As residents of a tropical island, many Barbadians no doubt witness and appreciate the marvels of nature with which we have been blessed. However, how many persons ever consider the unique ecosystems around Barbados and the role they play in combating climate change?
Recently, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), in collaboration with the Coastal Zone Management Unit (CZMU) and the National Botanical Gardens (NBG), hosted a Blue Carbon Ecosystems tour. On that occasion, approximately 90 patrons, along with Minister of Environment and National Beautification, Trevor Prescod, received a guided tour of three of Barbados’ ecosystems and were informed of the unique aspects of each that assist the island in climate change resilience.
The tour ventured to Long Pond, St. Andrew, Chancery Lane and the Graeme Hall Swamp in Christ Church. At the beginning of the tour, the EPD’s Acting Director, Anthony Headley, said it aimed to provide information on some of the sites considered as eco treasures and the contribution they make to the protection of the environment.
At each site, Dendrologist at the NBG, Nigel Jones, and CZMU Director, Dr. Leo Brewster, explained what makes it unique and the role it plays in sequestering carbon and reducing the impact of the wind and ocean on nearshore landscapes and properties.
The first stop on the tour was Long Pond, St. Andrew. There, patrons were told that the area was a dynamic ecosystem.
“This is in the sense that you have fresh water and at times saltwater and other times brackish water…and the sand dunes vegetation is very important because the trees take the first beating from hurricane-force winds and can reduce wind speeds by up to almost 40 per cent, so by the time the wind gets inland they are less destructive to properties,” Mr. Jones pointed out.
Sea Grape, Cashew, Fat Pork, Coconut trees, Coffee Fence and Clammy Cherry are among the types of vegetation found at the St. Andrew site, which is also known for recreation and economic activity, such as crabbing and fishing for crayfish.
Mr. Jones also mentioned that Long Pond provided food (almonds and cashews) for bats, which are major pollinators in Barbados for bananas, guavas; some mango species; the once popular calabash trees used in arts and craft; and all flora that open at night. He went on to add that carnivorous bats known as insectivores feed frequently on mosquitoes.
Dr. Brewster highlighted the importance of the sand dunes to the nearby human population, noting that they prevented the sand from drifting to Belleplaine and being inhaled by residents there. He also emphasized the importance of the dunes to the island’s coastal stability, especially on the East Coast, where they offset the beach erosion caused by rising sea levels.
Mr. Headley pointed out another climate resilience benefit of Long Pond. “When you have a storm event, Long Pond acts as a retention basin, so its slows the flow of water and hence allows the sediment that is in the stormwater as it is coming off the hills to settle out. This prevents that sediment from getting into the sea and smothering the coral reefs.”
This is important, he explained, for the protection of the marine environment, as coral removes more carbon from the atmosphere than trees.
At the second stop, Chancery Lane, Dr. Brewster pinpointed that the site was below sea level and was unique in that it is the only location on the island that has four ecosystems in one place.
“You have the swamp itself which is the wetland area; vegetation on the dunes which is holding the dunes in place; the large beach area and the cobblers reef in the offshore breaking the waves coming in; and it is the only place on the island where you’ll find a swamp backed by a relic cliff.”
Vegetation at Chancery Lane includes White Wood, French cotton and Casuarina. The eco site is also a nesting site for the Hawksbill Turtle, which is an endangered species and is renowned for Blue Heron, Pelican and Egret sightings.
The last stop on the tour that evening took patrons to the Graeme Hall Swamp, which is a Ramsar site, a wetland site designated to be of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. Established in 1971 by UNESCO, the Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental environmental treaty which provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. The Graeme Hall site, which consists of the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary and the eastern side where the sedge lands are located, received its designation in 2006.
The naturally created freshwater wetland area known as the swamp resulted from 35 acres of land being excavated in 1973. Unique, coexisting red and white mangrove forestation, a seagrass bed, and a shallow nearshore coral reef can be found at the swamp. Dr. Brewster stressed that pumping of seawater into the swamp would kill all the vegetation and fish therein.
The site is also special because it has both roosting and nesting of Cattle Egrets, as well as three species of lotus flora: white, pink and lilac. It is also known for sightings of Ospreys, Caribbean Coot, Yellow Warbler and Greenback Herons known locally as Gaulin birds.
Water Hyacinths are found in abundance, which Dr. Brewster described as a positive sign as they were good for nutrient removal and the enhancement of water quality.
The Graeme Hall Swamp, which has five springs, was once believed to be connected to the St. Lawrence Gap Swamp and is a catchment area for several Christ Church communities, including Rendezvous, Amity Lodge, Sheraton and Newton. During the rainy season, the swamp levels become very high, and as a flood mitigation measure, the sluice gate is opened to allow the draining of the swamp.
Dr. Brewster took the opportunity to urge persons to refrain from any actions, such as ATV driving, illegal dumping and the removal of sand or vegetation from our treasured ecosystems around the island, that would hinder the important role they play in climate resilience.