Restoring Barbuda’s sand dunes

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Of all the world’s environmental treasures, sand dunes may be among the most underappreciated. And neglected.

Dunes provide a unique habitat for countless species of plants and animals. They protect beaches from erosion and capture sand from the sea to restore shorelines. They also buffer coastal communities from hurricanes and storms.

Yet, many of the world’s sand dunes have been damaged or destroyed by human activity. Sadly, Barbuda is an extreme example of this. For nearly 50 years, sand from the dunes has been “mined” -- dug up and sold off the island.

In 2018, environmental experts, including scientists hired by the Barbuda Ocean Club and local government officials, concluded that “[s]and mining is the single most destructive activity causing the elimination of native vegetation communities” on the island.

The team estimated that at least 10 million cubic yards of sand was removed, cutting many dunes down to sea level. In the process, 90% of the existing native dune vegetation had been wiped out. Local residents and biologists have raised the alarm about sand mining for several years, but no action was taken and the damage continued.

For residents, the loss of the dunes was particularly challenging. The dunes protected the underground aquifer that was an essential source of freshwater for the local community. Mining exposed the aquifer to contaminants.

The loss of dunes left many coastal areas vulnerable to storm surge. When Hurricane Irma struck in 2017, the sea poured in through the gaps and low-lying spaces created by sand-mining. The surge damaged cultivated crops and plants and made the soil and water hyper-saline, or too salty for vegetation.

“The Club is undertaking a massive project to restore the dunes. So far, we have restored 1.5 miles to at least 10 ft tall.”

As part of our commitment to protect and restore the environment for all Barbudans, the Barbuda Ocean Club undertook a massive project to restore the dunes. We committed to restoring 7 miles of dunes to at least 10 feet tall. So far, 1.5 miles have been completed using a technique that was approved by the Barbuda Ministry of Environment and the Development Control Authority of Antigua and Barbuda.

To restore the habitat on and around the dunes, we started a nursery to propagate native plants. To date, more than 20,000 plants have been replanted or are being grown. This initiative will not only replenish the local fauna, but it’s also helping to sustain the community. The nursery employs 35 Barbudans to grow local species, remove invasive and non-indigenous plants, and restore native species.

Since the beginning, we have brought resources and expertise to promote economic and environmental sustainability and improve the quality of life for all Barbudans. Although much work remains to be done, we believe the dune restoration project is one early sign of how we are delivering on that promise.

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