Government’s slow march on the environment
Blame for continued destruction of Barbados’ near-shore marine resources lays at the feet of successive governments, who showed reluctance in passing the relevant legislation and little interest in supporting existing environment protection laws.
Much of this fault is to be found in an 18-year wait for legislation agreed to between the nation’s administrators and those concerned with Barbados’ eco-friendly existence, as well as the failure to fully use enforcement methods allowed under the Fisheries Protection Act.
That was the conclusion to be drawn from statements by Professor Robin Mahon, one of the island’s foremost environmentalists who, in a recent lecture, spoke of “glaring gaps” within the framework of laws that should be protecting Barbados for future generations, and in implementation of laws already in existence.
Mahon, the retired director of the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES), told his audience of a missing Environmental Management Act, and a National Parks Act.
“These two pieces of legislation have reportedly been working their way through the system since they were first drafted in 1998. Eighteen years for preparation and enactment of legislation that is so critical to sustainable development in Barbados seems like an unacceptably long time. It suggests a low priority for the environmental pillar of sustainability,” he said.
While delivering a University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus-sponsored lecture on Barbados and Environmental Sustainability earlier this month in the Henry Fraser Lecture Theatre, Mahon said the sloth of governments in passing these laws created “a glaring gap in the legal framework for environmental sustainable development”.
Recommended by the Environmental Management and Land Use Project (EMLUP), and agreed to by government, the Acts are supposed to address human impacts on the terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity.
Mahon said that consistent with Barbados’ commitments to the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the regional agreement on Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife, the Environment Management Act was supposed to address issues of discharges into the environment; waste management and disposal; environment impact assessments; and a system of parks and protected areas. It is also intended to empower government to address dumping and littering directly, rather than going through the Health Services Act.
The National Parks Act was intended to address the development of a system of parks and protected areas, and see the creation of a national parks plan.
Mahon conceded that notwithstanding the crawl of political leaders towards comprehensive legal protection of Barbados’ natural environment, “there is evidence that considerable progress has been made in many areas of environmental management, and in the incorporation of environmental considerations into sustainable development”.
But he said those positive areas are a drop in Barbados’ ocean, shores and underwater life that continue to suffer from other forms of government inaction despite there being laws on these zones.
Regarding fishing on in-shore marine areas, the scientist said that although the Fisheries Act was passed in 1995, “there have been several sets of fisheries management plans, [and] efforts by the Government of Barbados have focused mainly on safety and development”.
Mahon spoke of, “some glaring implementation gaps that are large enough, and sufficiently in our faces that they may blind us to all the progress that has been made, and lead us and visitors to think that the environment is a very low priority in Barbados”.
He said there is a price for the apathy of successive administrations regarding the environment that Barbadians hold so dear, and referred to the degradation of coastal marine ecosystems; the degradation of terrestrial and, by extension, coastal marine habitats through dumping and littering; and the lack of a system of parks and protected areas.
“There has been virtually nothing to ensure conservation of inshore fishery resources. Anyone can fish virtually anywhere, and take as much fish of any kind and any size as they like. An open access, unregulated fishery such as this is doomed to overexploitation, and this is what has happened,” Mahon said.
Depletion of these resources has contributed to reef degradation, he added, because natural protectors of the in-shore environment, such as parrotfish, are threatened.
“Herbivorous fishes like parrotfish and surgeonfish eat algae off the reef and help keep the algae from overgrowing the reef and killing corals, making the substrate unfit for colonization by them,” Mahon explained.
The former CERMES director hastened to defend Barbadian fisherfolk, who he said were simply doing what they were allowed.
“This should not be seen as a reason to vilify fishers. If there are no restrictions, they cannot be expected to stop fishing on their own.”