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Protecting the Levera wetland

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Protecting the wetland within the 463 acres ear-marked for the Levera Nature and Beach Resort in Saint Patrick encompasses Mother Nature’s ‘buffer’ of vegetation surrounding the area.

“Due to past projects in and around the Levera wetland in the last 15 years, we have lost much of the natural vegetation around the wetland,” Dr Jody Daniel-Simon, executive director of GAEA Conservation Network, told The Grenadian Voice on Tuesday, adding that the structure for the workers at the site is very close to the mangroves.

Buffers are nature’s way of sustaining wetland ecosystems by absorbing surplus water, reducing sedimentation and filtering out pollutants. The 86 acres of wetlands at Levera provide food and shelter, as well as breeding and nesting grounds for wildlife.

“We are adding to the decline of wetland function,” Daniel-Simon said, who visited the site three weeks ago and observed soil had been moved and pushed into the wetland to accommodate the housing for workers.

“Based on how the hill was cut, they had to have removed some vegetation,” she said.

Edward Niles of Niles and Associates, who was awarded the contract to conduct the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for Singapore Heng Sheng Grenada Development PTE LTD, began discussions with the developer on the project in November 2019. Once the developer received preliminary approval from the Planning Development Authority (PDA), Niles conducted work “on the ground” in January and February. However, the coronavirus pandemic brought his work to a halt at the site in March. In an interview with The Grenadian Voice on Tuesday, Niles said he cannot verify to what extent the buffer has been impacted by the temporary housing for workers.

“If this has happened, then we will deal with it. Buffers are critically important,” he said, noting that whatever has or has not happened to the wetland buffer, “we will do whatever is necessary to mitigate, to ensure it is addressed.”

The Levera wetland became part of the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy in November 2016 on the occasion of a royal visit by HRH Prince Henry of Wales, who announced that Grenada joined a network of conservation projects focused on sustaining indigenous forests for future generations. At the time, Marina Jessamy, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, Forestry and the Environment, told this newspaper that the Levera wetland area was chosen because it is a RAMSAR Convention Site and a Natural Protected Area.   

Carlton Frederick, Chief Executive Officer of the PDA, during a recent GIS report, referred to the RAMSAR Convention, to which Grenada became a signatory in 2012. He said the Levera wetland is recognised as “a valuable, tropical marine eco-system” surrounded by mangroves and includes sea grass beds, coral reefs, a fish water pond and the caldera of an existing and ancient volcanic system. The wetland supports wildlife, turtle nesting, and other activities included fishing, hunting and harvesting of mangrove wood for charcoal production, he noted.

“That is what it is. We are ensuring that these things occur. We are ensuring that nobody can stop these things from happening within the RAMSAR site,” he emphasised.

BirdsCaribbean, an international network of conservationists, scientists and individuals dedicated to protecting Caribbean birds, reports that more than 85 species have been documented at the freshwater pond and beach area, including the Grenada Hook-billed Kite, an endangered subspecies endemic to Grenada. The eBird Field Checklist for the Levera Observation Tower lists 55 species, which is part of a global database of bird sightings.

Daniel-Simon said the workers’ housing facilities will encourage predators such as rats.

Noting there are impacts from past activities on the wetland prior to the construction of the workers’ housing, she said “the impacts from one or two cattle, or a few, small agricultural plots on wetland function are not comparable to two-year housing. These facilities will encourage predators, and predation is the leading cause of bird mortality at the nesting stage. They will increase run-off into the wetland, since the sediment is now exposed; this will also impact the wetland plants and fish. They will increase noise pollution, which is harmful to wildlife.”

She suggested that if the housing was constructed much further away from the wetland boundary, and trees were replanted to provide that necessary buffer, “we would be less concerned about the permission that was granted for the two-year temporary housing.”

There have been previous attempts to develop the area, including an initiative in 2002 for a hotel and villa resort and golf course. Land ownership issues emerged at the time.  A golf club house was built, but the project was not completed. In 2016 there was a sod-turning event for the Levera Beach Resort Grenada with an 80-room hotel, private homes and restaurants to be financed through the Citizenship By Investment programme. It, too, was incomplete.

Niles told this newspaper he has studied all the previous EIAs and other reports done on Levera over the years.

“So much has changed. The physical characteristics are not what they were before,” he observed. Niles said his focus now is on the people who live in area, including fishermen and mangrove wood harvesters, who depend on the natural resources of Levera for their livelihood. This includes compiling and assessing information from villagers who responded to a questionnaire he previously shared with community leader and others who call Levera and surrounds home.

“This project should make a positive difference in their lives. To do that we must make use of these natural resources in a sustainable way,” he said.

When asked about the natural buffer and the timeframe for the project, Member of Parliament for St. Patrick’s East Pamela Moses said the developer is looking to hire a public relations firm to share “relevant information,” adding that discussions are underway with the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands “to sort out the boundary lines.”

She said the next ZOOM public consultation will focus on the finances for the $2 Billion (US) project.

Promotional material for the ‘Grenada National Resort Project’ by developer Singapore Heng Sheng Grenada Development refers to an EIA done in 2012 indicating that outside the “lake, mangrove wetlands ecological area” most of the other areas are suitable for development and construction. The company proposes to divide the area as follows: 99 acres for the hotel resort, 148 for a golf course, 87 acres for a national park and seven acres for a fishermen’s wharf.

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