The Degradation of the Mangrove Forest at Graeme Hall Contributes to the Threat of Our Youth’s Future

Youths Threatened by degradation of mangrove forests in Barbados

The effects of climate change continue to be felt by Small Island Developing States such as Barbados. Our youth and future generations are the ones who will have to face the consequences of a rapidly changing global climate and they are in the process of losing the natural tools that could aid them in the fight against it. The negligence of the government could see to the degradation of Barbados’ last significant mangrove forest, which would be a disservice to the island’s youth in the face of the climate crisis.

A global rise in temperatures has resulted in impacts such as rising sea levels, an increase in the intensity and frequency of weather events and natural disasters, and threats to food security. Geographically, Barbados is in a vulnerable position to hurricanes and their effects, which are exacerbated by climate change. Our shores experience intense erosion and storm surge, which has led to the construction of costly coastal infrastructure to protect them such as the Richard Haynes Boardwalk, groynes, and spurs. Ecosystems such as mangroves which already provide these services must not be ignored.  

Mangroves are composed of salt-tolerant trees with stilt-like roots that stand above the water line. They thrive in brackish water environments, which is a mixture of salt and freshwater, and their tall roots allow them to handle the changes in tides throughout the day. They act as a buffer zone between the land and sea and can reduce the wind and wave energy during extreme weather events which result in storm surge and coastal erosion. Mangroves are also known to sequester carbon, almost five times as much as normal forests, making them key players in mitigating the risk of global warming. Mangroves host a wide range of biodiversity as they are important nesting and roosting sites for local and migratory birds.The dense root systems of the mangroves   provide refuge from predators for juvenile fish which are commercially important and are home to many other animal species. As important as these ecosystems are, their status in the country is worrying.

Barbados’ coasts were once lined by mangrove forests, which changed tremendously due to coastal development over time. We now have one significant area of red mangrove forest left in Graeme Hall, Christ Church. The western part of the mangrove forest falls under the ownership of the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary (GHNS), whereas the eastern land is owned by the government. Due to uncontrolled pollution and contamination, particularly by sewage from the nearby sewage treatment plant, the GHNS was forced closed to the public in 2008. Another issue is that the forest’s only connection to the sea is regulated by a sluice gate, which is closed at most times. A study in 2010 by consultants found that without the influx of salt water from the sea, freshwater vegetation will begin to outcompete the red mangrove trees and change the ecology of the wetland. The combination of these problems has been causing the degradation of the mangrove forest and is preventing it from performing key ecosystem services.

Youths Threatened by degradation of mangrove forests in Barbados
The mangrove forest in the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary. Image by  barbados.org.

Despite the submission of numerous petitions and letters to ministerial offices by the public over the years, the current government administration has taken no visible action to manage the issues of pollution and the sluice gate. If inaction continues, Barbados’ youth will lose an asset in the height of a climate crisis. Their futures depend on the ability of the mangrove to act as an important carbon sink, protect their coastlines and homes from flooding and gale force winds. With the doors of the sanctuary closed for more than a decade, our youth today have also been deprived of a site for education on the natural world and scientific research.

All hope is not lost, however, as mangrove restoration efforts are being undertaken by the team of ecologists and environmental scientists at Walkers Reserve in St. Andrew. Walkers Reserve is a former sand quarry, which has now been transformed into a thriving nature reserve. Ms. Meike Joseph, project officer at Walkers, said that once grazing by cows in the reserve had been controlled, it saw the reemergence of white mangroves around Long Pond. This indicates the species once thrived here, and the aim is to restore it by allowing space for the white mangroves to recover. Black mangrove trees can also be found in the reserve, whose populations are recovering, and red mangroves are being planted as a part of the restoration project. 

Youths Threatened by degradation of mangrove forests in Barbados
Long Pond, St. Andrew. Image by WIRRED.

Ms. Joseph states the goal is to create a thriving ecosystem for everyone to get involved. As an ecotourism attraction it creates the opportunity for employment for those in the area, allows the youth to get involved through educational tours for students and the opportunity to plant out the mangrove propagules from the onsite nursery. These benefits come in conjunction with the ecosystem services provided by mangroves. The Barbados Environmental Conservation Trust was able to fund the first phase of the project, however, further funding will need to be secured to see other phases carried out.

Nature-based solutions must be applied to climate issues and protect and the tools at our disposal which already exist must be conserved. To lose the mangrove forest at Graeme Hall would be an act of injustice for the future generations of Barbados. Action must be taken to mitigate the anthropogenic stressors that threaten the integrity of the mangrove forest. We must do what we can now, to save this precious wetland. 


This story was published on Barbados Today with the support of the Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship, which is a joint venture between Climate Tracker and Open Society Foundations.

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Kyle Foster

Kyle Foster

Kyle is a writer and ecologist residing on the island of Barbados. With a deep passion for sharing the stories of the natural world, he has dedicated his craft to raising awareness about environmental issues. Much of his writing experience stems from publishing captivating stories with renowned platforms such as the Sustainable Ocean Alliance Caribbean and the Cari-Bois Environmental News Network. Through the art of storytelling, his ultimate goal is to bring attention to the pressing environmental challenges that surround us. Additionally, he devotes time to his personal blog, where he documents his immersive experiences in nature through detailed field journal entries.

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