When bulldozers started turning up at La Restinga National Park, the first to jump into action were students from ECAM, the Applied Marine Sciences Department (ECAM) of the Universidad de Oriente.
That didn’t surprise me. I’m an alumna of ECAM. Our school’s ethos was built on protecting La Restinga, the mangrove national park and ecological sanctuary that is a must when visiting Margarita Island.
La Restinga … it’s our baby.
I mean just look at the sight from the dock of the school…
My school is located inside the park, in the designated “Special Use Zone of the Parks” (“Plan de Ordenamiento y Reglamento de Uso“). Ours has been a symbiotic, mutually dependent relationship from the start.
The coastal lagoon’s ecosystem is the perfect “lab,” the source of many of the samples the Marine Biology students need to study. Likewise, 80% of all the technical info on La Restinga has originated from our university. This is a vast amount of scientific data for the interest and wellbeing of the coastal lagoon ecosystem and its surrounding territory.
La Restinga is an important ecosystem for Nueva Esparta, Venezuela and the world. It is a RAMSAR site (wetland of international importance) and its function and services are of great value.
Which is why the sudden site of these bulldozers was so alarming.
It all started when the students began noticing a strange construction site: a bridge. After some prodding here and there, it became apparently clear that no public consultation was done on the project. Some of those involved didn’t even know that the construction was taking place inside National Park territory. So ECAM students and teacher formally requested a meeting with the key stakeholders, like the MINAMB, Inparques, and the mayor of Macanao.
Two months passed and not one word.
Finally, in April, they went directly to the construction site and demanded the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) from the supervisor of the construction. The people in charge awkwardly mumbled that they didn’t know who the supervisor was, that INPARQUES was responsible for the EIA, and that the Transport Ministry was the developer. A few days later, an article was published in the regional newspaper, denouncing the lack of an EIA and calling for answers. The Transport Ministry director for Nueva Esparta made a one-time appearance, claiming that no one had contacted his office or him with respect to the bridge’s EIA, and he dissapeared into the night.
Right now, we only know that the point of the bridge is to transport materials for a wind farm project in the Macanao Peninsula, west of the lagoon. The claim is that the old bridge is not fit a project of this magnitude. But two things are clear: one, that this is a half-baked project, and two, that no EIA was done, although they say otherwise.
In spite of this, permits were signed and construction was allowed. They went ahead with it, violating any number of laws and codes like the “Plan de Ordenamiento y Reglamento de Uso de Laguna de La Restinga” (Land Use Plan for La Restinga), the Ley Penal del Ambiente (Environmental Penal Code), and even the Constitution (but she’s used to it by now). The consequences of these actions are fines and jail time for those involved, including political disbarment for those who signed the permits. But, you know how it goes…
I really want to emphasize that the students of ECAM are not against the bridge per se. Our biggest concern is the lagoon, a delicate ecosystem which has only one important water influx, the mouth of the lagoon. La Restinga appears to be undergoing a generalized sedimentation process, caused by the alteration of the hydrological dynamics, and leading to the hypersalinization of the lagoon. The ecosystem is already stressed.
And here’s another kick in the face, in the Park’s land use document, the area that has been trampled through … is actually the Zona de Recuperación Natural, an area designated for mangrove reforestation.
Do check this online interview with ECAM professor Edlin Guerra (only in Spanish guys) where he does a great job of explaining everything I’ve written here, and also gives his very grim opinion on what’s to come. Also, ECAM alumni have a timeline of the events in an article on Aporrea
Unfortunately, I concur with Professor Guerra: it is highly unlikely that the construction will be stopped. The community, which in fact, are the only ones with any real leverage here, are not opposed to the bridge. Many are pro-goverment and will not defy this project. So the second bridge is a go, whether we like it or not. No matter how haphazard and utterly infuriating this project might be, there is little or nothing ECAM can do.
And if you want to know what hypocrisy looks like, go check out Inparque’s facebook page and read their latest status update. It’s a piece of art.