St. John’s Antigua- When I first “discovered” McKinnon’s Pond, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The place was teeming with bird life. Being an avid birder I was thrilled to see numerous species I had never encountered before. I got into the habit of driving around the pond almost daily and for weeks would see something new practically every time I went.
On the sandbars and mudflats were hundreds of wading birds, sandpipers, stilts and plovers rooting around for food. In the water were pelicans, ducks, grebes and moorhens, and overhead were frigate birds, gulls and terns. On the banks I found yellow warblers, grassquits, bananaquits, doves and pigeons.
Dozens of egrets and herons were nesting in the trees on the point and I would sit nearby for lengthy periods watching their behaviour and photographing their activities. There were numerous birds of prey including kestrels, osprey, broad-winged hawks and it was at the egret colony that I spotted the only peregrine falcon I have seen in Antigua.
But all this excitement was in years past. Now, as I drive around McKinnon’s Pond I am reminded of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring because the birds have gone. It is a sad and lonely place. Where have the birds gone? Or perhaps the more important question is, why have the birds gone?
For a long time I assumed the birds would return once water levels dropped because, with all the rain this past year, sandbars and mudflats were submerged. But the waters have receded and still the birds have not returned. Yes, there are a few but the masses have gone. To me this signals something very wrong.
The first thing I noticed about McKinnon’s Pond other than the birds was, of course, is that it is full of garbage. This seems to be a favourite dumping ground for some people, which I cannot understand.
I once watched in horror as a man unloaded 12 bags of garbage from his station wagon and left them by the road. Friends told me I should have taken his picture and put it in the newspaper. Another time I was nasally assaulted by a huge vile mass of cow entrails where someone had either butchered a cow on the road or dumped the remains. For three weeks I could not go back; it stank so horribly and attracted so many flies.
Is this really how we want outsiders to see and remember our beautiful island? Is this how we want to live?
McKinnon’s Pond is a national treasure right next to major resorts and restaurants. It could present as a place of beauty to tourists as they walk, drive or ride horses around the perimeter and to us as we fish, swim and enjoy the birds. Or, it could continue as it is now, a sad dump for all the world to take home as a memory of Antigua.
According to Onika Campbell (www.environmentdivision.info) several years ago, “the government has become aware of threats to the eco-system of McKinnon’s Pond, and has declared it a protected area. The threats to this wonderland are real, and the call for immediate action should be loud and clear.”
The government cannot regulate people’s attitudes and until these attitudes change to those of pride and responsibility, McKinnon’s Pond will likely remain in jeopardy. There are certainly other sources of pollution but dumping and littering are things that each of us can control starting right now.
McKinnon’s Pond is a splendid resource for all of us, but I for one would not eat anything caught in it and, apparently, neither would most of the birds.