You never miss the sand until …

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This past weekend saw the annual Caribana festivities occur on our sister isle, Barbuda. At the tail end of the long weekend was also World Environment Day (WED), which is commemorated on the 5th of June each year.  The theme for this year is ‘Connecting People to Nature’, and the United Nations (UN), the champion of these global days of acknowledgment, implored persons around the globe to get outdoors and bond with nature – “to appreciate its beauty and its importance, and to take forward the call to protect the Earth that we share”.
It was therefore appropriate that when OBSERVER media visited Barbuda, we sought to connect with nature and appreciate all the beauty that Barbuda is known for. From the pink sand beaches to the lagoon, it is always easy to see what makes Barbuda such an integral part to our bit of paradise. In many ways, Barbuda can be described as untouched. We agree that such a description is a stretch because it still amazes us how much trash we see in some of the more remote locations of Barbuda. Littering, it would appear is almost as prevalent in Barbuda as it is in Antigua.
That said, it is extremely distressful to see how humans could have such little respect for Mother Nature. We wonder what goes through people’s minds that they could display such callous disregard for the environment and their fellow man or woman. How can someone sit and absorb one of Barbuda’s excellent beaches but decide to leave their bottles and trash?  Some say it is an issue of laziness but we cannot buy that explanation. How much effort can it take to leave with what you have brought to the beach and dispose of the trash properly?
As much as the littering problem causes our blood pressure to increase, the sand mining situation makes our blood boil.  Pictures do not do this environmental disaster justice. One really needs to see the scale of the destruction to understand why environmentalists are furious about the continued sand mining in Barbuda.   We know that a Barbuda visit is not in the cards for many people so the next best thing is to visit our OBSERVER Media Facebook page for some video on the Barbuda sand mining pit.  It will at least give you some scale as to the problem at hand.
We recognise that the word “problem” is a giant understatement, however, just consider it a giant problem.  A problem that is widely acknowledged but generally ignored. We thought that changed recently when we were informed that the Cabinet had put restrictions on importing sand from Barbuda to Antigua and had banned its export to other countries. We were overjoyed to hear the news. Finally, we thought, something concrete was being done. Although details were scarce, beyond the announcement, we praised the move and kept our fingers crossed.
As we stated previously, we never got a clear understanding about what the new restrictions are or how they will be enforced.  Now, after our visit to Barbuda, we see that sand mining continues and enforcement is not at all apparent. What is going on?
Marine Biologist John Mussington has expressed renewed concern about the continued sand mining. He insists that the practice is “continuing full fledge and they don’t have any intention of stopping”. From his perspective, and based on his observations on the ground in Barbuda, it doesn’t appear to be severely restricted.
Let’s see if we can predict the future – we anticipate that the immediate response will be that the mining is for local consumption only and not part of the restrictions. That raises another question. Will all the sand for the various proposed large-scale developments, including the airport, be sourced locally? Because, that will be a lot of sand!
Mussington’s criticism goes beyond mere economics. He points out that the island is extremely vulnerable to storm surges, hurricanes and ground swells as the last ridge of sand, which provided importation protection, has been taken down. To highlight the severity of the situation, he said, “… we are totally exposed on our south-west coast.”
The age-old retort to environmentalists has been, “What are we supposed to do?” It is an easy five-word response that plays well in the world of politics but if we may be allowed, we propose that the better question to ask is: “What are we supposed to do when the waters breach the sand dunes?” Barbuda is essentially flat and with its main onshore protection now exported, the risk of a disaster is real.
The environment is one of those areas that demonstrates the myopic thinking of politicians. In a case like Barbuda, it has always been known that the sand would run out, yet no one has planned for that day.   But that is not even the real point. We should have been planning long ago so that we could have transitioned to an alternative source of revenue and still have the protection of the sand. It’s like our mothers always said, “sooner or later you are going to have to do your homework, so why wait for the last minute?”
It is, unfortunately, the reactionary nature of politics in this part of the world and more specifically, in our bit of paradise.  Planning takes a back seat to immediate gratification. We suspect that if the Yida project gets off the ground, we will be writing a similar piece in the future when there would have been irreversible damage to the North Sound eco-system. Everyone will be asking why nothing was done to protect such a sensitive area when we knew the risks of a disaster were high.
That brings us to another saying that our mothers were fond of saying and which is applicable: “You never miss the water until the well runs dry.” In this case, Barbudans will not miss the sand until the storm hits. And in the case of Yida, we may never miss the mangroves until the fish run out.
Mr Mussington said it best, “We are part of the environment and all of us should be environmentalist in terms of how we treat the resources we have.” Our hope is that the politicians are listening.
We invite you to visit and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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