From the air, the peninsula of Palmetto Point – surrounded by aquamarine water and pink sand – seems like a developer’s dream.
For locals it was a display of childhood memories and active afternoons.
Three years later Barbuda was devastated by Hurricane Irma, The small Caribbean island is the scene of a bitter dispute that has provoked islanders against foreign developers planning to build a $ 2 billion luxury resort project.
A group of investors, including John Paul Dejoria, the billionaire entrepreneur behind Paul Mitchell hair products, have been awarded the golf course for a 99-year lease and project called Peace, Love and Happiness (PLH) to build hundreds of deluxe private homes. .
Proponents see this development as an important economic stimulus that has already created dozens of jobs for an island still recovering from the September 2017 hurricane. Critics say it occupies a national park, one of the world’s largest nesting sites for the magnificent warship bird and endangered wildlife.
The developers claim that their opinion was divided following a community referendum in 2016. Protesters say a comprehensive master plan was prepared after Irma, when a total of 1,600 people in Barbuda were forcibly evicted. Antigua – Both the federal government and the PLH deny the claim.
Work is already well underway on the site, where swamps and other inland plants have been removed for planting elsewhere. About 40 of the 395 apartments advertised on the company’s website have already been sold, and construction has begun on an international runway to accommodate private jets.
Local marine biologist John Musington, who gestured towards the swamps and palms that the islanders traditionally use to make fish tanks and thatched roofs, said the region’s wetlands are protected by a global treaty.
“Everything you see here is important wetland and natural beach vegetation Ramsar Conference,” he said.
“The West Indies Whistle Duck – which is in danger of extinction – depends on areas like this to breed. Every nesting season five thousand wonderful warships come to our lake. According to the local Barbuda warbler, this place is important for its survival. . ”
Wednesday, the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) Ramsar has called for an international inquiry into the destruction of listed habitats. Klan said he had sent evidence, including expert scientific reports, to the Ramsar Secretariat seeking emergency intervention.
GLAN spokesman Dr Tomazo Fernando told the Guardian: “This is the extent to which this habitat needs to be changed. We believe that international consultation work is needed to urgently assess the changes that are already taking place and to prevent further deterioration.”
The project unfolds against the backdrop of a bitter continuum between Barbuda and big sister Antigua The federal government reversed centuries-old communal land rights.
Historically, all land in Barbuda belonged to the commonwealth and could not buy and sell parcels of land. The practice was codified into law in 2007. In 2017 the new law introduced the freehold sale of land, but is the subject of a court war. In September, East Caribbean The Court of Appeal granted campaigners the right to take the case to the Privy Council in London.
Many barbarians are still angry about what they consider to be the theft of their birthright, and that line has provoked calls for secession from Antigua.
“The government is trying to brainwash us into saying they ‘help us; they only want our land,” said McKenzie Frank, a resident and campaigner.
The government of Prime Minister Gaston Brown has responded by saying that the federal government pays the bulk of Barbudan’s wages (many of whom work in the civil service), repeatedly comparing the small island to the “welfare state” and its 1,200 “Imbeciles”.
The Barbuda Council, which manages the island’s internal affairs earlier this year, sought to halt construction, citing damage to protected flora and fauna habitats.
“The area being created is very sensitive. We have approached the PLH in the past and asked them to stop all work, but they have refused,” said Council Chairman Calci Beeser-Joseph. “We hoped to negotiate with them, but they are now damaged,” he said. We are not interested anymore. “
Council member Jackie Frank said no financial benefits could offset the “environmental devastation”.
“That area was beautiful and beautiful when I last picked grapes,” Frank said, fearing the removal of the dunes would put the islanders in danger. “My fear is that they will tear too much and there will be no way back.”
Fisherman Devon Warner said the face of the island is already changing.
“This development will have a significant impact on our traditions and cultures, as far as I can remember. The areas of Barbuda will be unlimited to us and with the freedoms we have always enjoyed, the way we use our land will also change,” he said.
Across the island, barren deer, wild boar and donkeys still roam free. Small-scale farming and tourism can help some people find a career, but meaningful jobs can be elusive.
“When I was in first grade, there were 42 kids in my class. By the time I reached the fifth form, I was the only one left – most of them had left, ”said Abhishek Thomas, development supervisor.
Thomas, who has worked at PLH since 2017, said the company pays more than anywhere else on the island and has access to free training classes for more than 70 of its interns working locally. “Some people want Barbuda to be a giant natural reserve. What this project is giving us is real empowerment.”
Telargia did not respond to a request for comment, but the PLH spokesman said it was replanting thousands of native plants, covering almost half of the project’s land area.
The site was chosen because of its “natural beauty,” he said, “but for decades it was degraded, cut too much for sand, and dumped waste from Irma into it.”
The “low density” project aims to attract high-net-worth, part-time residents who will boost Barbuda’s economy, which has taken further wreckage from the Govt-19 epidemic, a spokesman said.
“Our environmental impact study was done by an established, internationally recognized scientist. We have not yet found a credible science that contradicts the outline.”
That brings some comfort to Musington. “As far as Barb is concerned, this is our life; we have a deep connection with our land,” he says, looking at the bushy, windswept landscape.
“They can talk about economic opportunities, but those opportunities do not belong to us. I have 62 square miles of land – I can say the same with every bar. We are asked to trade it all for a job owned by someone else,” he adds: “Every day feels like a struggle for our survival.”