It is with extreme regret that we closed the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary to the general public in late 2008.
Over the past 15 years we were able to help restore the Graeme Hall Wetland, now designated as an official RAMSAR site under the Convention on Wetlands. At the same time, we created the finest nature park in Barbados, home to the last significant mangrove and sedge wetland on the island of Barbados. To preserve the area, less than 10% of the Sanctuary's habitat has been developed with interpretive exhibits, trails and support facilities.
We have been a haven for photographers and landscape and wildlife artists, hosted graduate scientific studies, and have provided philanthropic support to government to help increase technical capacities within various Ministries to manage the wetland.
But the sad fact is that if an environmental and cultural legacy is to continue for our children, and our children's children, it cannot rely solely on one person.
We believe environmental policies must be based in sound science, and that they must stem from government so that they will enable environmental protections for multiple generations.
Most understand that environmental preservation comes at a price that is not easily justified using common economic investment rules. But we believe that the Sanctuary and its 240-acre wetland and upland buffer lands are to Barbados what the 842-acre Central Park was to New York nearly 140 years ago.
We were pleased to see that in 2007 over 6,000 Barbadians signed a Friends of Graeme Hall petition in favor of creating the 240-acre Graeme Hall National Park. As the largest green space on the South Coast between the Airport and Bridgetown, the proposed National Park would include the designated 81-acre RAMSAR wetland, the 35-acre Sanctuary, and recreational lands.
In fact, the proposed 240-acre National Park at Graeme Hall is comprised of lands that were originally recommended for protection under the 1988 Barbados National Physical Development Plan.
The 1988 Physical Development Plan was developed by visionary land use experts from Barbados and the United Nations. It promised that approximately 300 acres would be preserved as a green buffer for conservation and recreation between the urban areas of Greater Bridgetown and Oistins.
Indeed, the 1988 Physical Development Plan assured us during our due diligence process in acquiring the lands at Graeme Hall that the lands around the Sanctuary would be kept as protective buffers for the sensitive wetland habitat.
We have invested nearly US$35 million over the past 15 years here for environmental conservation, education and research. But since our original investment in the environment began, land use policies for the original Graeme Hall parklands have changed radically.
Regrettably, the Government of Barbados continues to ignore the 6,000 signature petition calling for creation of the 240-acre Graeme Hall National Park, and has instead re-classified most of the lands at Graeme Hall for residential and commercial development.
According to the land use plan now advocated by Government, residential and commercial development will be at our doorstep, stopped only by the 100-year floodplain boundary.
Given that the only protected area is within the 100-year floodplain, it means that the people of Barbados will lose all the high ground originally promised as parkland. View the planned loss of parklands...
As someone told us once, it will soon be nearly impossible for a child to find a place to ride a bicycle safely or for a family to have a picnic in a tranquil place on the South Coast.
Can we put a price on such things when they are lost?
It is time for the people of Barbados to determine what they want to do to preserve the 240-acre green space at Graeme Hall, of which the Sanctuary is a part.
If you want to save Graeme Hall and support the effort to create Graeme Hall National Park, we encourage you to contact The Friends of Graeme Hall (www.graemehallnationalpark.org) and work with them to convince the leaders of Barbados to do the right thing. You can also meet with other concerned people on the Internet, such as on Facebook's Save Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary social network group.
Peter A. Allard
December 16, 2008