The National Parks Authority (NPA) Environment Unit (EU) was established in August 2011. Its overall purpose is to provide technical resources for the National Parks Authority to achieve its objectives, as specified under the National Parks Act (1984) for inter alia “the preservation, protection, management and development of the natural, physical and ecological resources of Antigua and Barbuda”. The work of the NPA-EU covers the marine and terrestrial Nelson Dockyard National Park (NDNP).
The primary objectives of the NPA-EU are:
Currently the important environmental issues facing the NPA relates to the following:
The Environment Unit also plays an important role in increasing public awareness and appreciation for the natural resources to be found in each national park. The NPA has a long history of active conservation and interpretation of the rich historical and cultural heritage present in the NDNP, going back to before its declaration in 1984. However, the conservation and interpretation of the equally rich natural resources residing within the borders of the NDNP have until recently not received sufficient attention.
The NPA sees the need for the residents of Antigua and Barbuda to have a better appreciation of what the park can offer by way of recreation, scenic beauty or outdoor activities. Responsibility for this lies primarily with the Heritage Department and Environment Unit, whose job is to interpret the historical, cultural and natural features of the various parks for the benefit of both our visitors and residents alike.
This involves attracting visitors and locals to venture into the park for recreation or leisure purposes helping them to appreciate these features so they can enjoy them and develop a concern to preserve them for future generations to enjoy.
In collaboration with the Heritage Department, the Environment Unit is developing programmes to create local understanding of the park’s social history and natural history.
Arguably, the most important role of the Environment Unit is the characterisation and monitoring of the park’s environmental resources. The park is home to a number of interesting and in some cases, very rare, plants as well as important birds and endangered nesting sea turtles. Some of this biodiversity is considered globally threatened.
As pressures mount within the Park, for built development to be permitted in otherwise undeveloped areas, it is becoming more important to document the natural resources of the park so that Park Management can make informed decisions regarding what is permissible and where best such development may be sited with least damage to the Park’s natural resources.
This requires a programme of environmental surveys throughout the various parks to determine what is present and map what is where. This activity began in 2013 with the start of a survey of the vegetation in the core area of the Nelson’s Dockyard National Park. This is a surprisingly diverse area with many types of ecosystem from moist mountain tops (Sugar Loaf), coastal cliffs and rocky areas, valley systems (Jones Valley) to mangrove wetlands and sandy beach vegetation. This program has continued with the hiring of a Marine Ecologist in 2019 who is assessing and documenting the marine resources within the boundaries of the NDNP.
Some of the most degraded areas will need to be targeted eventually for some sort of restoration programme, just as the historic buildings have undergone stabilization to facilitate their continued use. This may mean replanting trees or shrubs on degraded land to reduce erosion and help protect it against further degradation and its negative impact, or restoration of marine areas though the use of nursery systems. Plans could also include enrichment planting to re-introduce trees such as Lignum Vitae that used to be common in these coastal areas, but which were all cut down by the end of the 18th century. Another option involves the selective removal of invasive species which are threatening to take over native vegetation.
The NPA continues to play a key role in supporting the concept and importance of “Protected Areas”. Our new emphasis is on the creation of refuges for our threatened biodiversity and wilderness space. With its unrivalled experiences and achievements over the last quarter century, the NPA plays an important role in supporting this mission.