On Friday February 2, 2018, Barbados along with the rest of the world, observed World Wetlands Day under the theme; ‘Wetlands for a Sustainable Urban Future’.
The Ministry of Environment and Drainage used the occasion of World Wetlands Day to raise awareness of the vital role of wetlands in reducing the impacts of extreme events such as storms, flooding and help to build resilience.
As part of the public awareness activity for this year, the Biodiversity Section embarked on tours with approximately 350 students of the Section’s adopted schools, Wesley Hall Juniors, St. Bartholomew Primary, St. Christopher’s Primary, Ellerton Primary and Wesley Hall Infants to Spring Garden during the week February 5, 2018. There the students were educated on the benefits and functions of wetlands and the impact of urbanization on these fragile ecosystems.
The Spring Garden Highway was constructed in 1977 by the Barbados Transport and Works under the supervision Project Manager, Mr. Frank Thornhill. This stretch of highway runs northwards along the coast of the island.
The tour began from the wetland area adjacent to Pierce Furniture Ltd. where each day the students were greeted by the Managing Director, Mrs. Jacqueline Pierce and her staff. Prior to the commencement of the tours the students were given a brief introduction by members of the Biodiversity Section on the protective services of wetlands against storm damage. They were also introduced to the impacts of urbanization on wetlands in Barbados.
After the students were guided to the location of the wetland area, they were divided into two (2) groups and met with the two presenters who facilitated the tours. The first presenter to the students was Mr. Tyrell Inniss of the Drainage Division. In Mr. Inniss’ presentation he explained the need for wetlands, to provide a sanctuary for wildlife such as birds and fish, as well as protection against flooding. Each day, students of the adopted schools eagerly asked questions on the types of wildlife found at the Spring Garden wetland. Mr. Inniss, in anticipation of the students’ questions, discussed the types of species present and their role in this wetland ecosystem. Mr. Inniss encouraged the students to observe the plants that were found above the water which were Water Lilies (Nymphaea sp.) and Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipies). He explained that these plants acted as nurseries and provided protective cover for species of fish found within the wetland. Fish such as Guppies (Poecilia reticulate) and Talapia (Oreochromis mossambicus) use these plants to act as cover against predation from birds such as the Green Heron (Butorides virescens). Mr. Inniss also pointed out to the students that within this wetland was the Bearded Fig Tree (Ficus citrofolia), the tree from which Barbados received its name. He explained that this tree could grow up to a height of 50 feet tall and spread horizontally joining together with the parent tree throughout the growth process by absorbing calcium from the ground.
In his closing discussion, Mr. Inniss asked the students to identify objectives that were not associated with wetlands, which posed a threat to the environment. The students identified items such as garbage cans, plastics bags and a damaged street lamp found within the Spring Garden wetland. Mr. Inniss commended the students on identifying these objects but also raised the issue of overfishing within the wetland and its detrimental impacts, as fishing at the Spring Garden wetland has been a tradition for many generations. Mr. Inniss however explained to the students that if the fish were removed from the wetland area, there would be an increase in the mosquito population since fish consume mosquito larvae. An increase in mosquito larvae could cause discomfort to humans and illnesses, such as dengue fever.
The second presenter to discuss the Spring Garden wetland was archaeologist and ornithologist, Dr. Karl Watson. Dr. Watson first explained to the students the basis behind the name of the Spring Garden highway which was due to the many springs found in the area of Spring Garden/Brandons leading up to Freshwater Bay (Paradise Beach). Dr. Watson explained that before the highway was built there were once two rivers that led down to Spring Garden. These were Bird River which led from Deacons, and Indian River which flowed from Fontabelle. These two rivers fed into Spring Garden and created a “swamp like” wetland that consisted of white mangroves (Laguncularia racemose) and red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) trees. However, due to urbanization and the construction of the Highway, much of the mangrove trees were destroyed which resulted in habitat loss for many other species.
Dr. Watson also informed the students of the presence of Amerindian settlement around the area of Spring Garden. Archaeologists have found artefacts such as pottery and tools made from rocks that were used by Arawaks to hunt fish and possibly birds that were found in the Spring Garden wetland. Archaeological digs have also revealed that Spring Garden was also an African settlement. Dr. Watson showed the students necklaces constructed by the Africans that he discovered at an archaeological dig at Spring Garden.
At the end of the presentations, the students were taken to Brandons Beach where they were able to view the remaining stand of white mangroves left after the construction of Spring Garden Highway. These consisted only of white mangroves. This area was heavily impacted by urbanization and man-made structures, and as a result contained little water and wildlife.
On Friday February 9, 2018 which was
the final day of the tours, the students of the St, Bartholomew Primary were
greeted at their school by the Minister of Environment and Drainage, the
Honourable Dr. Dennis Lowe. The Minister toured the school with the Principal
–Harris and praised the students on
their kitchen garden and recycling programme. In speaking with the students,
the Minister stressed the importance of wetland areas and the need for such
areas to be protected.
The tours then concluded at Brandons Beach at which time the students were given activity sheets based on wetlands and the impact of urbanization. The objective of the activity sheet was to test the students’ recollection and application of the information delivered.