to be in Guiana Island, will see the creation of the largest free trade zone in the country: it will feature an off-shore financial centre, villa communities of international standard, a 27-hole golf course, a gaming and a casino complex, retail, commercial, a five-star luxury resort, a multi-purpose conference centre, sports and other auxillary facilities, and a marina with landing facilities. The planning, construction and execution will be shouldered by the Yida Investment Group, from China.

Although the grand plan to revitalise the Caribbean economy and to create jobs seems great, Yida’s clearing of mangroves on Guiana Island have raised the ire of local environmentalists. They have launched an online petition calling upon Prime Minister Browne to not allow the Chinese to break local laws and to conserve Marine Protected Areas.

“Climate change is going to change a lot of things that we know and understand about our environment and unless we are mitigating these outcomes it is just wasting time and effort to have something built and then 20 years down the line it would not be viable,” says Tahambay Smith, President of the Environment Awareness Group (EAG).

He went on to add, “Climate change is upon us. What if 10 years from now the development is rendered non-viable because climate change has led to rising sea levels or something? First of all you are talking about a place that is naturally protected because anyone that’s familiar with that area knows that you have a natural reef buffer zone that basically protects us from the raging Atlantic.” 

Smith was of the opinion that although development is important but it should not be at the cost of the environment, since it will have a detrimental effect for our future generations. Building a marina in the designated area would result in the destruction of sea grass beds and coral reefs.

“Yes we’re all clamouring for jobs and we want to see the prosperity of Antigua and Barbuda but to what detriment and to what extent are we willing to give up to have a few more jobs? The value of mangroves to us as human beings is well documented by scientists. They provide nesting grounds and a breeding ground for fishes, lobsters, crustaceans and many others that aren’t really tied to the Antiguan shores,” says Smith.

“You might have nursing grounds here that affect St. Kitts, St, Maarten, Guadeloupe – the closer islands. It may extend beyond those islands but if you do something here in Antigua and you destroy these things, then that could affect our neighbours. It is not a matter of us just looking about our affairs or just looking for our own interest. It’s a network; these things are interconnected,” he clarified.

Ruth Spencer readily agrees with Smith. Ruth had served as the National Focal Point for the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP) in Antigua and in Barbuda.

“Our God-given marine ecosystems designed to protect our fragile economies must be protected. How will we adapt to the impacts of climate change if these systems are threatened? The protection of our marine ecosystems is our natural adaptation strategy. Once destroyed, how will be build resilience?” she questioned.

“There isn’t much on a small island that isn’t related to climate change these days and even more when you are speaking about a massive development all taking place at sea level within an extremely important area designated by law as a Marine Protected Area and zoned as an area for conservation,” said Eli Fuller, President of the Antigua Conservation Society (ACS).

He went on to clarify that the area, in which the Chinese Yedi Group plans on developing, falls within the protections of the Antigua’s Fisheries Act as well as the North East Marine Management Area (NEMMA). Both have been designated as Marine Protected Areas since 2005.

He further went to say, “Mangrove habitats help limit the effect of coastal erosion seen more commonly with climate change. Additionally, climate change possibly will see stronger storms, longer droughts and more severe floods. Mangrove habitats help filter sediments that run off from dry dusty landcapes whenever there’s a heavy rainfall or flood.” 

“Filtering sediment helps save many ecosystems like corals and grassy beds which get damaged when they are covered in silt or sediment. Speaking of marine eco systems, there are so many things that are negatively affecting them because of climate change. Coral bleaching often happens due to effects of climate change and with weakened coral reefs and other marine ecosystems, careful protection is essential,” clarified Fuller.

Prime Minister Browne though has a different angle regarding the concerns raised about the mangroves. He said “I want to make it abundantly clear that individuals, especially small minority groups with their fundamentalist ideals, those cannot take precedence to the overall good of the country.” 

He explained in order to complete some projects, “some fauna may have to be destroyed.” He went on to add, “My government does not need to be schooled in the protection of the environment.”

Fuller explains that the number of people who have signed the online petition is not an insignificant number, there are no “fundamentalist” minorities who are concerned with this particular development. “He has to know that people will hold him accountable for breaches in the laws which are there to protect Marine Protected Areas.” 

“The ACS sees a situation where our prime minister acknowledges this groundswell of support for sustainable development and more specifically for making sure that developers adhere to environmental protection laws. We think he will meet with us and other NGO groups to hear our concerns and to work together with us and hopefully the developers to ensure that the development is guided in accordance with the law and with modern best practices,” said Fuller.