Causeway to catastrophe for Saint Lucia’s endangered wildlife

Causeway to catastrophe for Saint Lucia’s endangered wildlife

Fauna and Flora International: Plans to link offshore island refuge to mainland would spell disaster for the world’s rarest snake and other threatened species.

Conservationists across the globe are expressing grave concerns about a proposed development in Saint Lucia that would mean certain extinction for some of the country’s most valuable wildlife. The next phase of the so-called Pearl of the Caribbean Project poses a serious threat to the country’s ecological, cultural and archaeological heritage. Most alarming of all is the proposal to build a causeway linking the Maria Islands to the mainland, a move that would have calamitous consequences for this offshore wildlife haven, which is officially a protected area.

Maria Islands Nature Reserve, one of only two Wildlife Reserves on Saint Lucia, is home to critical populations of six endemic Saint Lucian reptile species1 , including the world’s rarest snake – the Saint Lucia racer – which is found only on the island of Maria Major, and 90% of all remaining Saint Lucia whiptail lizards2 . The reserve is the last refuge of an extraordinary community of native species that have been wiped out on the mainland by a combination of habitat loss (in part due to ill-advised development), persecution and invasive alien species.

The causeway proposed by the company Desert Star Holdings Caribbean Star (DSH)3 would undoubtedly be a bridge too far for the beleaguered snake and whiptail lizard – both of which are already on the brink of extinction and categorised as Critically Endangered by IUCN – and for the other offshore wildlife. It would literally pave the way for an invading army of rats, mongooses and other non-native predators, condemning the remaining reptile populations on the Maria Islands to the fate already suffered by their mainland counterparts. To date, the sea has provided an effective barrier to these predators accessing the island. A causeway would remove that barrier.

The harmless, non-venomous Saint Lucia racer is so vanishingly rare that it was actually feared extinct. Hopes were revived following a painstaking search in 2011 and 2012 by a team comprising staff from the Saint Lucia National Trust, the Saint Lucia Forests and Land Resources Department, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (Durrell), which located 11 snakes. However, with the entire global population now estimated at fewer than 20 individuals, it is clear that every individual matters if we are to save this species from extinction.

St Lucia worm lizard (C) M Morton - Durell

St. Lucia worm lizard (C) M Morton – Durell

These same organisations are collaborating on a coordinated conservation programme to safeguard the future of Saint Lucia’s unique biodiversity and, in particular, the endemic reptiles confined to the Maria Islands. News of the proposed land bridge – which would destroy a delicately balanced ecosystem and scupper current efforts to save the Saint Lucia racer and the rare plants, lizards, seabirds and migratory birds that depend on this island sanctuary – was greeted with dismay by the conservation community.

The irony is that a misguided attempt to enhance the tourist experience is in danger of destroying the very natural heritage and beauty that attracts so many visitors and, in the process, jeopardising one of Saint Lucia’s most important sources of revenue. “Managing this site is not a new-found interest for the Department,” said a Senior Forestry Officer at the Saint Lucia Forestry Department. “We and our partners, in-country and from overseas, have been actively managing this site to conserve Saint Lucia’s biodiversity for over three decades. The proposed causeway is simply not compatible with the need to keep these highly sensitive islands and their wildlife free from invasive alien species.”

Aerial view of the Maria Islands - (C) Jenny Daltry FFI

Aerial view of the Maria Islands – (C) Jenny Daltry FFI

Bishnu Tulsie, Director of Saint Lucia National Trust said, “We will do all in our power to ensure that these priceless and fragile assets are protected for the benefit of every Saint Lucian and for future generations. We call on all Saint Lucians who genuinely care about our heritage to support us in our conservation work and to ensure that Maria Islands and the Pointe Sable Environmental Protection Area are not destroyed.” “Durrell has committed the last 30 years to supporting Saint Lucian partners to protect and restore their natural heritage,” said Matthew Morton, Eastern Caribbean Programme Manager for Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. “The Maria Islands are a jewel in the natural crown for Saint Lucia and source of national pride. This causeway would spell the end for the Saint Lucia racer; it’s that simple.”

“Saint Lucia has long been respected as a leading light in conservation and sustainable development for its many great achievements, such as bringing the Saint Lucia parrot back from the brink of extinction,” said Dr Jenny Daltry, Senior Conservation Biologist at Fauna & Flora International, adding, “Why jeopardise the survival of unique wildlife and an admirable reputation for the sake of a non-essential causeway?”

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11 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    April 13, 2017 at 1:39 pm Reply

    We only need to look to other islands to notice the travesties this DISH has committed. Does the Baha Mar projects in the Bahamas ring a bell or the many ruined unfinished projects across the Caribbean? Mr PM your ill gotten sit biting you? You are so lucky Saint Lucians of today aren’t those of past or you would have been stoned.

    1. Anonymous
      April 16, 2017 at 5:43 pm Reply

      Well according to Forbes Baha Mar Casion Resort is set to open next month

  2. 666
    April 13, 2017 at 1:59 pm Reply

    Allen wants to replicate what John Compton did with Pigeon Island, but he doesn’t understand that it’s a totally different beast.

  3. Real vibes
    April 13, 2017 at 3:07 pm Reply

    When people talk about the the generation to come and preserving wild life for them.they not even realizing that there isn’t a bright future for the children of tomorrow with all the crime that is gonna get worst,the amount of corruption with our so called leaders. All of us working so hard to acquire for our children where most of them don’t even care about preserving anything.the generation now liter all over the place and they live like there is no tomorrow.why should I even care about what these borborlist wanna do with st Lucia.i only in this Earth for a few more years.when the new generation come they gonna have. To take what they get.causr I know they don’t even care about what we live for them.

  4. Anonymous
    April 13, 2017 at 4:53 pm Reply

    Listen folks; the earth is a dynamic planet, it is not static, things keep on evolving and changing with time. That is nature. Do we rally expect our children and grandchildren to get the very same things that we presently have? Don’t get me wrong, I am all for preserving and protecting our heritage, but the ridiculous reasons being put forward by our so-called educated folks are mind boggling . How on earth do we expect the very same things we enjoy as kids growing up, our children and grandchildren one hundred years from now will have the very same? I mean, where is the logic here?

    1. Anonymous
      April 16, 2017 at 6:05 pm Reply

      What logic are you advocating?

  5. Anonymous
    April 13, 2017 at 11:56 pm Reply

    No need for such an argument. Development is necessary and it comes at a cost. St . Lucia was once a forest with no concrete buildings and paved roads. We need employment. How much revenue is Maria island contributing to our national purse?. The animals will live. If Maria island sinks would we have a national day of mourning? The causeway may be the best avenue to generate a serious income from Maria island. More persons will be able to access it hence more money. Is there a correlation between the proposed causeway and total destruction of Maria island?

  6. Anonymous
    April 15, 2017 at 11:36 am Reply

    An isle of the very blind leading the most blind. Tsk* Tsk* Tsk*

  7. Ministry of common sense
    April 15, 2017 at 1:30 pm Reply

    Not mashing up st lucias rare species should be the selling.. But go ahead with the rest of DSH because we need revenue. Just make sure u don’t sell us citizens short. Ie give us a few tens and give foreigners billions. Uphold St lucia value At All Costs
    By the way.. Why they don’t go promote the turtles more? Swim with turtles instead or something

  8. Anonymous
    April 15, 2017 at 5:53 pm Reply

    Strange all these comments.and people are afraid to put their names/could be the opposition party

  9. Brent J. Fevrier
    April 16, 2017 at 9:53 pm Reply

    Mr PM, just in case you read these comments and come to mine, or should one of your supporters relay the gist of these comments to your ears. This is what I would like you to know from me, an unremarkable, insignificant Saint Lucian, who is neither ashamed nor afraid to tag his name in ownership of his writings, to wit;

    The endangered species on the Maria Islands comprise, like our Amazona Versicolor, the national parrot, the patrimony of this generation of our people to bequeath to the following generations of Saint Lucians. We may not have, in the eyes of the well-heeled societial climbers, the credit rating needed to sit at the tables of the pretentious wealthy cabal, but we do have ourselves, and the things that define us, separate and apart from others, and we want it kept that way; for while the developed world is reverting to introversion and country for countrymen, your concept of nation building appears in my understanding, to be “to hell with countrymen, let us pander to the stranger that we may survive.”

    So please… do not fob us off as the malcontents who, having supported the opposition, are now out to make trouble, but give due consideration to the voices out there, for you are the Prime Minister of ALL of this country.

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