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Restore native habitats by changing building permits legislation on Bonaire, C.N.

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Similar to most islands in the Caribbean, the natural resources of the Island of Bonaire, mainly its native trees, have been extracted in an non-sustainable way for several centuries. This kind of practice has resulted in a very degraded ecosystem. The problem worsened with the overgrazing caused by introduced species of large herbivores (e.g. goats and donkeys) that roam free on the island, including our terrestrial national park. Exotic plants (e.g. Rubber vine and Neem tree) have also been introduced. Finally, pollution in the form of solid dumped waste is also degrading the soil. These four problems can be addressed with a small adaptation of the legislation regarding the issuing of building permits for development of touristic and recreational projects in agricultural and open land.

The modifications we propose do not hamper the goals of the projects, however they create opportunity for habitat restoration and improvement in very simple and non-costly ways that are already included in the projects. In this way, we can easily start compensating our nature and our future generations for more than two centuries of non-sustainable extraction of our natural resources, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and desertification. 

Drafting legislation is not part of WILDCONSCIENCE’s expertise, however we would like to propose the following adaptations:

Regarding fencing, we propose three main changes:

1)      irrespective of the materials used, all fencing constructed for new projects has to be sturdy and tall enough to keep out feral goats, sheep, donkeys and pigs,

2)     all entrances/exits to the new developed areas will have to be cattle-proof, and,

3)     if a natural value of special interest (e.g. cave entrance, large tree) that is not unreasonably large and could benefit from fencing is located contiguous to the land to be developed, the developers will be responsible for its fencing without obtaining any special rights over it. The fencing of the natural value does not necessarily have to be done using the same materials and style that the project does.

Regarding landscaping and gardening we propose the creation of 3 lists of plants.

1)      a list of plants that need to be removed from the developing areas if they are found; this list will include all species that are considered exotic invasive like Coral vine (Antigonon leptopus) and the Rubber vine (Cryptostegia grandiflora),

2)     a list of the plants to choose from that can be used for the habitat restoration and improvement section of the project restoration. Native and non-native (but non-invasive) plants will be included in this list,

3)     a list of plants that mandatorily have to be included in the reforestation of the area; this list will include native species that are threatened with local, regional or global extinction and/or plants that are protected by local legislation.

 Considering the traditional way to distribute plots of land for housing on Bonaire and the customary portion of square meters in these plots used for the building of houses and for gardens, we propose to establish a minimum ratio of 1:1 in the amount of square meters that are dedicated to the construction of permanent structures and the ones that are assigned for landscaping and gardening. This proposition is also based on the fact that most modern housing, hotel and recreational projects on Bonaire include large gardens in their projects as well.

The only change to existing legislation we would like to propose on the field of pollution caused by dumping of solid waste is that, for the acquirement of a building permit, the entire area included in the development project has to be cleaned before the construction of any permanent structure starts. This includes projects that may plan several phases of construction in large areas. Once the complete area is cleaned, construction should be conducted accordingly to the existing construction guidelines.

Based on our knowledge of the terrestrial ecology of Bonaire and similar islands in the Caribbean with matching species of flora and fauna, we are confident that Bonaire’s small size (210 Km2) combined with the fact that our vertebrate fauna is composed mainly of high mobility species (e.g. birds, reptiles and flying mammals) will allow the vast majority of these species to access and benefit from the new food resources available in these reforested areas, even if they are separated from each other. The same applies for invertebrates. Therefore, we envision a significant number of species of flora and fauna increasing their population numbers in the future as a result of this change in legislation.

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