Celebrating Our World Heritage Status
INTRODUCTION: A SPECIAL VALENTINE’S DAY
Good Day St. Lucia,
It’s Valentines Day and I’m sure many of you woke up this morning greeting your
loved ones on this day claimed by lovers. It is that one day of the year, every
year, when vows are renewed, pledges are made and partners celebrate a bond
that’s usually much stronger than friendship. I have no doubt that by the end of
today, couples all over St. Lucia – indeed, all over the world – will have
celebrated yet another Valentines Day in various ways; to each his own, to each
But what I want to talk about today is another significant celebration which,
unlike the universality of Valentines Day, is of unique significance to us in
St. Lucia. I speak of the ceremony, later today, to mark the inscription of the
Pitons as a World Heritage Site.
As far back as August last year, Dawn French, NEMO’s Director, sent me an
e-mail. It read in part:
Grateful if you could explain the significance of the Pitons finally being made
a World Heritage Site. What does this mean for St. Lucia? What does it mean for
St. Lucians? Why should it be important to us? Is there money to be made from
this, not just in the tourism sector but for us as a nation? We have not heard
much about the new status of The Pitons, but much about Cricket World Cup 2007.
So, is there an opportunity to link The Pitons to Cricket World Cup?
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF WORLD HERITAGE SITE STATUS
Let me address Dawn’s question about the significance of the designation of The
Pitons as a World Heritage Site. This is very significant for many reasons.
First of all, a World Heritage Site is a unique place in the world like no other
– neither replicated, nor duplicated. As I said in my special Statement to mark
the occasion, with the Pitons chosen as a World Heritage Site, it now ranks with
the Grand Canyon of the United States, the Pyramids of Egypt and the Taj Mahal
of India. There are 788 World Heritage Sites in the entire world and The Pitons,
our Pitons, is now one of them. It is also important to note that out of the 788
World Heritage Sites only 22 -- throughout the world -- are volcanic. And after
Dominica’s Morne Trois Piton, the Pitons is only the second volcanic site in the
Caribbean to be designated a World Heritage Site.
The area in which the Pitons are located – The Pitons Management Area – is
geologically unique. It represents and contains evidence of volcanic movements
and deposits in this part of the world that have yet to be tapped and which have
to be protected for their immense value to science.
Yet another significance is in the fact that this is a biologically diverse
area. The Pitons are home to many rare plant and animal species. I guess their
sheer height, steepness and exposure, both above and below sea level, offers not
only a unique environment but also, better protection for these plant species.
The historical significance of the Pitons also looms large. While their
existence may go back millions of years, their place in our history goes back
hundreds of years ago, when they were worshipped by Amerindians as Gods. One was
called Yokahu (pronounced Yo-ka-hoo) the Provider of Food, and the other was
called Attabera, the Goddess of Fertility.
PSYCHOLOGICAL COMFORT FOR OUR NATION
Dawn asked me to explain what the designation of the Pitons Management Area as a
World Heritage means to us as St. Lucians and why it is important to the nation.
The Pitons have stood majestically for centuries. They provide psychological
comfort to our nation. Equally, they inspire us to excellence. They symbolize
the soul and spirit of St. Lucians, our hopes and dreams. They stand before us,
immortalized as national symbols.
They were the first things we drew at home and at school. They adorn our
exercise books. They inspired the shape of our national flag. They are on our
calendars and magazines. Companies and groups have adopted the name and symbol
of the Pitons. They have also been chosen as a backdrop for important scenes in
everything from movies like “Superman” to our tourism promotion brochures and
billboards around the world. They are celebrated in poetry, song, dance and art.
The Pitons also currently serve as a natural backdrop for a highly successful
and popular touring British TV musical theatre for kids called “Tropical Island”
that was shot on location right here, in the shadow of the Pitons.
A WHOLE NEW WORLD
It means that a whole new world has opened up for St. Lucia as a result of the
designation of the Pitons as a World Heritage Site.
The Pitons are designated under World Heritage Convention as “a monument
considered to be of such exceptional interest and such universal value that
their protection is the responsibility of all mankind.” The designation we
celebrate later today, therefore, means that the nations of the world have put
their official stamp and seal of approval on the Pitons Management Area as a
place to be preserved by St. Lucia for the benefit of all mankind.
Through UNESCO, the United Nations body responsible for this designation, the
rest of the world has placed on our shoulders the important task of preserving
and protecting the Pitons for present and future generations.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR DEVELOPMENT
The new world-class designation for the Pitons also opens up a whole new set of
opportunities for development, particularly in tourism. Even before their World
Heritage Status, the Pitons have been our most majestic and awe-inspiring
national monument. For as long as we have had a tourism industry, for just as
long we have known the Pitons to be our major attraction. Their presence here is
one of the main reasons why tens of thousands of visitors choose St. Lucia as a
vacation destination. The world-renowned hospitality services offered by local
resorts and restaurants such as the Jalousie Hilton and Anse Chastanet, Dasheene,
Ladera, the Hummingbird and the Still, is greatly enhanced and influenced by
their proximity to the Pitons.
THE VALUE OF THE PRODUCT
Dawn asked me in her e-mail whether there is income to be made by the nation as
a result of the designation of the Pitons as a World Heritage Site. The answer
is “yes”. Since the Pitons enjoy “World Heritage Status”, then it becomes a
“must see” site for the visitor. An increase in the numbers of visitors is
expected to result from the new designation. In turn, it will inspire the
development of businesses in the Pitons Management Area to provide new services.
In considering the economic possibilities, we must remember that this is not
just about the twin peaks alone, but about an area that covers eleven square
miles (or approximately five percent of the total land mass of St. Lucia). This
area includes the Sulphur Springs, the Gros Piton Trail and the Soufriere Marine
Management Area. This is a rather large area and all the flora and fauna within
that geographic area are within the area designated as a World Heritage Site.
The town of Soufriere, while not directly within the Management Area, is
nonetheless in the closest shadow of the Pitons. Its people and businesses stand
to benefit too. But to them, must be given the greater opportunity to share in
whatever benefits which flow. After all, the people of Soufriere have long
looked after the Pitons on our collective behalf.
So yes, there is money to be made. But I must warn that this is not just about
making money – and it cannot and shall not be treated or regarded as a
free-for-all. Commercial developments within the area will have to be guided by
a strict set of guidelines that are in keeping with our obligations under the
World Heritage Convention. No vye-ki-vye approach can be allowed within the
Management Area, as that would endanger the maintenance of the status of a World
AN HONOUR THAT COULD HAVE BEEN LOST
The honour which we are celebrating today could have been easily lost. The story
of this day is very much one which speaks to a period in the history of St.
Lucia in the very late 1980s, in which the Pitons and their role in the
development of St. Lucia took centre stage.
At stake, you will recall, was the “Gros Piton Resort and Aerial Tramway
Project” – a proposal by a developer who wished to build on 11 acres on the
summit and 77 acres on the slopes of Gros Piton. The project, a resort complex,
would have necessitated the carving of a platform at the summit of Gros Piton
that would be wide enough to construct a “theatre in the sky” from where
visitors could get married with entertainment provided; luxury villas were to be
constructed on the acreage spilling down the sides of the Piton, and tram cars
were to be built which would ferry 1,500 visitors daily from the bottom to the
top of the Piton. Indeed, the developer gave his assurance that every primary
school child in St. Lucia would have been given a free tram car ride from the
top of Gros Piton, within two years of the resort being built.
The Government of the day was fully supportive of this “theatre in the sky”.
They claimed that the project would “catapault St. Lucia into the 21st century”
and bring “development” to the Soufriere area. There were, however, several St.
Lucians who felt the Pitons epitomized a type of natural resource so unique, so
special, so bound-up in the psyche of the people themselves, so symbolic of
their national pride that they defied quantification in economic and monetary
terms. Thus began a process of serious debate within this society regarding the
meaning of development which at the end of the day resulted in the cancellation
of that project. Thankfully so. Without the courage and vision of a handful of
citizens who raised their voices in comment and protest, this designation which
we will assemble to witness later today in Soufriere, with such pride, would not
have been possible.
CONCLUSION: A SPECIAL PRESENCE
Some special persons will be in attendance at the ceremony this afternoon. No
less a person than the Director General of UNESCO has come to St. Lucia to
officiate at this afternoon’s ceremony. And, no less a person than our own Nobel
Laureate, Derek Walcott, will be on hand to read a poem.
I urge all St. Lucians who can, to make their way to Soufriere this afternoon to
be part of this historic, once-in-a-lifetime event.
Fellow St. Lucians, let us celebrate our World Heritage. Truly, what a day to
celebrate it – on Valentines Day.
Until next week, take care and God Bless!