The majority of Antiguans and Barbudans are Christians, therefore Easter is the most important time of the year. Church congregations swell as people reaffirm their faith and reflect on life and the promise of eternal life. For many, the celebration of Easter also includes a re-acquaintance and reattachment to the environment. People use the long weekend to enjoy the outdoors; whether that is kite flying, camping, fishing or any other outdoor activity that gets them out of the house and enjoying family time.
If you took the time to wander about our bit of paradise over the Easter weekend or participated in any of the outdoor activities, you would have been greeted with smiles, laughter and a general sense of joy that always makes Easter weekend a special time. You would have also been greeted with a certain sense of sadness by many of the outdoor lovers who often lamented that the traditions that they have grown up with will likely become extinct in the not too distant future.
The dread was particularly evident with campers in the North Sound area. Every so often, you would hear someone raise the topic of land ownership or the environmental risks of massive development. And while the short remarks were usually meant as an incentive to the younger children to enjoy themselves while they can, the longer, more adult conversations delved into the issues in more depth and demonstrated a great awareness of the people.
The issue of the environment was probably the most heavily discussed topic. Older persons told stories of a North Sound teeming with fish and shellfish. Some even boasted that in days gone by, they did not even pack food because they could easily fish for what they wanted to eat all weekend long. “Not so today”, they said as their broad smiles of remembrance morphed into a stern look. Today, they seem almost angry that they are required to bring fish to the camp to throw on the fire.
As the nights wore on and playful frolicking turned into campfire talk, the cost of development to the traditions of Easter life became the topic of conversation. The Yida project was at the centre of many conversations as persons expressed a genuine fear that the development would cause irreparable damage to the very sensitive ecosystem. And while many people adopted a selfish perspective that it would ruin their annual Easter pilgrimage to the islands, most stood to correct them that the risks were greater than that.
We were delighted to see that the vast majority of people understood the risks, not only to the North Sound area, but also to the wider region. A few were well versed in things like the importance of the Guiana Island mangroves and other areas as breeding grounds for sea life. Small children, as they are wont to do, asked the innocent questions which usually began with “Then, why are we … ?”
Land ownership and politics were not spared in the conversations but surprisingly, these were not red or blue conversations but rather, they were discussions on how politics and politicians had failed the people over time as it related to the environment and saving a piece of paradise for this and future generations to enjoy.
It was not lost on the campers that most of the offshore islands in the North Sound had fallen into the hands of private, foreign ownership and access to the traditional camping areas would, one day, be curtailed or eliminated. The defeated thought was that eventually, there would be nothing left for the locals to enjoy. Fun-loving families would have to seek new areas to pitch their tents, if such areas could be found.
The take-away was somewhat depressing. The paradise that God has given us has been sold and the crystal-clear waters that we enjoy could be at risk because of the desire for aggressive development. But, as many people questioned, will we be happier and healthier when it all materialises?
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