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Analysis Of Environmental Challenges Of Barbados

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Situated at the most eastern point of the Caribbean, the island of Barbados has quickly become a hotspot for exploration. The small island is home to approximately 275, 300 inhabitants with an average of 518, 564 tourists arriving per year. As of 2010, Barbados has been identified as a developed nation, with tourism underpinning growth and construction activities. Barbados has become heavily reliant upon the tourism industry as a means of economic development, yet pristine environmental conditions are what drive tourism, including: beaches, coral reefs, water conditions, etc. While it is necessary to maintain these pristine environmental conditions for future development it has become clear that overuse and ignorance have caused issues surrounding, water resource management, coastal zone management and fisheries management. Each of these environmental issues, exhibit many barriers making management a challenge for the island of Barbados. However, it is seen that in most cases there are potential solutions to the environmental issues presented. Therefore, while development has pushed Barbados further economically it has been seen that a lack of management has lead to environmental degradation of the elements relied upon most for growth.

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Water Resource Management

Public infrastructure, including water services are a critical element of the Barbadian economy, both for daily consumption as well as economic activities. Although located in the tropics, Barbados identifies as one of the top fifteen water scarce countries in the world. Due to its formation Barbados has next to no surface water, making groundwater the only natural source of fresh water on the island.

With recent growth in development and added challenges seen as a result of climate change, water resource management has been a large topic of concern. While proper water infrastructure is important to meet current and future demands, it is clear that proper water governance and management have failed in allowing for adequate use of water resources within Barbados. While there is a problem with over extraction, there are many barriers present, including poor governance and insufficient infrastructure. Within Barbados there are 111 private wells and of those wells only 30 are metered, meaning there is a large discrepancy pertaining to how much water is actually consumed, leakage rates, daily intakes, etc. . Within the hotel industry water readings are not taken for consumption purposes, yet instead taken for billing amounts. However, it is seen that no two hotels or homes are the same and as a result it is hard to gauge the data collected as there are many varying factors, including: laundry use, sprinklers, employees or residents living in one area, etc. . Therefore, water reduction measures are not often taken, as there is little to no incentive for both businesses and homeowners to do so. Additionally, since the 90’s there have not been any large investments made in infrastructure, producing a 60% leakage rate, with little to no intervention on management strategies to combat this issue. Therefore, there have been no attempts made by governing bodies to address and analyze current water usage, allowing for consumption rates soar and leakage rates to persist.

Due to the importance of tourism within Barbados it has been seen that there is more attention being paid to increasing supply to meet demands rather than combating the problem at hand. Therefore, a barrier becomes present, as there is a fight between economic gain through tourism, or heavy investment in governance and management practices. In the near future these issues will be exasperated due to infrequencies presented with climate change, forcing longer dry seasons and drought like conditions. Due to the fact that ground water usage has reached a crisis level, exceeding 100% of its renewable capacity, desalination has been adapted as a potential solution to the issue of water scarcity. The St Michael Brackish Water Reverse Osmosis (BWRO) plant was built in 2000, to reduce deficits seen through fresh ground water supply. With potential benefits including improved water quality and sanitation, water softening and advantages to the agriculture industry through quality of sewage effluents. While there is the potential for major environmental issues to occur, such as: impacts on land use, aquifers and marine environments, noise pollution and energy consumption. It is possible through proper governance and planning, these adverse effects can be minimized and managed. While ideally it would make sense to properly manage fresh water sources, it is seen that desalination is a possible strategy to combat against fresh water shortages.

Coastal Zone Management

Barbados, in particular has 92 km of coastline, including a diverse array of natural habitats including land and seascapes. The coastline is a pivotal feature of Barbados, both providing sustenance for locals yet largely being used for leisure activities by tourists. Barbados is dependant upon tourism for economic growth, therefore it is pertinent the coastal zones within Barbados remain pristine. However, human actions have caused major impacts on Barbados coastal zones, including: a loss of natural habitat, encroachment on active beach areas and poor water quality causing lowered reef health. It is obvious that development has had major impacts on natural habitats, in particular beaches, as frontage has decreased in recent years, affecting the tourism industry. However the largest environmental concern is the degradation of seawater quality in Holetown Barbados due to surface water runoff. Data collected, points to high nutrient concentrations, mainly due to the agricultural industry, through over fertilization and urban sources. As a result of this runoff there has been a rise in eutrophication, dangerous high levels of turbidity, total suspended solids, and sedimentation, all found in a northward trend directing plumes towards the Bellairs reef. The effects of runoff have caused hardship for the coral in this area with the percent of live coral fluctuating largely since 1982. Each of the issues presented in Barbados, particularly Holetown, present several challenges as the severity and complexity of these issues largely persist. Initially when these problems started to occur the Government of Barbados (GoB) had little ability to respond to these problems from a legislative standpoint. Therefore, the initial issues have become so large today as there was no form of regulation or legislative power able to control the severity of the degradation occurring. Therefore, water runoff is one of the largest issues present today, as a lack of enforcement and legislation from an early stage were non-existent. Today barriers exist, as direct sources of the contaminants are hard to identify. While they know what industries they are coming from it is unclear what sources are causing the most damage. Likewise the coral being effected currently also faced acute damage 20 years ago and as a result it has become hard do decipher the direct impacts runoff is having on the reef.

Overall, it has been seen that barriers exist today as past neglect of regulations have caused even larger problems to appear, such as contamination caused by run off. The Holetown Waterfront Improvement Project, instated by the GoB, has presented possible solutions to these coastal zone management issues. The aim of this project is to promote development of both the economy and a healthy environment, through management and conservation efforts. This can be seen through their four main objectives, including: shoreline stabilization and erosion control, restoration of coastal habitats, improvement of public coastal access and institutional strengthening for coastal management. It is the hope that this project will provide coastal zone improvement through: more resiliency to storm surge waves, reduce erosion and promote quick recovery, provide convenient beach access and develop new benthic habitat for corals and fishes. Therefore, while there has been a lack of regulation in the past, the GoB has identified that major restoration is needed in order to maintain the pristine environments Barbados is known for.

Fisheries Management

Fisheries have been an important backbone to Barbadian culture and commerce since European settlement, collectively producing a multimillion-dollar industry. The importance placed on the fishery within Barbados has made fisheries management a large area of concern, particularly in regards to, sea urchins or as they are locally referred to as ‘sea eggs’. Within Barbados sea eggs are viewed as a delicacy, being harvested for their roe for consumption purposes. Due to their extreme cultural significance and economic return sea eggs have been exploited to the point of collapse, with sea egg season permanently closing in 2005. The largest and most concentrated barrier surrounding the collapse of the sea egg fisheries is over harvesting due to both poor management and illegal fishing. While there have been government efforts in the past to manage population counts, such as season closures, robust over fishing and illegal harvesting during closed seasons still largely persisted. While there was a closed season from May to August, to promote reproduction, enforcement became lax, due to the large amount of coastline to patrol and small section of the fisheries it represents. As a result it has been seen that authoritative figures have been lenient on enforcement and as a result overfishing persists leading to the collapse of the sea egg industry. Therefore, due to high economic return and minimal regulations, poaching continues to be the largest challenge surrounding sea egg decline. Since 1879 there have been efforts to try and manage the sea egg industry, however it has not been seen until recently that the idea of co-management has been introduced to help form a solution to these issues.

In lieu of past failed efforts to facilitate recovery, the government has introduced consultative co-management, combining efforts from the Fisheries Division and Coastal Zone Management Unit and the Barbados National Union of Fisherfolk Organizations. Consultative co-management, presents a partnership between government and stakeholders, yet government bodies make all final decisions. Currently, Barbados is in the pre-implementation phase of all fisheries management initiatives, meaning there has been identification of a problem and there have been steps made to development new management strategies to solve the problem. While there have been steps made in the right direction, it is seen that the government is largely in control of the outcomes and decisions facing the fisheries. As seen in the past this has not been the most effective measure in terms of fisheries management, leading to the decline of sea eggs in Barbados. Therefore, it may be more beneficial to adapt the collaborative co-management approach that allows for joint participation and shared decisions between government officials and the stakeholders. Collaborative co-management would allow fishermen to have a say and engage in the process of regulating an industry they actively participate in. It would be the hope that their involvement would mean a more concerned effort to adhere to rules and regulations and potentially decrease the amount of illegal fishing that occurs.


As a nation Barbados has and will continue to have many environmental challenges, specifically pertaining to water resource management, coastal zone management and fisheries management. It is clear however that while there are many barriers pertaining to the recovery of many of these issues, there are many solutions that have been formed as a result. In summary, Barbados has struggled for decades to implement proper governance and administration strategies, leading to the degradation of many environmental aspects including, the sea egg fisheries, ground water consumption and coastal health, etc. While Barbados is heavily reliant upon these environmental elements for tourism purposes, it has not been until recently these issues have been taken seriously, through the introduction of ideas such as the desalination plant, co-management initiatives and the Holetown waterfront improvement project.

In conclusion, it is clear efforts are now being made to combat against long developing environmental issues as a result of inactions made throughout history by authority figures in Barbados. It will be important that these initiatives remain a forefront in political agendas in coming years, as the economic prosperity of the country is dependant to the health of specific ecosystem services present in Barbados.

15 Jun 2020

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