Barbados is the most easterly island in the Caribbean, is surrounded by coral reefs, and is home to four species of sea turtles. Moorings at all dive sites prevent anchor damage to the reef community and the Marine Pollution Act makes it illegal to buy, sell or damage coral.

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Reefs in Barbados

Barbados is situated windward of the Lesser Antilles and is the most easterly island in the Caribbean. The island is an uplifted reef surrounded by a 2-3 km wide shelf with several bands of fringing reefs. Reefs cover 90 km2; the west and south coast have an almost continuous bank reef, but reefs on the northeast and southeast coast are in the best condition with high diversity but low coral cover. The eastern, Atlantic, coast is subject to very high wave energy year-round, and much of this coastline is a bare carbonate platform extending out to deep water. There have been considerable declines recently in coral cover on offshore reefs since the 1980s, linked to eutrophication from urbanization, tourism development, and unsustainable fishing. The widespread bleaching in 1998 affected between many corals, but recovery was observed on all affected reefs. In 2005, temperature-induced bleaching resulted in mortality of corals as high as 26% and this was the most severe bleaching event ever recorded for Barbados. Barbados is host to four species of nesting turtles and has the second-largest hawksbill turtle breeding population in the Caribbean.

Recreational and commercial use

Tourism has been critical to the economy of Barbados since the 1960s and in 2002 generated $1.03 billion. Several ship wrecks have been sunk to create artificial dive sites and divert pressure away from natural reefs. Less than half a mile offshore, the shipwreck Stavronikita sits at a depth of just over 50 m and a number of shallow wrecks can be found in the Carlisle Bay Marine Park making it an excellent site for snorkelers and novice SCUBA divers. The Folkestone Marine Park and Reserve (FMPR), on the west coast is situated in one of the most heavily used marine areas; this reserve consists of a 2.2 km2 no-take zone and comprises two watersports zones, a recreation zone and a scientific zone. The park is managed by the National Conservation Commission, the government agency responsible for marine park management. Since 1982, the government’s Coastal Zone Management Unit (CZMU) has monitored reef health regularly and works with specialists to conduct an extensive reef health assessement at five-year intervals. Monitoring of bleaching, disease and water quality has been more frequent. Approximately 2,000 persons (500 powered boats) are employed in the Barbados fishing industry, focusing on flying fish and pelagic species, accounting for around 1% GDP. A fisheries terminal complex opened at Oistins in 1983. Flying fish is the most valued species and in 2007 total catch was estimated to be valued at $1.8 million.

Threats to reefs

Barbados is densely populated and has experienced a rapid increase in coastal development and tourism, with a consequent degradation of the marine environment. Coral bleaching events are a key environmental threat. Key threats from human use include overfishing (particularly of algal grazing parrotfish), eutrophication from sewage and agricultural fertilizers and marine-based pollution. Many nearshore reefs are threatened by sedimentation from land-based sources. Climate change projections suggest that reefs in the area will experience thermal stress severe enough to cause bleaching every year after 2040. Declines in coral calcification by 2040 due to ocean acidification are projected to be approximately 10%; well beyond what could result in net erosion of these reefs. 

Reef management

There are several key legal statutes which have direct implications for coastal zone management. The Coastal Zone Management Act provides a comprehensive, statutory basis for coastal zone management and planning in Barbados. It seeks to coordinate and update the existing, fragmented statutes relevant to coastal management, and makes provision for the protection of coral and other marine reserves, the creation of marine reserves and the identification of critical areas of concern not covered by current legislation. The Marine Pollution Control Act (1998) makes provision for the prevention, reduction and control of pollution of the marine environment, and makes it illegal to buy, sell or damage any coral around the island. The Fisheries Act (1993) covers formulating and reviewing fisheries management and includes regulations such as prohibiting use of any explosive, poison or other noxious substance, closed seasons (e.g. sea eggs) and gear restrictions. Specific Fisheries (Management) Regulations (1998) include protecting lobsters, turtles, tuna and reef fish for the aquarium trade. The Barbados Permanent Mooring Project aims to make Barbados “anchor free” through the installation of the Manta Anchoring System and other anchoring systems.

The information used to prepare this report was compiled from the following reports and articles:

Burke, L. and Maidens, J. (2004) Reefs at Risk in the Caribbean. World Resources Institute, Washington DC. 80 p.

Coastal Zone Management Unit Barbados website

Hoetjes, P., Lum Kong, A., Juman, R., Miller, A., Miller, M., De Meyer, K. and Smith, A. (2002) Status of Coral Reefs in the Eastern Caribbean: The OECS, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and the Netherlands Antilles. In: Wilkinson, C. (ed.). Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2002. Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, Townsville, Australia. pp 325-342.

Wilkinson, C. and Souter, D. (2008) Status of Caribbean coral reefs after bleaching and hurricanes in 2005. Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, and Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, Townsville, Australia. 148 p.