By Christal Clashing

In the face of being awarded a sustainability award by Lonely Planet, both environmental and cultural sustainability In Antigua and Barbuda is under threat by the Chinese development by the YIDA Group.

About the Lonely Planet Award

In November 2020 Antigua and Barbuda was named “Emerging Sustainable Destination” as Best in Travel picks for 2021 by the noted travel guide series, Lonely Planet. As the year 2020 proved testing to the entire travel industry, this status was a ray of hope and encouragement for the small island nation nestled in the heart of the Eastern Caribbean

Contributing to the achievement of this status are four core initiatives that the twin-island nation has been working on as early as 2014. This includes the banning of single-use plastic bags and the creation of the “Green Corridor” established after Hurricane Irma in 2017. The Green Corridor promotes environmental stewardship, preservation of culture and history of Antigua and Barbuda, the ensuring that benefits to local communities are realised and includes the Wallings Nature Reserve, the only tropical forest in Antigua and Barbuda

Minister of Tourism, Charles “Max” Fernandez, highlights that although Antigua and Barbuda is a small country, the Sustainable Tourism department is pioneering initiatives to ensure that the beauty of the country is preserved and nurtured for future generations.

But as Antigua and Barbuda relish the title of Emerging Sustainable Destination, a sinister development on the North-Eastern coast of Antigua threats that newly acquired sustainable designation that Antigua and Barbuda currently enjoys.

What is the YIDA project?

Promised to bring international prestige to Antigua and Barbuda, the YIDA project is a 20-year Chinese development project that set to connect several of Antigua’s offshore islands through marinas, beachfront casinos and hotels. With 200acres of the northeastern shoreline of Antigua, the YIDA project has been granted a special economic zone exempt of any Antiguan taxes.

The challenge is that YIDA borders Antigua’s only marine protected area, the North Eastern Marine Management Area (NEMMA) that includes the picturesque offshore islands of Bird Island, Guiana Island and Rabbit Islands.

Along the YIDA coastline, mangroves have been removed and illegal dredging has started to happen. Environmentalists questioned this project back at its inception in 2014 and it seems that their concerns are warranted by the actions within the Antigua and Barbuda Special Economic Zone (ABSEZ) of YIDA.

The YIDA threat to the ecosystem

Mangroves protected the shorelines from the heavy winds and rains of storms and hurricanes, an occurrence that is predicted to become more severe with each passing year. The removal of these mangroves presents greater exposure of mainland structures to hurricane damage. Additionally, without the barrier of mangroves, mud and silt runoff from the land during storms go directly to the outer-lying reefs, destroying marine life in a marine protected area.

With the dredging taking place between mangrove channels, YIDA disrupts the ecosystems that support the northern and eastern part of the island.  In fact, the YIDA project is only a few kilometres away from Parham, a historic fishing village in Antigua, which first served as Antigua’s first capital town. Thus the dredging and overall project have a direct influence on the livelihoods of fishermen and tour operators that rely on marine wildlife in these parts of the island.

Where does Antigua go next?

It seems unlikely that there is much to be done that can stop the YIDA project. Will local protesters make a big enough impact of the government and on the developers to make a difference? We will have to wait and see. However, with little response from the government of this project, it seems unlikely.