The Proposal

Petition for the declaration of Graeme Hall Swamp as an OS2 Conservation Area and the establishment of management arrangements:

Noting that the Graeme Hall Swamp [1]:

  • Has long been identified by the Government of Barbados and other stakeholders as a unique coastal wetland habitat in need of conservation [2];
  • Is the largest of only four notable coastal wetlands in Barbados (none of which are protected) [3];
  • Has been designated a Ramsar Site under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as waterfowl habitat [4];
  • Has been partially protected by the establishment of the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary [5];
  • Should be managed as a single ecosystem using an ecosystem-based management approach as called for in the Ramsar Convention and the Convention on Biological Diversity [6];
  • Is threatened by numerous human impacts arising both locally and globally [7];
  • Provides essential ecosystem services and benefits, both monetary and non-monetary that have been, and continue to be diminished by these impacts [8].

We the undersigned are petitioning the Government of Barbados to make good on decades of promises [9] to conserve and sustainably use this important ecosystem for the benefit of all Barbadians, including future generations by:

- Formally designating the entire ecosystem outlined below as a Conservation Area [10] (OS2 category) under the Barbados System of Open Space and Parks as per the 2003 Physical Development Plan (and the 2017 Draft PDP);

  • Graeme Hall Swamp, 100-year floodplain and buffer comprise a total of 147.8 acres (59.9 hectares) including: 47.29 acres (19.1 hectares) of mangrove forest, sedge ponds, a series of canals, the sewage treatment plant and the sluice gate (the East section of ARA 1997);
  • 34.25 acres (13.8 hectares) of the western portion of the swamp owned by Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary (GHNS) that includes a lake, walkways, interpretive builds, two large aviaries, a café, and other ancillary buildings;
  • 17.27 acres (7 hectares) of wetland buffer to the west of GHNS;
  • 49 acres (20 hectares) of upland watershed agricultural area to the north.

- Changing the land designation of the 50-acre (20 hectares) Upland Watershed Agricultural Area from Predominantly Residential to Food and Agriculture land in the proposed Physical Development Plan, Amended 2017;

- Identifying, establishing or promoting the establishment of an appropriate body or mechanism to develop and manage the entire ecosystem according to global best practices for conservation areas [11] by taking a watershed approach that includes the entire watershed (Figure 1, Click here for PDF) including the 50-acre (20 hectares) upland watershed agricultural area (Figure 2, Click here for PDF) above the escarpment in this plan to be managed and agreed upon by the body discussed above;

- Considering the potential role of civil society in leading or forming such a body or mechanism [12];

- Acting urgently to avoid further degradation and possible irreversible damage to this critical ecosystem [13]

    Several matters must be resolved before the declaration of Graeme Hall Swamp as an OS2 Conservation Area and the establishment of management arrangements:

    1. The Government of Barbados will engage with all stakeholders and open lines of communication (using several different methods of outreach such as social media, surveys, town hall meetings, direct phone calls, signage and mail) sharing relevant information such as water quality data from the wetland and sluice gate area and include their voice and input in the Graeme Hall Management Plan with the community and all stakeholders.
    2. The South Coast Sewage Plant (SCSP) must be in the process of being upgraded and operated with adequate operating manuals to be strictly adhered to and a water quality monitoring programme must be implemented as part of this project so as to ensure that there are no future leaks into the Graeme Hall Wetlands. Also, mitigation measures proposed for the South Coast Water Reclamation Project are not adequate to protect the fragile ecologically sensitive area. Current plans identify the north-south canal for emergency discharge other mitigation measures will need to be explored that respect and protect the ecological integrity of this fragile ecosystem.
    3. The Government of Barbados must take responsibility to extend, maintain and rigorously operate daily an inflow and outflow of the sluice gate which is a vital function in maintaining a healthy mangrove ecosystem involving major stakeholders such as the surrounding hotels, business owners, government departments, Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary, etc.
    4. Proclaim the approximately 197.81-acre wetland and buffer zone Graeme Hall as an OS2 Conservation Area and the establishment of management arrangements for the 50-acre Upland Watershed Agricultural Area from Predominantly Residential to Food and Agriculture land.

    ______________________

    References:

    [1] Graeme Hall Swamp proper comprises of a total of 81.54 acres (32.1 hectares) including;

    • 47.29 acres (19.1 hectares) of mangrove forest, sedge ponds, a series of canals, the sewage treatment plant and the sluice gate (the east section of ARA 1997).
    • 34.25 acres (13.86 hectares) of the western portion of the swamp owned by Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary (GHNS) that includes a lake, walkways, interpretive builds, two large aviaries, a café, and other ancillary buildings.

    [2] In 1996 the GoB commissioned a comprehensive study of GHS and options for its management (ARA 1997, 1998). The 2002 Barbados National Biodiversity Started and Action Plan identifies Graeme Hall Swamp as a Natural Heritage Conservation Area. The Barbados Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan (2020 to 2030) notes that the GHS together with its adjacent marine habits has been designated as a conservation area in the Draft 2017 PDP.

    [3] Namely: GHS; Long Pond, St. Andrew; Green Pond, St. Andrew; Chancery Lane Swamp, Christ Church.

    [4] In December 2005 GHS was internationally designated under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as waterfowl habitat.

    [5] The Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary (GHNS) was established as a private conservation area in 2004 and functioned as a conservation area and ecotourism facility until 2014 when it was closed due to degradation by sewage dumping and impacts in adjacent areas (Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary 2022).

    [6] It has been repeatedly noted that the entire GHS is an interconnected ecosystem that should be managed as such using an Ecosystem Approach (ARA 1998). Barbados is signatory to several multilateral environmental agreements that espouse Ecosystem Based Management (e.g., Cartagena Convention, Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar Convention). It is incumbent on the GoB to meet its obligations under the agreements that it has signed.

    [7] The Graeme Hall Swamp has been subjected to a wide range of degrading impacts over many years. These include agricultural and suburban runoff with nutrients and pesticides, large scale sewage dumping, and solid waste dumping (Environmental Engineering Consultants 2010). To these can be added climate change which can be expected to impact hydrology, flora and fauna. It is important that the ecosystem be made healthy if it is to be resilient to climate change and provide ecosystem services into the future.

    [8] Ecosystem services that are provided by GHS are well documented. They include support for biodiversity, protection of adjacent marine habitats through uptake and storage of pollutants, ecotourism revenue and livelihoods, education, research, and carbon sequestration (Williams 2008).

    [9] In May 2018 Prime Minister Mia Mottley visited the GHS and declared the sewage pollution problem a national crisis that should be dealt with as a national emergency (Springer 2018).

    [10] OS2: Natural Heritage Conservation Areas are ‘features and locations that are important to the natural and physical heritage of the island. This designation encompasses both terrestrial and marine environments, which are deemed to require protection from urban and recreational development pressures’ (PDP 2003).

    [11] There is a body of best practices primarily developed and documented under International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), The Ramsar Convention and the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD). There is no shortage of the technical guidance and expertise needed for the proper development and management of GHS as an OS2 Conservation Area.

    [12] In many places civil society bodies are delegated the responsibility to manage protected areas. Barbados is deficient in this respect despite the clear statements in the Barbados Sustainable Development Policy 2004 that there should be shared responsibility and benefits between GoB and civil society (Ministry of Housing 2004).

    [13] Note that there may be tipping points beyond which this wetland will no longer function as such (Environmental Engineering Consultants 2010).