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Antigua is experiencing significant flooding as a result of passing weather systems, like the Tropical Storm Eta. This low lying island has always been prone to flooding but the destruction of the environment—like the one caused by the development of the Special Economic Zone (SEZ)—can make conditions like this one even more destructive. Antigua and Barbuda has laws to avoid the indiscriminate alteration of these natural barriers, but this investigation shows how their application has been compromised by the promise of economic prosperity for the country.

Five years ago the government of Antigua & Barbuda signed a contract with Chinese developer Yida Zhang to create a Special Economic Zone.

The zone is more than 2,000 acres and includes the offshore islands - Crump Island, Guinea Island, Rabbit Island and Maiden Island.

Many residents have expressed concerns for the marine environment given the plans of the developer to build hotels, factories and introduce deep sea fishing in a national protected area - the NEMMA.

Although the government has played by the rules for the most part, this investigation shows how the strictness of law enforcement seems to vary in order to accommodate the SEZ. It demonstrates how the developer has violated a number of the country's laws by starting construction without permission, removing mangroves, unlawfully mining sand off the coast of Maiden Island and illegally mining limestone to name a few.

Violations by Yida developers include removing areas of mangroves without the necessary environmental clearance and clearing lands without Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in breach of the Physical Planning Act and the Environmental Management and Protection Act.

Numerous mangroves have been removed on Crabbs Peninusla in breach of the Environmental Management and Protection Act - it is illegal to remove mangroves and alter wetland areas.

Traditional seaward access for fishers have been blocked as the developer erected a perimeter fence around his Crabbs property.

In 2019, the developer was discovered mining sand offshore Maiden island in breach of Fisheries Act of 2006.

The sand was removed on the windward side of Maiden Island which was once the site of the largest coral reef restoration project designed with artificial reefs called “Reef Balls”.

One of four documented archaeological sites were reportedly destroyed during the clearing. The archaeological sites are listed in an Environmentally appropriate Development for the Caribbean document 2007 document. In 2017 one of those sites - an Arawak village - was bulldozed when the Yida group began clearing the lands without permission.

The Yida Group also attempted to clear lands on Guiana Island without an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to start work on an adjoining bridge across the Narrows that links Crabbs Peninsula to Guiana Island.

A portion of Guiana island is lined with coral reefs (2007 NEMMA survey site). It was listed as a proposed wildlife sanctuary in 2007.


Investigation and Video edition
Elesha George

Irving Huerta (CONNECTAS)

Web design and Coding
Jhasua Razo (CONNECTAS)
Eduardo Mota (CONNECTAS)

This coverage was made by Elesha George for The Daily Observer with the support of The Investigative Reporting Initiative in the Americas by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), in partnership with CONNECTAS.