top of page

Open letter to the Ramsar Secretariat on World Wetlands Day 2024

Silence in response to NGO’s concerns re: Barbuda and Grenada's Ramsar Sites


Pictured: The start of construction of billion dollar 'mega-resort' on Levera Wetland, Grenada


02.02.24: Disaster capitalism, extractivist US and Chinese developers, human-induced environmental degradation and climate change are posing significant threats to many of the remaining wetlands in the Caribbean.


The Convention on Wetlands (1971), or the ‘Ramsar Convention’, was one of the world’s first international environmental treaties. On February 2nd every year the Ramsar Secretariat promotes World Wetlands Day to mark the importance of wetlands. The Day is co-sponsored by Danone, a corporation currently facing legal challenge for greenwashing. On closer inspection, other hypocrisies are apparent. Therefore, today, we are calling on governments to respect their obligations under the Ramsar Convention and we are calling out the Ramsar Secretariat for failing to act and failing to stand with local communities who refuse to let their precious wetlands be destroyed by exploitative developers.


Rare wildlife nesting sites endangered


Both Barbuda and Grenada, small islands in the Caribbean, have one designated Ramsar site each – the Codrington Lagoon and the Levera Wetland respectively. Both are under existential threat from luxury and mega tourism projects being recklessly pursued by the Discovery Land Company, via the Barbuda Ocean Club in Barbuda and via the Grenada National Resort Project by the Singapore Hengsheng Grenada Development PTE Ltd. Group in Grenada. These wetlands are crucial habitats for endangered species such as sea turtles and endemic birds. The Magnificent Frigate Bird is the National bird of Antigua and Barbuda and the frigatebird sanctuary inside the Codrington Lagoon is the largest in the Western hemisphere. Levera beach in Grenada is the third largest nesting site in the Caribbean for endangered Leatherback sea turtles. These wetlands are home to a host of other endangered species and play a vital role in maintaining the rich biodiversity and fragile ecosystems of these small islands.


Exploitation of wetlands by foreign investors and developers


However, the increasing encroachment of luxury resorts and unsustainable, harmful developments pose a direct threat to these wetlands. The wetlands are being razed to make way for luxury enclaves and 18-hole golf courses for elite foreign investors against the wishes and rights of the local communities. In Grenada, the Ramsar boundaries have been altered to accommodate the development, based on a secretive agreement with the developers and government with zero public consultation. In Barbuda, UN Special Rapporteurs on World Wetlands Day 2022 intervened to highlight the human rights impacts: “[c]onstruction in fragile areas threatens natural environments including wetlands as well as aquatic and coastal ecosystems. It can also affect the human rights of the local population, including the rights to a healthy environment, food, drinking water and sanitation and cultural rights, especially if local people rely on the areas’ rich biodiversity for their livelihoods.”


Palmetto Point, Barbuda has seen extensive construction, with an 18 hole golf course built on the wetland


Communities are fighting back to protect fragile ecosystems


Concerned locals on both islands have taken proactive steps to seek intervention from the Ramsar Secretariat, the body responsible for implementing the Ramsar Convention. They have repeatedly reached out for information, assistance and intervention to stop these detrimental developments destroying these so-called “protected” wetlands. However, their pleas have invariably fallen on deaf ears. The Ramsar Secretariat has long recognised (at least on paper) the importance of local communities’ and indigenous people’s participation in the management of wetlands. While they have highlighted community empowerment and the value of community relations with wetlands in a number of their initiatives, these mechanisms need to be more responsive in light of accelerated threats to wetlands. In Barbuda and Grenada it seems that instead of responding to local communities’ concerns and ensuring that all stakeholder voices are heard, the Ramsar Secretariat has remained silent. In Barbuda, residents were informed that the Secretariat would only interact with their government, leaving the local community without recourse given the central government of Antigua’s complicity with the ongoing land grab. In Grenada, the Grenada Land Actors were not even given this information, and have yet to receive a response to their letter to the Secretariat sent one year ago this month.


Local climate activist Ruth Spencer has been consistently raising the ongoing destruction at the Ramsar sites in Barbuda and Grenada at high-level forums as recently as last month and directly with the Ramsar Secretariat. Despite this, no action has been taken but a promise has been made to review the EIAs of both sites.


Government must be held accountable for destruction of wetlands


The Secretariat’s insistence that it can only interact with governments is of cold comfort to environmental activists in Barbuda and Grenada who are currently both challenging their own governments in court, showing how these developments that are damaging their Ramsar-listed wetlands and bravely calling out their governments for hypocritically calling for climate justice in international forums while giving these developments the green light at home. In Barbuda, the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) has been working with Barbudans since 2018 and has sent several official communications over the years to the Ramsar Secretariat calling on them to act. To date, nothing has been done.


Meanwhile the government of Antigua & Barbuda implied in their report to the last Ramsar COP that there is no change to the character of the Codrington lagoon and that “the wetland itself has not been affected”, blaming any site deterioration on "ongoing sandmining activity" rather than the building of the multi-million dollar residences for the "exclusive residential community". Further, the government asserted that local communities play a role in maintaining the wetland yet on the ground Barbudans have been shut out of processes and their participation has been overlooked since hurricane Irma. This is outright misinformation that is being hosted and disseminated by Ramsar. Meanwhile it appears that the government of Grenada did not submit a report to the last COP.


The governments of both Antigua & Barbuda and Grenada are not only obliged under the Ramsar Convention to maintain the ecological character of their wetlands but also uphold international legal obligations under for example the Paris Agreement which requires them to make Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Antigua & Barbuda have specifically vowed to protect wetlands as carbon sinks as part of their Paris obligations. 


The Ramsar Secretariat can conduct advisory missions to countries, engage in dialogues with governments and collaborate with local and international NGOs. Despite its mandate, it appears that the Secretariat is reluctant to intervene in cases where governments are involved in the very activities threatening the wetlands.


This dire situation raises serious questions about the effectiveness of the Ramsar Secretariat and the Convention’s enforcement. Governments themselves are often the culprits behind the destruction of these vital wetlands through their economic benefits derived from luxury real-estate sales and mega tourism projects. This conflict of interest undermines the principles of the Escazú Agreement, to which both Antigua & Barbuda and Grenada are State Parties and which emphasises the importance of local involvement in environmental matters.


Our calls to action 


Our call to other Ramsar Member States:

 

  1.  We remind other State Parties to the Ramsar Convention whose investors are are implicated in the destruction of Ramsar sites elsewhere that they have responsibilities under Ramsar and we urge them to call for an urgent advisory mission to both Barbuda and Grenada


We call on the Ramsar Secretariat to:


  1. Urgently prioritise the review of the EIAs of the two Ramsar sites and urge the governments to immediately halt construction if these EIAs are found to be in violation of the Ramsar Convention.

  2. Establish a new mechanism whereby the Secretariat can act on receipt of information on adverse or likely adverse changes in ecological character at Ramsar Sites from concerned communities and not just from State Parties. 

  3. Accept invitations from communities and thus urgently organise an advisory mission to both Barbuda and Grenada.

  4. Collaborate with the Escazú Secretariat to ensure that  Ramsar has a more effective presence in the Caribbean.



We call on the governments of Antigua & Barbuda and Grenada to:


  1. Halt construction at the Ramsar sites immediately to save the ecological character of the wetlands.

  2. Urgently accommodate and assist the Ramsar Secretariat in conducting advisory missions to the sites and facilitate them in reviewing the EIAs

  3. Respect their obligations under international law especially the Ramsar Convention and the Paris Agreement.


The next conference of state parties (COP15) in July 2025 in Zimbabwe ought to be an opportunity to scrutinise the processes that have failed to protect wetlands in the Caribbean. 


How you can help


On World Wetlands Day 2024, we urge everyone to stand with local, grassroots organisations like the Grenada Land Actors (GLA) and the Barbuda Land Rights and Resources Committee (BLRRC) in their fight to protect their wetlands. The wisest way to protect our wetlands is through grassroots locally-led initiatives.


Grenada Land Actors

Barbuda Land Rights and Resources Committee

Global Legal Action Network (GLAN)









Tags:

bottom of page