Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary

Welcome to one of Barbados’ most impressive destinations: Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary. An oasis of biodiversity, hiking trails, exotic birds, and much more. Join us on this journey and discover why this sanctuary is a must-visit on your next island adventure.

Practical Information for Visitors

Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary

History of the Sanctuary

The Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary was established on December 12, 2005, with the purpose of protecting and preserving one of the last remaining intact wetland areas in Barbados. It holds significant historical value on the island.
Covering 35 acres, it is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna species. Created several decades ago, it serves as a wildlife refuge and a testament to the island’s commitment to environmental conservation.

It occupies 42 percent of the Graeme Hall Ramsar Wetland located in Christ Church. This sanctuary is owned by Peter Allard, a Canadian investor and philanthropist who has made a significant investment of over 35 million US dollars in this ecotourism site. The main objective is to preserve the last valuable mangrove forest and wetland in Barbados.

Previously, the sanctuary was home to the Graeme Hall Swamp, a mangrove wetland that used to be a popular tourist attraction until around 2006. However, due to an ongoing dispute between the owner and the Barbados government over uncontrolled pollution allegedly coming from government-owned bordering lands, access to the swamp was closed to the public. Since then, it has been threatened by raids and poaching by locals, with no action taken by the local police.

In 2014, the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary became the last example of the coastal swamps that once existed along Barbados’ windward coast, from Speightstown to Chancery Lane Swamp. Over the years, all other swamps have been filled for commercial development, leading to the loss of wildlife that depended on them. Even when St. Lawrence Gap was developed for tourism, the last swamps were also filled, including those connected to Graeme Hall Swamp and used by migratory birds. For this reason, the sanctuary is internationally recognized as a reserve and an important stopover for thousands of migratory birds, leading to its designation as a Ramsar wetland.

Geographical Location

Located in Christ Church, the sanctuary is the largest natural reserve in Barbados, covering over 35 acres of land. Besides its ecological value, the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary holds cultural and historical significance for the island’s inhabitants. It can be found at coordinates: 13°4′19″N 59°34′40″W.

Opening Hours

The Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary opens daily, allowing visitors to explore and enjoy the natural beauty at their own pace. It is recommended to check specific hours before your visit.

How to Get to Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary

The sanctuary is easily accessible by car, taxi, or bus from any part of the island. The exact location and directions can be found on their official website or in local tour guides.

Recommendations for Visits

To make the most of your visit, it is advisable to wear comfortable clothing, sunscreen, bring drinking water, and, of course, a camera to capture the beautiful landscapes and species you will encounter.

Biodiversity: Fauna and Flora

Flora of the Sanctuary

The sanctuary is home to a wide variety of flora, including many endemic species from the region. Its rich vegetation is vital for the survival of numerous animal species that inhabit the sanctuary.
Two species of mangroves, the red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) and the white mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa), thrive in the brackish water of the swamp. However, the survival of mangroves and the wildlife depending on them is at risk due to several factors. Dilution of brackish water from freshwater runoff, untreated sewage discharge into the swamp, and intentional blockage of the seawater gate at Worthing Beach pose significant threats.

Various species of rushes and aquatic plants can also be found in the swamp. The lake houses large fish like the Atlantic tarpon, which got trapped when the gate was blocked, as well as smaller fish similar to mollies commonly kept in aquariums. Additionally, numerous fiddler crabs (Uca burgersi) can be seen swiftly moving along the sanctuary’s paths.

Fauna of the Sanctuary

The sanctuary is home to a diverse range of animals, from fish and reptiles to an impressive variety of birds. It is an ideal place for nature and birdwatching enthusiasts.
Each year, Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary becomes a resting place for thousands of migratory birds, and although formal bird hunting no longer occurs here, illegal hunting is still suspected to take place. A prominent attraction of the sanctuary is the return of white herons at dusk to nest, while at night, bats flutter around, feeding on flying insects.

The sanctuary also houses a collection of captive birds in aviaries, including rare Saint Vincent Amazon parrots, bright scarlet ibises, and flamingos.

As for the Saint Vincent parrots, this small population faces a high risk. The Barbados government has shown a lack of action by not cooperating with the governments of Saint Vincent and the owner of Graeme Hall Sanctuary to relocate the birds to a remote island or even back to Saint Vincent for captive breeding. As a result, this small population of endangered parrots is unlikely to survive due to increased raids and poaching in the sanctuary, deliberate water supply cuts, and lack of support from the local police during the raids. In April 2010, intruders were reported to have caused damage to the wildlife within the aviaries, including the death of a rare Amazon parrot and a spoonbill chick.

Importance of Conservation

The conservation work carried out in the sanctuary is essential to maintain the island’s biodiversity. Every effort is made to protect and enhance this important ecosystem.

Activities in the Sanctuary

Hiking Trails and Birdwatching

The sanctuary offers well-marked hiking trails that allow visitors to explore the area and enjoy birdwatching. Bird guides are available to help identify the diverse species that inhabit the sanctuary.

Visitor Center and Exhibitions

At the Visitor Center, tourists can learn more about the sanctuary and its ecological significance through various interactive exhibitions.

Bird Feeding Experience

Visitors also have the opportunity to participate in bird feeding. This activity provides a unique wildlife interaction experience.

Events and Special Programs

Educational and Awareness Activities

The sanctuary offers educational and environmental awareness activities throughout the year. These programs are an excellent opportunity to learn more about nature and the importance of conservation.

Special Annual Events

Additionally, special annual events are celebrated, attracting visitors from around the world and providing unique and exciting experiences.

The Sanctuary in the Community

Impact on the Local Community

The sanctuary is not only a significant tourist attraction but also plays a crucial role in the local community. It generates employment, promotes environmental education, and contributes to the local economy.

Volunteering Programs and Engagement Opportunities

There are several opportunities for visitors and the local community to get involved in the sanctuary through volunteering programs. These activities range from sanctuary clean-up to assisting in special events.

The Future of Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary

Future Conservation Initiatives

The sanctuary continues to implement and plan conservation initiatives to ensure the long-term protection of this valuable ecosystem.

Development of Facilities and Services

With the aim of enhancing the visitor experience and increasing its impact on conservation, the sanctuary has plans to develop and improve its facilities and services.

Photo Gallery