The process of nature permits and construction activities must change
WWF-NL has regularly expressed concerns about the inadequate supervision and enforcement of nature permits and (illegal) construction activities along (particularly) the coast. The report of the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT) and a study commissioned by WWF-NL confirm that processes surrounding permit granting in the Caribbean Netherlands are not transparent or are not applied properly. The recommendations of the ILT report provide guidelines for improving this.
On 16 June 2023, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management published a report by the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT). The report is about the implementation of VTH tasks for the environment, construction and nature by the public entities of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. VTH stands for Licensing, Supervision and Enforcement. WWF-NL welcomes the research and recommendations that are made. It is good that this report now provides clarity and makes recommendations for improvement.
Based on its own research, WWF-NL has the same findings as the ILT. Protection of the corals of the Caribbean Netherlands is important for nature and biodiversity, but also to support the economy of the islands. The economy and prosperity on the islands are strongly related to a flourishing tourism industry. The corals surrounding the islands is what attracts tourism. However, in large (construction) projects, the effects on nature and the environment, and therefore the corals, are often insufficiently taken into account.
For example, illegal beaches have been built on Bonaire (which wash away and end up on the corals and suffocate it), or the illegal development of roads and buildings for a resort on St. Eustatius, as a result of which waste and building materials wash into the sea, onto the corals. Nature and the corals, which are so important to the economy of the islands, pay the price. In the choices that are made for economic developments on the islands, insufficient attention is paid to the effects on nature and corals in particular. Moreover, the Dutch government has not shown sufficient responsibility for this.
With the results and recommendations of the ILT report, steps can now be taken to improve this. We applaud one of the recommendations, to create more distance between the local government and the issuing of permits through an environmental service. This would bring the working method for the Caribbean Netherlands in line with the working method of other municipalities in the Netherlands on the European mainland. The conclusion that more staff and support should be made available is also recognizable. A third important recommendation is the establishment of buffer zones and sensitive areas, from a nature point of view. This would mean that the protection of nature and biodiversity in vulnerable areas would be better considered in the assessment of permit applications.