By Elesha George
The Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) has submitted a complaint to the RAMSAR Secretariat, requesting that the body investigates the destruction of wetlands in the Codrington Lagoon National Park on Barbuda.
GLAN, in a release, said it submitted evidence of the destruction to the Geneva-based body that oversees the implementation of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance to which Antigua and Barbuda is a signatory.
The group has asked the secretariat to urgently intervene by arranging an independent advisory mission to visit and advise on ongoing and future threats to the protected wetlands.
They want the body to ensure that the Antigua and Barbuda government complies with its obligations under the Ramsar Convention, which speaks of a promise to look after it and to make wetland conservation part of its national land-use planning.
In addition, GLAN has requested that the Codrington Lagoon be added to the Montreux Record, a register of wetlands of International Importance that guarantees further protection in those cases where ecological character have occurred, are occurring or are likely to occur as a result of technological developments, pollution or human interference.
“Concrete action is also needed within the US to tackle the conduct of developers and their investors who are contributing to violations of international law,” the statement also read.
Antigua and Barbuda has only one site which has been dedicated as a Wetland of International Importance under the RAMSAR agreement, and it lies within the Codrington Lagoon on Barbuda.
However, construction has been ongoing there for well over two years. The overall project will see the construction of a marina within the lagoon, 81 beach front lots at Low Bay, high end cottages and homes as well as a golf course with about 400 homes on 650 acres of land.
In a statement released on Wednesday, GLAN said for two years, “deforestation and sand mobilization for the PLH development have severely affected the ecology of the Codrington Lagoon”.
Despite complaints from the local government body – the Barbuda Council – US partners John Paul DeJoria and Michael Meldman are continuing their Peace Love and Happiness project with support from the Central Government.
“We have sent several correspondences to the government for direct dialogue as to how we should approach this process going forward. The government has since decided that they don’t really want to talk to us. They never respond to any of our correspondence and therefore we acknowledge that the government is not onboard with the Barbuda Council or the Barbuda People,” Barbuda Council Secretary, Paul Nedd told Observer.
Nedd, who said the council had been instrumental in seeking assistance from international bodies, including GLAN law, is hoping to raise further awareness about the land use issue on the island.
The council, he said, has reached out to the pro-bono organisation because it does not have the financial means to challenge these developers on their own.
“They have agreed to assist us here on Barbuda to make our awareness global or international and therefore we accept their support and participation as to how we challenge our land grabbers going forward,” Nedd said, adding that “the court will also be instructed based on the investigations. Based on the submissions, the court will have more information as to how they arrive at their decisions.”
The request will also investigate plans that the parent company – the Barbuda Ocean Club – has to build major luxury homes in Cedar Tree, a low-lying peninsula located in the northwest of Barbuda.
The proposed development consists of two residences (the Abercorn Residence and the DeJoria Residence), an associated back of house area, as well as driveways and outbuildings that will span over 113.9 acres of land.
However, the beaches along the west and north coast of Barbuda are well-known nesting habitats for endangered and threatened sea turtles and other wildlife creatures.
Nedd said the Barbuda Council was never consulted or involved in these negotiations, and explained that “living on Barbuda, we would have had first-hand information, we would have first class knowledge as to what is acceptable and what is not acceptable and we are currently saying that the Cedar Tree Point development for those particular properties are not acceptable and they fall within no-build zones that the Barbuda Council has established and we will not allow it to happen”.
Palmetto Point and Cedar Tree Point are part of the Codrington Lagoon National Park and a RAMSAR site. Development is not encouraged in the area, although two hotels had been previously built there.