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Private club to face prosecution over mangrove destruction

A file picture of mangroves in Bermuda

An exclusive private members club faces being “named, shamed and prosecuted” after the destruction of a swathe of mangroves.

In the House of Assembly yesterday morning, a clearly angry Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, branded the incident as “unacceptable”, and warned that the people responsible could be liable to one year in prison, or a $15,000 fine.

The minister told MPs: “The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is investigating a major incident on the property of an exclusive private club, which has significantly impacted a large stand of protected mangroves.

“In the incident, a group of healthy mature red mangroves, about 20 very mature specimens, which were 30 to 40 feet high, were cut to four-foot stumps.

“Unfortunately, this was one area … noted as being one of the island’s healthiest mangrove areas and even increasing in size, in contrast to many coastal areas.

“This to me, in no way, shape or form, can be considered “routine maintenance”.

“Unfortunately, the DENR estimates perhaps 90 per cent of the mangroves’ ecological value is now gone.

“This is unacceptable. I can assure you that we will be pursuing charges and penalties against the offending entity, which will also include publicly naming and shaming them.”

Referring to laws that list red and black mangroves as level-two protected species, Mr Roban said: “Persons who do not have the approved authorisation may commit an offence which is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $15,000, or one year of imprisonment.”

Mr Roban said the destruction would have a negative impact on the environment.

He said: “It could not have been undertaken at a worse time for the protected green heron, right in the middle of its nesting season.

“It will realistically take decades for the mangroves to grow back if they do at all.”

Outsized threat of climate change

Bermuda is the most northerly place in the world where mangroves grow, Walter Roban told MPs as he emphasised their importance to the ecosystem.

The Minister of Home Affairs said: “Mangrove forests have been described as the richest wetland resource in Bermuda, having high levels of biodiversity, second only to coral reefs.

“The terrestrial and aquatic components of the mangrove community support complex food webs and provide a unique habitat for a variety of rare animals.

“Mangroves also act as an important line of protection against coastal erosion.

“Climate change, particularly rising sea levels, poses an outsized threat to Bermuda.

“The impact of this will include higher mean sea level and tides. Additionally, Bermuda faces the threat of major changes to the marine ecosystem.

“The effects of climate change are a major threat to Bermuda, particularly the land we live on, especially low lying areas in the west and east ends.

“Many of these low-lying areas are where the remains of Bermuda’s historical mangrove swamps were and are located.

“Mangroves are going to continue to play an important role as a critical buffer to some of our most vulnerable low-lying areas, which will play an important part in our future climate change adaption strategy.”

Mr Roban said Bermuda has 50.8 acres of mangroves, of which 21.4 acres were on government-owned land and 29.4 acres on private land.

Mr Roban said such destruction could not be excused as necessary for development.

He said: “What will not be tolerated is an unwanted, inconsiderate, unlawful desecration of our natural environment that is protected under the Protected Species Act, or any other aspect of it.

“The Government is prepared to take the strongest legal action necessary to protect every aspect of Bermuda’s environment, land, sea or air.”

Mr Roban urged property owners to get in touch with his department to clarify what level of maintenance they could undertake without a permit.

The department can be contacted at environment@gov.bm.