FLASHBACK: Barbuda, An Island to Cherish and Preserve

In Antigua and across the Caribbean region today. Barbuda may often be perceived as a tiny, boring, featureless island with very little to do or experience. Often, one who has never visited the island would not consider going there for more than one or two days. This view of Barbuda is highly erroneous.

Barbuda- A Place of Unique Environmental Features

Three other teachers and myself recently accompanied 32 students of the Princess Margaret Secondary School on a three-day field trip to our sister island. For most of us, it was our first visit there. We were going to observe agricultural methods practiced by the inhabitants, as well as explore some of the geographical and bio­ logical features present.

And what a great surprise we got! Barbuda turned out to be highly interesting, and there was so much to see that most of us wished we could have stayed a further four days. I know that in the short time we spent, we failed to explore most of what the island had to offer.

After all, Barbuda is 62 square miles in extent and to cover it fully would have required a bit of time. From the limited number of things we did see, from conversations with the inhabitants, and by later. consulting a large scale map, I can safely say that Barbuda has a very wide variety of human and environmental features of interest. These features of interest could be of great academic and cultural importance, not only to the people of Antigua, but to the entire Caribbean region and further afield as well.

Academically Interesting And Naturally Spectacular

As a geography teacher, I naturally am more interested in this geomorphological or physical geography features Barbuda has. These features, in my opinion, are very spectacular and should be properly documented and photographed, and used as examples in geography and geology text· books across the region.

These examples could then be utilized by students studying for CXC exams, and by students pursuing degrees in the Geography and Geology Departments of the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies. Students doing research in Karstic or Coastal Geomorphology, or Marine Biology may also find Barbuda an excellent place to visit.

Thorough research and documentation of the island’s many physical features may become even more pertinent since the Antigua Government has serious plans to start a first-year Bachelors Degree program in Geography at the State College. Barbuda would make a very interesting study for other academic disciplines as well.
Some of these disciplines may include: anthropology, archaeology, history, sociology, agriculture, botany, avian studies, biology, and so on. Quite a few renowned scholars in the past have done studies and written papers on Barbuda but the doors are still wide open to do much more.

Ideal Marine Habitat

One of the reasons why Barbuda is so suited for study has to do with its pristine environment, that is, its natural environment has not been significantly altered by human activity. Its xerophytic, dry-wood forests and shrubs are abundant and have specifically adapted to cope with one of the Caribbean’s most arid climates (30-39 inches of rain annually) and poorest soils. Since this eco-type has largely disappeared from most other parts of the Caribbean, it would make valuable scientific study.

The marine environment is also teaming with life. This is due to the presence of many ideal marine habitats and breeding grounds which include: the many large submarine banks, extensive reef formations, the giant Codrington Lagoon and Goat Island Flush, and the many large man­ grove swamps around the coasts.

The island’s small population (1,250) persons ) in itself has served to protect Barbuda’s seas from being over exploited. The large lagoons, creeks, mangrove swamps and mud flats, as well as the large inland water bodies in the Bull Hole region and the southeast Flashes have all served as varied habitats for many species of water fowl. Many of these water fowls include migratory species from North America and else­ where. Seventy four species of birds have been recorded in Barbuda in 1985, some of which are absent in Antigua.

Social And Economic Factors

Barbudan society also makes interesting study because its people were one of the few groups of WestIndian salves to escape the colonial system to forced labor, Barbuda’s poor soils and arid environment precluded it from any successful plantation development. Barbudans were left freely to roam the land, and to hunt, fish and gather as they pleased. They were also able to develop by themselves, methods of farming which made the harsh environment productive.

These factors provided Barbudans with produce which they were able to trade with passing ships, and which endowed them with an extra-ordinary level of self-determination. This self-determination has served to uniquely sculpture Barbudans’ culture and way of thinking up to today.

Historians, anthropologists and sociologists would no doubt find fertile ground for study here; studies which, no doubt, would assist us to better under­ stand our Barbudan brothers and sisters and enable us to live more harmoniously with them. Barbudans have also long practiced a communal system of land tenure which is very interesting, and quite unique in many respects to other forms of customary tenure in the Caribbean. Again it is to everyone’s advantage to better understand and appreciate Barbudans’ unique heritage.

Amazing Darby

Barbuda is very suited for physical geography study. The island is made up essentially of coral limestone with many karstic features produced when calcium carbonate in the lime­ stone rocks is carried away in solution. The most outstanding of the karstic features are the many hundreds of sink (swallow) holes which are strewn across the landscape, especially across the Highlands region.

Most of the holes are small, the smallest ones being only about six inches in diameter; while large, measuring up to several hundred yards across. Most of the sink holes drain rain water from the surface into a maze of underground passages, caverns and caves; and eventually into Barbuda’s aquifers (water-bearing rock strata) below, which practically span the entire island. I had the privilege to visit one of the island’s largest sink holes called Darby.

Darby is about 500 feet in diameter, and its rocky walls drop vertically into the ground for about 75 feet until a flat floor of moist humus rich soil is reached. This soil sup­ ports a dense lush forest of palm trees mingled with loud; sweet sounding birds. Bats live in the rough surfaces of the walls.

Access to the floor below is possible via one of the sides. Darby is so large, it can rightfully be called a “mini-polje.” Barbuda’s Caves
Prevalent also in this karstic landscape are dozens of caves. They are seated across the Highlands and northern coastal regions. Some are quite large, and I had the privilege of entering one not far from Darby. The cave was about 40-45 feet in width and 10-15 feet from roof to floor.

My party (a group of forestry researchers also visiting Barbuda) and I gained access to the cave through its roof by descending a narrow sink hole for about 20 feet, with the use of ropes . This was a spectacular find since the cave was lined with many stalactites, stalagmites and columns of various lengths and thicknesses.

The most intriguing was huge sand dunes, some several miles long, found in the Palmetto Point area. In fact, dunes of lesser size are found along most of the Barbudan coasts.

Also of importance are the many miles of broad, white or pink sandy beaches with little or no garbage along them. One beach on the west coast is alleged to be the second longest in the world. The pink sands are certainly a novelty for most people outside Barbuda.

For students of CXC Geography, there is no need to look only at St. Lucia’s Pointe Sable Beach for an example of a “cuspate foreland” (a pointed section of a beach jotting out into the sea): There is one at Rubbish Bay right here in Barbuda.

Need For Infrastructural Development

A visitor to Barbuda cannot help but wish that certain types of infrastructure and social amenities were in place. For instance, up until mid-April 1995, most of the island’s roads were unpaved. There are a few narrow concrete roads in Codrington Town which, no doubt, are legacies of the British. The great majority of the roads in the Town are of very dusty marl and dirt, with potholes.

The road dust tends to fly and settle on everything: buildings , plants, clothes, furniture, and so on.
And when it rains heavily, these roads turn to muck with many sizable pools of water along many of them. It will truly be a welcome day when these roads are fully constructed and paved.

There is a newly, well-graded road covered with compacted road-metal which runs from Codrington right along the south and south-eastern sections of the island. Hopefully, this road will be pitched before it is destroyed by vehicular traffic and the elements.

Potential Water Resource

With respect to infrastructure also Barbuda’s piped water is deplorable: it is quite saline and comes from wells. In fact, almost all of Barbuda’s ground water is very saline, with an exception at Palmetto sands where there is approximately 405 mil­ lion gallons of fresh ground water in a 1,500 acre area of sand dunes and beach sands.

This aquifer has been little utilized, and was actually being seriously destroyed by sand mining in recent years. The mining of sand had left the water table precariously close to the surface, promoting evaporation, and inducing infiltration of sea water into the fresh water aquifer. Gladly, this mining has ceased, and if by chance any of the fresh water still remains, hope­ fully in the future it could be harnessed for human use.

This harnessing of course would necessitate the procurement of much technical and financial help from beyond Barbuda’s shores. Help is also required to develop many rain water catchments and reservoirs.

Useful Herbs

There is presently very little craft done on the island although raw materials for this industry are ubiquitous there. The fairly vibrant tourist industry would make a good market to generate income from craft. Presently, only one tiny craft booth is operated by an expatriate selling mainly imported craft items.

Barbudans also have a wealth of knowledge on local herb and plant uses. One lady said that Barbudans are easily able to identify over 30 plants suited for herbal tea-making alone. Perhaps if some multinational corporation was invited in to research some of Barbuda’s plant uses, new herbal teas, pharmaceutical and cosmetic products could be developed for the international market. If this came to pass, it could yield hefty royalties for Barbudans.

Still Largely Unspoilt

Many persons in the Caribbean region may harbour myopic views of Barbuda, perceiving it as tiny and featureless. However, the island is a fascinating place with much to offer. It is still one of the
very few truly unspoilt places in the Caribbean and ca n be a haven for intellectual study and research.

Its xerophytic, dry-wood vegetation is an eco-type which has largely disappeared from most parts of the Caribbean and should be scientifically studied and preserved.

The island’s karstic and coastal-depositional features are geo­ morphological gems which should be documented and published in textbooks. The history and culture of the inhabitants are also fascinating and should be further studied and cherished.

Eco-Tourism- Barbuda’s Salvation?

Barbuda can be visited and enjoyed by anyone, including the tourist. Tourism is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing industries, and much has been made of eco-tourism in recent years. The eco-tourist is one who visits a country mainly to enjoy its natural pristine environment.

This trend has been gaining naturally much momentum in places like Dominica and St. Vincent and could be developed as an income generator for Barbudans. Eco-tourism, as well as intellectual research, may just be the vehicle.? to help Barbuda preserve its pristine environment for all future generations to cherish..

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