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Rich and Famous Eye Barbuda for Development

Actor Robert De Niro wants to build a resort on Barbuda, but there's a myriad of concerns from locals.

Barbuda may very well be the most untouched island in the whole Caribbean, but if Robert De Niro and other wealthy investors have their way, the island will see some major developments in the future. 

Plans to build multiple luxury resorts on the island are currently in the works, along with building an airport on the island but the local residents have plenty of concerns about the negative impact on the ecosystems of the island and of course, the well-being of its people.   

Barbuda

A Windstar Wind Surf tender heads towards Barbuda | Photo: Sarah Gallo

Barbuda Land Act of 2007

In 2007, the government of Antigua & Barbuda passed an act that the island and all its land would be owned by the community. That meant that residents must approve any major development on the island. Any project with a price tag over $5.4 million was considered “major”. 

However, in 2016, the government amended the act to define “major development” as any project over $40 million. So, for a project costing $39 million, the developer does not need approval from the local residents. 

This amendment effectively nullifies the local resident’s ownership of their land, a traditional that had been in place since Great Britain outlawed slavery in 1843. 

Hurricane Irma Changed Everything 

All of this matters because of what happened in 2017. Hurricane Irma rolled over the island, bringing a crushing surf and winds that reached 185 MPH. The island was devastated and there were some residents who left Barbuda for good. Porthole Cruise Magazine was able to visit the island in 2019 with Windstar Cruises and bring some relief to the local community, but it was obvious that there was still a long road ahead. 

Barbuda

Damaged structures on Barbuda | Photo: Evan Gove

While most were rightly concerned about the people and recovery, others saw an opportunity to help the island, but also themselves. One such individual was actor Rober De Niro, who jumped at the chance to develop what would be called the “Nobu Beach Inn”. Along with De Niro is the billionaire co-founder of Patron tequila John Paul DeJoria, who’s also been heavily involved in building a resort on the island. DeJoria’s plan involves building a stretch of vacation homes alongside a brand new golf course. 

While the developers are saying all the right things, like focusing on enriching the community and its recovery, critics of the projects are sounding the alarm that the health of the island’s fragile ecosystems are at stake. From coral reefs to nesting leatherback turtles, the island is home to a diverse selection of flora and fauna, all of which were already damaged by the erosion brought on by the hurricane. 

The developments have the support of the government of Antigua & Barbuda, including Prime Minister Gaston Browne, who is on the record calling the 2007 act “unconstitutional”. Construction of a new airport following the hurricane was one of the government’s first orders of business and indicates that they’re very interested in bringing visitors to the island. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Caribbean tourism may also play a role in the government’s eagerness to develop the land and reap the economic benefits. 

Have you visited Barbuda on a cruise? Let us know what you thought of the island in the comments below!

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