Opposition grows to proposed removal of reef at Indian Bay
by Katherine Renton
Objections continued to increase in number this week against a proposed removal of a section of reef, the placement of an artificial reef and ‘beach nourishment’ using imported sand at a section of the Indian Bay beach.
A petition started by the St Vincent and the Grenadines(SVG) Environment Fund “Opposing the removal of the Reef at Indian Bay” on change.org (https://www.change.org/p/svgef-opposing-the-removal-of-the-reef-at-indian-bay), has garnered 3,977 signatures so far.
And,concerned citizens, scientists and non-governmental organisations are making it their business to express in detail why they oppose the application made to the Physical Planning and Development Board by Raffique Dunbar on behalf of Syre Holdings Inc. – the owners of La Vue Boutique Hotel.
La Vue Boutique Hotel, formerly Grand View Beach Hotel, is located on a property on one end of Indian Bay beach, and has been the subject of millions of dollars of renovations by foreign investors.
Despite the fact that persons have put forward evidence that the area of the reef is alive, an investor of the La Vue Boutique Hotel and Beach Club insists that “nothing lives” on the “rock” that they wish to excavate.
“We would never entertain even touching it if there is any living things that anybody can show us scientifically, or anything, any proof. If they find anything…” President/CEO at A&A Capital Inc, Adem Adem said on Wednesday July 14.
The investor acknowledged that they have not consulted with any scientists concerning the application which was submitted to the Physical Planning Board. Instead, they are relying on an Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA) prepared by Environmental Engineer Krystle Francis, to recommend the 1)removal of the “dead” coral reef along the beach front (approximately 350ft along the coast, and 50/60ft from the high water mark, covering 17,500 sq ft); 2) the placement of a new artificial reef at about 100/150ft from shore; and 3) the placement of imported sand to increase beach width.
Members of the public who have written to the Secretary to the Physical Planning and Development Board have outlined the negative implications that all of these recommendations will have on the entire ecosystem, and the deficiencies they have seen in EIA which has been labelled incomplete. They also outline that the targeted area is within a Marine Conservation Area, and to remove it would go against various environmental legislation, the Convention on Biological Diversity(CBD) and the sustainable development goals that St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has adopted.
In light of the pushback that they are receiving from the community, Adem was asked whether they will reconsider their plans and leave this area untouched.
“Yeah absolutely, if it’s truly the community really thinks this thing is alive and truly if this thing is gonna affect anything, we absolutely will consider leaving it alone, but I don’t see the benefit of leaving a stone here when you can rejuvenate this beach and make it for the public itself to really enjoy this,” he replied.
Another voiced area of concern is that if the application is approved, the beach area will have the effect of being a private area. Adem has denied this, saying that this was never their intention.
“In St Vincent every beach is a public beach, it’s gonna continue to be a public beach”, and they’re just beautifying the area, he stated.
He also emphasised, “I just recommend the public, everybody that truly wants to understand and see, to come and see this reef and give us their honest opinion..”
As to whether they will enlist scientists to determine whether there is living coral, Adem stated that he hoped the PPU would bring in scientists.
“I hope they do and if they decide they cannot do this, we will bring in a scientist to do more tests,” he said.
While this interview was in progress, workers from the Fisheries Division were seen diving/snorkelling over the reef, but they were unable to comment on what their determination was at that time.
However amidst the leading voices in the fight against the application is visual artist and photographer Nadia Huggins, who has been publishing her work over the years showing the marine life at Indian Bay beach. She joined forces with a group of young scientists last Sunday, July 11 to reiterate that there is life there to be protected.
One of these scientists, Joshua Gooding, who holds a first class honours degree in biology, with specialisation in marine biology, ecology and environmental biology, explained that he and his fellow scientists “mapped out the site in which they(La Vue hotel) project to remove the “dead” coral. We then lay a transit out in sea and sampled informally, because we didn’t follow a pattern – of the various coral species we saw coming in. And by just doing that I was able to identify at least five different species of encrusting coral.”
“Yes they did not dominate the rocky platform that they plan to remove however, anywhere I looked there was young coral growing, so it’s definitely a recolonisation site,” he submitted.
“I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how it’s going to look in the next five years”, he added, admitting that yes, “they have macroalgae growth growing over the rocky substrate in front, however, there’s a strong population of parrot fish which eat algae, and black sea urchins which eat algae, which is leaving room for coral to colonise.”
Further, “when I went snorkelling out there to the point in which they say they want to put an artificial reef, I found a huge bed of finger coral.”
When Gooding was informed about the application, he said he was surprised and didn’t want to believe that it was happening.
He was also “flabbergasted” when he read the EIA, because he believed there should have been research conducted below the surface of the water.
He is in the process of writing to the Physical Planning and Development Board, and “I’m also going to try and speak to various other marine biologists who are coral specialists and to see if they can conduct research on the finger coral found outside at the 100/150 water mark. Because of its size it suggests that it did not die off during the coral bleaching events that happened in the late nineties.”
“…the fact that it did not die off then suggests it might possess genetic information that would make it resilient…” he contemplated.
While the notice in the local newspapers informing the public about the application made by Dunbar was originally published on July 2, an addendum was published in the newspaper on July 9. At least one worker of the Physical Planning Unit(PPU) has confirmed that the 14-day period within which the public may make representation to the Town Planner and Secretary to the the Physical Planning and Development Board, Dornet Hull, in response to the application, should restart from July 9. Therefore, it would follow that persons should have until next Friday, July 23 to respond, and visit the offices to peruse the application for themselves.
Following this period the wait will commence for the Board, which sits once per month, to make a decision. The Board consists of 16 members, which includes representatives from the Ministry of Health Wellness and the Environment; the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; and the National Parks Rivers and Beaches Authority.
When asked what process is followed when deciding applications of an environmentally sensitive nature, an individual familiar with the process said vaguely “it’s like every other process”, and that all the documents presented are gone through and assessed.
The person said that the process is that the application goes out for public notice, it comes into the office, is sent out to various agencies, the various agencies “would give back their response”, and if it’s a Board plan, this will be discussed at the Board. However, the individual would not say what agencies would likely be engaged in this matter.
The person also noted that “this” has gotten “too much publicity”.
It is still not certain what weight the objections that have been written will have, as the individual only offered, “Everything is taken to the Board meeting for consideration, the Board goes through every detail, every document that is placed before them in relation to any application.”