Former UN ambassador makes case for Bird Island

Location of Bird Island west of Dominica
Location of Bird Island west of Dominica. Photo by Google Map

It may be a just a piece of rock, a bank of sand, or an island of birds but Bird Island, as many Dominicans know it, is worth fighting for, according to former Ambassador of the United Nation Crispin Gregoire.

Bird Island, also called Isla de Aves, is 375 meters in length and never more than 50 meters in width, and rises four meters above the sea on a calm day. It is located 140 miles west of Dominica and 340 miles north of the Venezuelan mainland and it has been the subject of many territorial disputes between several Caribbean countries, most notably Dominica, and their large neighbour to the south, Venezeula.

“For future generations we have to fight for it and if the fight resolves in us sharing that sea between Dominica and Bird Island, well so be it but Venezuela cannot be claiming our exclusive economic zone completely,” Gregoire opined on privately-owned Q95 on the weekend.

Bird Island has a long and interesting history. It was first discovered by Spanish sailors in 1584, and was claimed by numerous countries including Spain, Great Britain, Portugal, and the Netherlands. In 1854 an American company began mining guano there, which drew the anger of both Venezuela and the Netherlands. The Dutch even used warships to drive the miners away.

With interests being attracted to it, the Netherlands and Venezuela went to mediation under Isabella II of Spain in 1865 to determine ownership. The queen ruled in favor of Venezuela but the country never established a presence on the island. So the American miners returned and continued mining the guano until it was exhausted. It was only in 1950 did Venezuela began forcing a physical presence there.

But there is another twist in the Bird Island story because it is located 140 miles west of Dominica, it falls within the island’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982. (Venezuela has not ratified UNCLOS).

Venezuela is also claiming maritime territory surrounding the island which extends 335 miles north of its coast. This is proving to be a headache, not only for Dominica, but other Caribbean Islands because it takes away significant marine territory.

Threats to Dominica’s sovereignty due to the Bird Island issue has been a matter of discussion for years on the island.

In 2011, a diplomatic cable released by whistle-blower site Wikileaks, revealed that Dominica de facto acknowledges Venezuela’s claim over the island.

“It’s a fact. So there is nothing we can do from a legal standpoint to reclaim Bird Island,” Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said during a June 26, 2006 press conference at the CARICOM Secretariat in Guyana, according to Wikileaks.

The cable stated that Skerrit’s remarks came several days after he met with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, “where the leaders agreed to establish a joint commission that will meet in July to examine the maritime boundary between the two nations.”

The cable, which was created in July 2006 by the US embassy in Barbados and was released on Friday, August 26, 2011 by Wikileaks, said that days after Skerrit made his announcement the government of Dominica announced that Venezuela will provide Dominica with US$29- million in new aid for housing construction.

But Gregoire believes Dominica should not give us so easily.

He said Bird Island is a place that Dominicans have been going to since the days of the indigenous people.

“They used to go there to fish,” he stated, “It wasn’t until the 1930’s that the Venezuelans really began to focus on there.”

He said Bird Island is of great important to Venezuela because of its rich marine resources and it gives the South American country a Caribbean base.

“Now why is it important? Bird Rock is rich in marine reserves resources and it has 20 per cent of the world’s natural gas reserves and possibly also oil. That is one interest, but here’s the second interest, it makes them the regional power, it gives them the base in the Caribbean Sea so they are the most powerful state in the region because they are South American and they are Caribbean,” he said.

He noted that one way of addressing the matter is “we can go to the International Court of Justice but Venezuela, very cleverly because of that issue and the Guyanese, Essequibo issue, they have never ratified the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea.”

He said Dominica has never protested and because of the island’s present “cozy” relationship with the Venezuelans, “I don’t know if we can raise it in an objective way.”

A view of Bird Island or Isla de Aves
A view of Bird Island or Isla de Aves

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  1. August 10, 2015

    they resigned from the government they can talk all they want i will listen

  2. August 9, 2015

    MR CLAYTON SHILLINGFORD tanx to mr gregoire for what? my brother we have to be selective in the things and people we big up we must learn to big up the people who are real and ignore the ones who comes out because of sour grapes. mr gregoire has been or was working with the labour party and knew all along what was going on but chose to stay silent on matters affecting all dominicans now that the labour party kinda kicked him out he comeing and play concerned citizen. there’s no way i can big up these guys. people like crispin gregoire, shaun douglas,and griffin st hilliare they were there defending the labour party in all there doings tow that they have been kicked out of the party they are all rightous and want to tell us what is and what is not. well friends to little to late. the people who was affiliated with the labour party i respect and will big up is mr Arthy martin and mr David bruney they were in the labour party government and chose not to stay silent on pertinent matters

  3. August 6, 2015

    I remember very well those days when people from Portsmouth including my grandfather use to go to bird island to fish and came back with boat load of fish bird island belong to Dominica and the Dominican people it’s time we stand up for our rights

  4. jonathan st jean
    August 6, 2015

    Don’t hold your breath over the fact that this fighting a losing cause.The US has thrown it’s support behind Venezuela on this territorial dispute so it’s no way we can win at the UN on this one.The US realizes that to support Dominica in this dispute, would mean they would be challenged on their territories in the Caribbean, so without the support of the world’s most powerful country how can we win.The other thing against that claim is that in recent times, the Skerritt administration has espoused hostility towards the US,in support of Venezuela. This leaves us between a rock and a hard place.

  5. Brutus
    August 6, 2015

    Let’s start building an army so we can go to war with Venezuela over Bird Island.
    I believe it’s an exaggeration that this little piece of coco terre has 20% of the world’s natural gas reserves. After we fight Venezuela and win, we will be disappointed to find out that the natural gas reserve is in Tarreau. Did the people trying to claim Bird Island ever try to explore the islets off Castle Bruce? There might be much more natural gas and oil than what is claimed to be on Bird Island.

    • Shaka zulu
      August 6, 2015

      Bird island small so it cannot hold much man. So we will let the coast guard drop of two at a time. Or form a navy so sea warfare.

  6. August 6, 2015

    Mr former ambassador how are you so sure about the 20% of oil that is reserve. where did you get this information from? I believe this information is incorrect and why when you was the ambassador of Dominica you didn’t share this information with the people of Dominica.

    • August 7, 2015

      @The Fact …….why did he not raise the questions when he was in office. He was in a position to get all kinds of information. Why did he not tell us when and how Dominica obtained legal and recognized sovereignty over Bird Island, and when it was taken from us . If one wants to take the conversation to an other level… How come Dominica and other islands were not given back to the Caribs.

  7. bimb
    August 6, 2015

    if their EEZ is 225 miles north, and Bird island is 340 miles north, they cannot claim it. Their border stopped five miles of sea short of bird island. They are going by what the Queen of spain told them when venezuela and the netherlands were arguing. But were other powers like the french or english or portuguese involved in this negotiation to make their claims? no mention was made

    • bimb
      August 6, 2015

      335* not 225. my error

  8. August 6, 2015

    It is about time that we stick to issues. The issue should be the ownership of bird island. Skerrit was not born yet when the issue was discussed at the UWI Institute for International Relations in 1971 under the topic “Terra Nelius and Effective Occupation”. They looked at China vs Taiwan and Venezuela vs Guiana also. On bird island the view was that it belong to Venezuela being ceded to it by treaty with Britain.
    Leblanc took up the matter with Venezuela on attainment of National Statehood.
    Patrick John took up the matter with the British during independent negotiations. He knew about the wealth of fish, turtles, guano and suspected gas and oil reserves. The British said they had given Bird Island to Venezuela and Dominica had no claim just as the Saints and Marigalante were given to the French. At that time Dominica observed a twelve mile limit on territorial sea.
    DNO we need fairness and truth to educate all especially our students.. no more gossip treatment of…

    • August 6, 2015

      No more gossip treatment of History. DNO if you want to elevate your standing in the media and improve your credibility you need to separate articles that belong in a text book from those that belong to the political pulpit that play on emotions of people. Border disputes can lead to war as they did in the India Pakistan, and Venezuela Guyana cases. It is said that a media report was used as an excuse to start world war one. And world war two started when Germany annexed Poland.

      • Not a herd follower
        August 6, 2015

        EZ, you missed the vital point: the role of international law, which places Bird Island in Dominica’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Why do you think Venezuela conveniently ignores international law on this matter and has not signed up to the International Convention on the Law of the Sea?

        Additionally, do you believe that the USA or China or Britain or France would allow another country to claim land mass or sea that’s only 140 miles away from their mainland? It’s only because Dominica does not have military power and lacks confidence in her self that this is still an issue

      • Massacre
        August 6, 2015

        Germany Annexed Austria, but invaded Poland !
        Bird island has always been a Dominican issue, I dont know where you got your information from but you should check it out again.
        Venezuala has more resourses than us so they can have bigger ships sail to the area and remain there for a few weeks , but that doe not mean they own it.
        You should ask yourslef why is it that Chavez so willingly paid all this money to Skorro ??

  9. Michael Davis
    August 6, 2015

    Venezuela claims that the award “was achieved by coercion,” but argue that actually the British government was forced to agree to arbitration in 1897 by the American government, which at that time heavily backed Venezuela in its territorial claims. SO – why not the new authorities in Dominica whom – as David Jessop asserts “may still have a de jure, if not de facto maritime claim to Bird Island,” – REJECT the 1857 Convention – just like Venezuela is rejecting the 1899 Paris Award?

    Further – Nick Foster in Caracas states that Venezuela’s territorial ambitions are not limited to Bird Island. It also claims about 70 per cent of neighbouring Guyana, another former British colony” and “sovereignty of Bird Island brings with it control of fish stocks in neighbouring waters, as well as the right to exploit any undersea oil and gas reserves in an exclusive economic zone up to a maximum of 200 nautical miles, under the terms of the United Nations convention on the law of the sea.”

  10. Michael Davis
    August 6, 2015

    Question to all patriotic Dominicans who would like Bird Island Back: In 1857 there was a Convention awarded the bird rock to Venezuela which they accept. Today the same Venezuelan rulers claim that the Paris Arbitral Award of October 3, 1899 was never ratified by the Venezuelan State, and, both the government and opposition members have shown strong unity in backing Maduro’s vehement demand for Guyana’s Essequibo territory, and, therefore they assert – the award remained without any validity – thus Venezuela’s claim to the Guyana territory – decided in Guyana’s favor in 1899 is Venezuelan. Manduro’s logic did not include an area bounded by the Takutu and the Cotinga River (in Brazil) west of the Rupununi District which was also claimed by Venezuela before the 1899 arbitral tribunal, but granted to the then British Guiana by the same 1899 award which was later ceded to Brazil after another arbitration in 1902.

    • August 6, 2015

      Thanks Mr Davis for your educational and factual article. You are presenting fact that would enable us to make a claim to the international courts….. or to negotiate with Venezuela. I wish I could be optimistic and believe our claim can succeed.
      But I can find no evidence that we ever made a claim, that it was ever ceded to us, or that we ever occupy it effectively. For Venezuela to assert its “legal ownership”, , it has “occupied” it effectively by building a weather station on the island. This can be compared to what China is doing in the South China Sea. As a patriotic Dominican I wish Bird Island was ours, for its economic and security value. I think we should at least start a conversation that may lead to negotiation. It is worth a try.

    • Not a herd follower
      August 6, 2015

      It’s because Brazil can handle Venezuela in a military fight

      • Not a herd follower
        August 6, 2015

        Venezuela is going after small countries it feels it can beat

  11. Massacre
    August 6, 2015

    This is a very interesting story covered by by DNO from Mr. Gregoire, who has always have Dominica at his best interest, does not matter who is power and this is one thing that many of our past and present politicians lack!
    Bird island has always been talked about in school and there were some fishermen would tell us that there is an island west of Dominica which belongs to us.
    Sadly most of our leaders do not have that progressive attitude with an international outlook to be a fighter for any national rights. They rather seat back and let the “other guys” take the lead and they follow. Just like when the P.M of St.Vincent told Skerro that we Da do not need an international airport but turned right around and build one in ST.VG.
    “When the leaders have no vision the people will perish.” As we are seeing today, that $29 Million will soon finish on lavish spending on a few (e.g, elections), but eventually the future children of Venezuala will benefit from the resourses on that…

    • Fess Krukowski
      August 6, 2015

      This is not be the first time that Venezuela would have assisted Dominica in the area of housing. In the early 80’s under Simon Boliver, Venezuela assisted with the Simon Boliver Housing Scheme in Stock Farm. Today there is a bust of Boliver on Charles Avenue near the Aid Bank in recognition of this contribution to Dominica’s development.

      • simon
        August 6, 2015

        Fess Krukowski what are you talking about,Simon Boliver died in 1830 he could NOT in the 80’s helped Dominica do anything. You wrote “In the early 80’s under Simon Boliver, Venezuela assisted with the Simon Boliver Housing Scheme in Stock Farm”

      • winston warrington
        August 7, 2015

        Simon Bolivar died in 1830!

  12. Not a herd follower
    August 6, 2015

    20 per cent of the world’s natural gas reserves, and Dominica is giving that up? Whose interest Skerrit is representing? Wasn’t he elected to protect and further the interest of Dominica?

    • ME
      August 6, 2015

      How do you give up what you never had? So you only interested in what it has lol gold digger

  13. Nacinimod
    August 6, 2015

    No worries….in addition to the $29 million D/ca should demand a royalty on every barrel of oil and every cubic foot of gas extracted from Bird Island. That way, Venezuela takes all the risks of exploration while DA enjoy the spoils.

  14. kingman
    August 6, 2015

    tell crispin give all the story, ask him when the great USA was demarcating the Puerto Rico boundary who did the y negotiate with, the same with the French.

  15. Anon
    August 6, 2015

    Great perspective on the issue. Politics aside, we as well as Guyana stand to benefit when the whole issue is given ratification which was neglected by world bodies wen they just left Spain divide up tis part of the world that was not of interest to the other world powers. As this piece puts light on, our current can’t do much right now. Just lay low and let the Guyana thing unravel. no matter what political side you are on locally, Thanks to the writer for shedding some light..

  16. Progressive Labourite
    August 6, 2015

    Rosie Douglas of blessed memory always wanted Dominica ownership of Bird Island. Dr. Sabin, Emmanuel Nathan and all, Rosie’s acolytes can attest to that. Mr. Skerrit has lost his way and Rosie vision no longer means anything to him

  17. August 6, 2015

    MR Gregoire when you was working for the labour party for $23,000 a month you did not know about bird island or the fact that skerrit got $29million us for aid for housing construction???

  18. Clayton Shillingford
    August 6, 2015

    If it isn’t one thing it is another ..large national debt, economic crisis, unemployment etc…Thanks to Crispin Gregoire for bringing forward the facts about this Bird Island issue.. There are questions to be answered by the Prime Minister was there any quid pro quo re money for housing and Bird Is/Venezuela..there is implication of secret agreement where is iT?/

  19. Michael Davis
    August 5, 2015

    In 1857 there was a Convention to submit the question of the dominion and sovereignty of Bird / Aves Island to the arbitration – the very first international arbitrated case – Queen Isabella II in a vaguely reasoned decision, arbitrated the dispute of Aves rock i.e. Bird Island to Venezuela.

    Recently, Mr. David Jessop’s expressed a view or opinion that Dominica “may still have a de jure, if not de facto maritime claim to Bird Island,” is an interesting idea but he must define his argument in detail – @

    • winston warrington
      August 6, 2015

      Dominica could take no action on international issues until 1978 when it gained Independence, but, following that, no one in government took any initiative to bring the situation before a world body for resolution. We need to be aware that Grenada is also staking a claim to Bird Island. The fact is, since 1978 no Dominican Prime Minister, including Rosie Douglas even attempted to plant a flag on the spit of soil (sandbar). Since Venezuela is militarily,occupying property situated well within our economic zone, negotiations for a memorandum of joint exploitation should be considered. This is vital at a time when Venezuela seems to be picking fights with Barbados, Guyana and Columbia about their maritime and territorial limits.

  20. The Real Facts - ON
    August 5, 2015

    This is interesting and strange. If it is pursued it may look like a fight between Dominica and Venezuela. These two are allies. Time will tell. In the meantime, let us await the decision of the former UN ambassador and the conclusion of this.
    If it belongs to Dominica, fellow D/cans, Dominica stands to gain and could be rich. As the saying, keep your fingers crossed while you pray for also an amicable conclusion, hopefully in favor of Dominica. Should this ever occur, it will take years.

  21. Shaka zulu
    August 5, 2015

    If bird island has natural gas and oil don’t you think the rest of the Caribbean has the same. The same activities that formed Dominica is the same that formed bird island so we do not have to go to bird island find out if there are natural gas reserves. If you take a close look at Google earth you can see a whole bunch of submarine mountains along the Caribbean and African subduction plate boundry that form the eastern Caribbean. The best thing we can do now is open our waters to Chevron or one of those large oil companies let them do exploration before Venezuela can get their claws in there. There are vast untapped resources with too many small islands. Caricom should come up with a joint plan so we can all explore without treading on others territory.

  22. Chief Jaco
    August 5, 2015

    On the other side of the coin we use the argument that Bird Island is within our 200 miles maritime economic zone therefore should be owned by Dominica. Everything looks fine in laying maritime claim to Bird Island, except for some outstanding issues with Britain, Spain, France, Venezuela and the Netherlands who have accepted Venezuela claim to Bird Island in law. Should we asks them to change the rule of law in maritime treaties and boundaries? Imaging how people would look at as if we go to the UN protesting for Bird Island? Some call it a rock because hurricane seas washes over it, other call it an island, but what ever it is Dominica maritime claim and Venezuela territorial possession will always be hot debate.

  23. Fess Krukowski
    August 5, 2015

    Yes UWP, here’s your opportunity; put it in your manifesto for the next election: “We shall claim Bird Island and go drilling for natural gas while the SSU will use the same bulldozer they had in Salisbury and some canisters of expired tear gas to keep out the Venezuelans.”

  24. Chief Jaco
    August 5, 2015

    Great Britain, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands all claimed Bird Island, but centuries later it would take Venezuela and the Netherlands to dispute claims. Isabella II was of Spain was agreed upon by both parties to resolve ownership of Venezuela, and she named Venezuela as the legal owner of Bird Island. Great Britain did not contest the decision and also accepted Venezuela as the legal owner.
    On March 28, 1978 when Venezuela and USA agreed on Bird Island as maritime border with the USA, Dominican were silent. On 24th November, 1980 when the USA – Venezuela Maritime Boundary Treaty was enforced Dominican Patriots were silent. On June 17th 1980 when Venezuela and France agreed on the maritime boundary between Bird Island and Martinique and Guadeloupe, Dominicans did not protest.
    Consequently, history shows that Dominica has never held territorial claims on Bird Island. It is legally owned by Venezuela.

  25. Michael Davis
    August 5, 2015

    Very interesting point of view for re-consideration. I am actively reconsidering; last published view can be found re Bird island is at – in light of Venezuela’s rejection of the treaty re Guyana – this award on Bird island – Venezuela has opened to rejection by others, like Dominica – the same way Venezuela is rejecting Guyana’s award of territory. To be continued … in D/ca’s public interest.

  26. Shameless
    August 5, 2015

    Very good reporting DNO. Thanks to Ambassador Gregoire many Dominicans now have a better understanding of the history, the deceptive practices of Venezuela in avoiding closure. It also addresses the issue of money that was given to Dominica for housing at a “crucial time”. In light of this, the PM need to come clean and tell us what transpired between him a Hugo that enable us to get the 29Million for housing. Did we sign a formal agreement receding any claims thereby handing over the sovereignty of the island to Venezuela? I have said that before and will say it again; “Chou nou toute paytay enbar Skerro”…

    Assertive, NOT Aggressive! :twisted:

    • The Real Facts - ON
      August 5, 2015

      It is worth exploring, conducting a research about it. However, go easy and make no innuendos and judgment until we know everything.

  27. August 5, 2015

    I used to hear, about Bird island by a former colleague in the Dominica police force. Mr George Cooke, former Deceive always brought up The name ” Bird Island”. Now I know he was not bogus on Bird Island. It’s very interesting, Dominica vs Venezuela, for. Bird Island? The borrower is like a slave to the lender. We go see. Keeping it real. “

  28. KoKo Naughts
    August 5, 2015

    I doh know if is my eyes, but as if it looking closer to Guada than Dominica eh. Soooo… ok let me doh put more trouble eh. It in a tie already where it is there.

  29. New
    August 5, 2015

    Here we go again unfolded on Q95, UWP, Unity of Weird People. More and More innuendos and more probability by weirdo’s . Idle minds, go and count waves!

  30. Propa
    August 5, 2015

    He also said the only way DOminica can really have a case is if it is considered a ROCK and that we stop referring to it as an island, which of course your article continues to do, thereby weakening the very case you are trying to report on.

    So it is a ROCK. If it is a rock then the previous agreements on it do not hold and we preserve the integrity of our waters.

      August 6, 2015

      meaning of island, a mass(small or big) of land surrounded by water. I am over 50 years old and I always knew bird island because of its geo location is in our territorial waters, and Venezuela always want to own it for some apparent reason.

  31. %
    August 5, 2015

    It seems that based on the Wikileaks revelation,Chavez told Skerrit we will pay $M29 000 000.00 an you will show no interest in Birdrock!Out of fear of antagnising Venezuela, Skerrit will be the worlds biggest Moo Moo on that issue.However one day the truth will be found!

    • Erasmus B. Black
      August 6, 2015

      And can it be that the M 29000, 000 is our thirty pieces of silver? The Holy Bible recounts the weaknesses in character of various men including Judas Iscariot who made a covenant with the Jews to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. The penultimate paragraph of the Wikipedia entry for Isla Aves or Bird Island says to the effect that during a visit to Venezuela in June 2006, Dominica’s Prime Minister Skerritt stated that Bird Island belongs to Venuezuela thus ending the territorial claim. Go figure!

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