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Thursday 30th May 2013

Eli Fuller's Blog of May 29, 2013 offers alternatives to sand mining as a means of income for Barbudans.

Photo compliments of Antigua Conservation Society.

Light tackle and deep sea sport fishing could be one of the main ways that the residents of Barbuda make a living after sand mining is finally put to rest. The destructive and irrational practice of large scale sand mining has been one of the main income generators of our sister island for decades, and despite engineers' and environmental consultants' best advice to stop, government has continued to sanction the lucrative yet unhealthy practice. 

Barbuda is one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean with dazzling white sand beaches stretching around most of it's deserted coastline. Approximately half of the coast is protected by barrier reef, and it's this reef which has helped to produce most of the island's wonderful sand. For millions of years parrot fish have chewed algae from coral which they easily digest. The bit's of chewed coral which are not digested are excreted as sand onto the sea floor. This essential process for Caribbean white sand production has made Barbuda one of the most attractive beach destinations in the region. One of the island's beaches is about the longest in the Caribbean, and at different times of the year tiny pink shells wash up on the shore turning the beach pink. There's nothing quite like it to be honest.

With all of this in mind it's hard to accept that commercial mining of this amazing sand has gone on without noticeable regulation for decades. It's to the point now that serious environmental issues are threatening the island's water supply and more critically the integrity of the coastline. We are starting to see erosion on some areas of shoreline closest to the mining. Some environmentalists think that the damage being done is so severe that it would take hundreds if not thousands of years for it to be corrected. Coupled with that has been a huge increase in the amount of parrot fish caught for export to Guadeloupe. Neither practice sustainable in any way and equally destructive for the beaches.

It would seem that mining the very thing that makes the island a sought after destination would be a bad decision, but the decision makers can't seem to find an alternative income generator. I can see why this has been difficult. Tourism in Barbuda has always lagged behind Antigua mainly because of transportation.

Without a large airport, there simply has never been enough seats coming to Barbuda to fill guest houses and hotels in any meaningful way. Tourism and all of the fun things that go along with tourism like sport fishing for example, have had it tough forcing the government to keep the mining of sand going. This could all change in the near future if decision makers are brave enough to entertain alternative business plans.

One of several changes that could happen has to do with Cruise Tourism. Many of the ships visiting some of the Caribbean's most celebrated destinations anchor off shore and tender their guests to little docks on the main land. Without any significant investment this could happen in Barbuda almost immediately. One or two small ships a week could provide significantly more employment than the entire mining industry does in Barbuda. In addition to that, the types of jobs generated would be ideal for Barbuda's residents who would be able to conduct both light tackle and off shore fishing opportunities. Barbuda has all of the top game fish species endemic to it's coastline and interior lagoon. Species like bonefish, tarpon, permit, barracuda, jacks, mackerel, wahoo, dolphin fish, tuna, marlin, sailfish and many others are not difficult to find for Barbuda's experienced fishers. Of course there is great diving, snorkeling and bird watching too. The island is a nature lovers dream come true, and there is no end to the excursion activities that could be designed to make cruise passengers happy. From an environemtal point of view, cruise tourism as an alternative to commercial sand mining is a no brainer. Limited capital investment would be needed to get a foot in the door and with all visitors coming to the island by tender there would be very little waste of any sort left by ships. They would not leave anything on the island except footprints and money. The potential to make Barbuda the main sport fishing destination in the eastern Caribbean is there and just waiting for the first ship to drop anchor. Until that happens white sand is still being exported to Antigua and other destinations to be irrationally used in construction.

Blog by Eli Fuller -

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