One of the island’s last stretches of wetland, Devonshire Marsh, is subject to the development of a warehouse. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
One of the island’s last stretches of wetland, Devonshire Marsh, is subject to the development of a warehouse. *Photo by Kageaki Smith

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 18: Devonshire marsh is teeming with life.

As the sun sets over one of Bermuda’s last stretches of wetland each day egrets and herons come home to roost.

It is a haven for wildlife as well as plants and home to dozens of rare species.

But now the marsh is slap bang in the middle of a storm over planning permission for a new warehouse.

Environmentalists have accused ministers of unethically benefitting “their own” while government maintains it has followed the correct procedure and stresses that it has only granted “approval in principle”.

The sound of the marsh dredger again threatens to drown out the song of the shore birds.

Andrew Dobson, president of the Audubon Society, said: “One of the reasons the Bermuda Audubon Society was formed in 1954 was to increase the public’s acceptance of the value of not just wild birds — but also plants, soil and water — and most importantly, the interdependence of these natural resources.

“There was a crisis facing Bermuda’s marshes as they were being used as garbage dumps.

“It took two decades of growing garbage tips and filling in of outlying marshes before the attitude developed against the prevailing system.

“Minnows were introduced into the marshes to control the mosquito larvae and ditches were created to help the fish survive.

“This week, members of the public will have seen a jack-hammer at work on the Society’s reserve in Devonshire Marsh — close to the proposed building development.”

Mr Dobson says the notion that government would allow further development of Devonshire Marsh for industrial use is ‘absolutely astonishing’.

He added: “Even ignoring the issue of bad governance and lack of transparency, the Audubon Society is seriously concerned about the potential loss of wetland habitat — as should all residents.

“The fact that there are existing industrial use sites in the Devonshire Marsh basin should not be used to justify expansion of that activity.

“This industrial use dates back many years when people did not appreciate the environmental importance of wetlands.

“Bermuda’s wetlands are a vital part of Bermuda’s fragile ecosystem. The limestone geology of Bermuda means a lack of surface water.

Fauna and flora

“This fact, and the past practice of marsh drainage means that we have only about 100 acres of peat marsh habitat today.

“Remaining areas are so small that any further loss of habitat is extremely serious.

“The marsh plays hosts to many unusual species of fauna and flora. Up to 20 species of shorebird may be recorded during the year. Numerous ducks, herons and egrets are also present in the winter.”

On Wednesday the new Environment Minister Marc Bean said he would review a controversial decision by his predecessor Walter Roban to allow, in principle, the warehouse development on Devonshire Marsh.

Mr Bean said: “I have just received the file and we will be reviewing the file, the processes and procedures. I’m not in a position to make any further comment because I’m not fully informed about it.”

On his last day in the job, Minister Roban upheld an appeal by a firm controlled by construction boss and Health Minister Zane DeSilva — ZanZara Trust — after planning officials rejected the application.

Government released a statement on Wednesday night detailing conditions attached to the in-principle approval.

The statement said: “It should be noted from the outset that the application has been granted in-principle approval only.

“This means that the applicant (ZanZara Trust) must provide further information to the Development Applications Board (DAB) and agree and adhere to the stringent conditions attached to the approval before final approval can even be considered.

“Therefore any development at this proposed site cannot and will not occur until final approval has been obtained.

“The former Minister of Environment, Planning and Infrastructure Strategy the Walter Roban was satisfied at the time of his decision that he had sufficient information to grant in-principle approval, subject to various conditions.”

The statement added: “The Government emphasized that it fully recognizes that Devonshire Marsh is a vitally important wetland habitat and therefore this is why all requirements regarding protection of the neighbouring nature reserve must be met before final approval is granted.”

The Bermuda Sun sought comment from Mr Roban, but without success.