Will They Pave Paradise?

We sailed to Barbuda the other day despite the very light wind. Actually, we ended up motor sailing the 30 miles from Jolly Harbor and dropped anchor in the clear waters at Coco Point. Since there are no “harbors” here, just open roadsteads, you choose the right weather window, including the predicted swell conditions, to anchor comfortably and safely. We, along with a number of other cruisers that we know, decided to come here before the “Christmas Winds” kick in. Those winter Trade Winds make sailing “sporty” when sailing between islands. We’ll be back in Falmouth for the holidays.

Barbuda, all 62 square miles, is a flat, Bahamas like island, quite different than all the other Lesser Antilles except Anegada which is similar. What sets Barbuda apart (it is officially part of the country of Antigua and Barbuda) is not only its topography.

The island is like a Bahama’s family island: think Eleuthera not Nassau. Only about 1800 people live on the island which has no real industry; just fishing, farming, hunting and limited tourism. When hurricane Irma came by in 2017, it wiped out 90% of the buildings and everyone was evacuated to Antigua. But what is really different is that the land is owned “in common with the people of Barbuda”, documented in the Barbuda Land Act 2007. That law specified that land cannot be bought or sold (Barbudian’s have a right to live on the land) and major developments on government leased land, valued over $5.4 million, must be agreed to by all the residents.

A few years ago, before Irma, we were here and took a short tour on the island and saw the largest frigate bird nesting area in the Caribbean. It really is a pristine place of natural beauty even though it does not have the volcanic mountains of the other islands. It has wet-lands and caves and beautiful beaches. The beaches are at the top of our list of great beaches. The sand at Coco Point ranks the whitest on my island sand collection! The snorkeling is good although the hurricane did do some damage, but the water is clear. Our current visit here will only be for a few days as we are restricting our travel to only the anchorage area. Some of our cruising friends, Roxy, Allegro, Merlin and Kokomo, took a long dinghy ride to a small local beach bar for a great lunch. There is not much else around! We also snorkeled, had sundowners and a dinghy drift – all the usual cruisers activities!

Dinghy Drift in Barbuda

But all is not peaceful on Barbuda as change is in the air (or on the sand). After the hurricane of 2017, the law was changed to define “major developments” from $5.4 to $40 million. Since the island was devoid of major developments, that has attracted developers like honey attracts flies. Understandably, when money is waved many people, including governments, salute. So it is here.

One third of the island is designated a natural resource protected area by Ramsar (an international treaty for wetlands) and a National Park area (Antigua and Barbuda). The local Barbuda Council working  under the Antigua government authority, is fighting that change in the law. There are now interested parties (Robert DiNiro, Steve Anderson, and Jean Paul Dijoria – the later formed a corporation named “Peace, Love and Happiness” for their Barbuda developments) fighting for development. Others, including international environmental organizations are fighting to keep development out or ensure development is environmentally sound. Others are calling for selling land to the highest bidder. All claim that this is in the best interest of Barbuda. The developments that are already underway, amid the legal fights, are the usual: luxury housing, golf courses, and mega yacht marinas. Politics comes to play along with the usual money flows to grease the wheels of progress. The locals need jobs but don’t want to change. Foreign investors see gold in the sand. Environmentalists see catastrophes but the turtles in the bay just dive for sea grass while the Frigate birds roost with their colorful plumage.

The following photos show where we are anchored and the developments that are starting to spring up here.

Coco Point Beach is like most of the beaches ob Barbuda

So the question is, do you pave paradise for a parking lot? The developers are selling the idea to the very wealthy as a place of great beauty and unspoiled land. You can easily land your charter plane in front of your estate, take water taxi to shore which conveniently rolls up the beach to your waiting personal staff. Of course, all the investors are foreigners and whatever profits are mined here rarely stay here, much like in colonial times. Yes, jobs are created, and it looks like progress. The streets will be paved with asphalt. But the key word is “spoiled”. And that, I suppose, is in the eye of the beholder. Although the turtles, birds and fish may have a different viewpoint.

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