Barbados’ generosity in allowing cruise ships to dock in its waters during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year has resulted in significant damage to the island’s coral reefs.
This was detailed in a report prepared by the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES), which has estimated that around 3.8 million square metres of coral reef were damaged between March and September, 2020.
Under the Coastal Zone Management Act damaging coral reefs is an offence and carries a fine of $300 per square meter.
The report was revealed to Barbados TODAY by Opposition Senator Crystal Drakes, who queried why Government had not yet made the findings public.
In the report entitled, Assessing anchoring impacts of cruise ships in Barbados during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 it was revealed that 28 cruise ships anchored in Barbados between March 1 and September 1, 2020, leading to 132 anchor drops taking place.
The majority of those anchor drops took place in the vicinity of Port St Charles in St Peter, while the others were recorded at the southern end of the West Coast, off the Bridgetown Port and Carlisle Bay.
The report maintained that the damage to the coral reefs far outweighed any benefits Barbados would have derived for allowing those ships to dock.
“The cruise ships anchored on the southwest and west coasts of Barbados in relatively shallow water on sandy areas, hard coral patch reefs and hard coral reef framework. Damage to bank reef coral communities was visually confirmed as being extensive at several west coast locations such as Bright Ledge Reef, the Farm Reef and Horseshoe Reef. The potential area of habitat damage from all anchoring events was estimated to be in the region of millions of square metres.
“Given the recognised value of coral reefs as indicated by the stated fines in the Coastal Zone Management Act for damaging reefs, this equates to millions of dollars in actual damage and far exceeds any short-term financial gains from permitting visiting cruise ships to anchor for a nominal fee. Long-term benefits accruing to the Barbados economy from allowing cruise ships to anchor as opposed to simply drifting in Barbados’ waters and using the port facilities are difficult to gauge, but likely minimal and highly unlikely to offset the long-term damage to critical coral habitat,” the report stated.
“This research highlights policy failures in the management of coral reefs in Barbados that allowed cruise ships to anchor in coral-rich areas, and highlights the need for better communication of information and analysis of costs and benefits to better inform policy decisions and actions that impact the marine environment.”
In its report, CERMES said due to climate change it was unlikely the reef would repair itself.
“The damaged corals and other reef biota will take many decades to regrow, and the reef framework is unlikely to ever repair itself under current conditions of climate change. Whilst it may be tempting to offer reef restoration as a solution, this is not a practical option for the extent of damage witnessed in this study, especially given the fact that the damaged reefs are in excess of 20 metres deep,” the report stated.
Barbados was honoured for allowing several cruise liners to dock in its waters. In October, 2020, Barbados copped the Destination of the Year Award at the Seatrade Cruise Awards.
In explaining the reason for Barbados winning the award, assistance vice-president of Global Cruise Sales, Oracle Hospitality said, “During the COVID-19 pandemic Barbados remained a place where home porting cruise lines found a safe haven, warmth and hospitality. In addition, ships were able to collaborate with the Bridgetown Port and the broader destination to repatriate crew.”
Repeated efforts to reach Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy, Kirk Humphrey who was said to be in Cabinet today were unsuccessful while permanent secretary Sonia Foster’s promise to return a call did not materialize.
When contacted, an official from the Coastal Zone Management Unit told Barbados TODAY officers from that department were not authorized to speak unless given permission by the Ministry. ([email protected])