by Maria Hagan  |  Published April 12, 2017

An eastern outlier of the Antilles arc, Barbados shares the idyllic features of the Caribbean isles. From timid waves lapping the beaches of the Caribbean coast to wild surf shattering its Atlantic edge, the 439 km2 island boasts a rich Afro-Caribbean culture, warm Bajan hospitality, and a growing commitment to the sustainable development of the island.

Barbados (Photo: Ben Ramirez via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Barbados (Photo: Ben Ramirez via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

The Promise of Sustainability

Since the 1990s, Barbados has made a commitment to environmental protection. Hosting events concerned with the sustainability of Caribbean islands, and setting up its National Commission on Sustainable Development, the state has committed to ensuring that economic growth and development do not happen at the expense of the island’s ecology.

Similar with many other island-states around the world, Barbados is increasingly dependent on tourism for economic growth. Welcoming around 1 million visitors every year, the industry represents around 43% of the island’s GDP, and employs many locals. In the past, tourism has developed at the expense of local industry. However, growing awareness is prompting the introduction of policies to harness growth sustainably, and to protect the longevity of the island’s nature, local businesses and industries.

Dependency on tourism makes Barbados vulnerable to its whims. So the implementation of practices that gear the benefits of tourism towards improving the island’s sustainability are in the country’s best interest. We’ve tracked down some of the best initiatives to get involved with on your visit to contribute to building up this resilience or, at the very least, doing no harm.

Eating Local

Though home to vast expanses of fertile land, Barbados reportedly spends around $321 million a year on importing food. Soon after gaining independence in the mid-1960s, the island saw an opportunity in tourism and started moving away from agricultural exploitation. Even the sugarcane production industry, providing the top ingredient for notorious Bajan rum, gradually petered out. This shortage of local food production is one of the largest threats to Barbados’s self-reliance.

Some savvy locals have picked up on the irony of this import dependency on a fertile island, and are striving to reinvigorate island agriculture. Visitors can enjoy a glimpse of agricultural life while supporting the development of these initiatives by paying a visit to the Hastings Farmers Markets, held on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays between 8am and 2pm. It’s the ideal place to catch a glimpse of the rich variety of homegrown fruit and vegetables the island has to offer. There are plenty of local craft stalls too.

The Slow Food Barbados Initiative is working against dependency on imported foods, and protecting culinary traditions by helping local restaurants build relationships with local farmers – in particular the Organic Growers and Consumers Association. Slow Food gets the wider community involved too, organising food events and educational film screenings about food production and distribution. You could check out the events the initiative has planned during your visit.

Hill views and lush, monkey-filled rainforests are well worth tearing yourself away from the beaches for. Barbados is home to rich biodiversity and wildlife, as well as a prosperous local culture. To get a feel for it all, we recommend looking up the long-standing tour company Eco Adventures Barbados, who offer a range of island hikes led by local Bajan guides. The focus is on off-the-beaten-track routes, or visits to smaller villages, all the while hearing about and experiencing local wildlife, history and culture.

Preserving the Reef 

Unlike the Caribbean islands which are mostly of volcanic formation, Barbados is a coral island – an uplifted reef largely surrounded by submerged reef. So with 97km of coastline, marine life is one of the main draws of Barbados. Under heavy pressure from visitors and fishing, it can be difficult to figure out how to enjoy the clear depths while doing no harm. Eco Dive Barbados is a leading example of the kind of company to look for, offering divers the chance to shadow sea turtles and admire the reef with a clean conscience.

The company is committed to operating with respect for the natural environment, bringing out small groups (max 6). Care is taken to provide educational insight to marine life and the threats it faces, as well as the importance of preserving it. Divers are briefed on how to respect the environment in practice, contributing to the sustainability of that which makes diving around the island so enjoyable.