Environmentalists’ warnings proven right; runoff from Baker’s Bay golf course leading to destruction of coral system
The once pristine reef system surrounding the tiny island of Guana Cay in the Abacos has suffered extensive damage since construction of the controversial Baker’s Bay development, environmentalists say.
The Save Guana Cay Reef Association (SGCRA), which mounted a groundbreaking five-year legal campaign in opposition to the project, warned of serious implications for the reef – recognized as one of the best dive sites in the world – as well as for the rest of the previously unspoiled island. It is now clear that their predictions have come true.
“There has been environmental desecration out here,” said leading environmental advocate Fred Smith, QC. “They burned the entire forest, they tore down the mangroves, they dug it all up.
“They’ve got a golf course, and the chemicals are seeping into the reefs that are there. It is environmental rape and pillage.”
Smith, chairman of fast-growing social and environmental movement Save The Bays, fought alongside the SCGRA between 2004 and 2009 for the rights of Guana Cay residents. During a recent visit to the island, he dove the reefs along with association president Troy Albury to witness firsthand the extent of the damage.
Albury explained that nutrients applied to maintain the health of the golf course drain into the surrounding water and lead to accelerated algae growth.
“We know the nitrogen is running off the course,” he said. “We know that from algae samples we’ve taken right close into the shore and algae samples we’ve taken at the reef. We have lost 40 percent of the coral cover in the last two years.
“Algae is always in competition for turf area on the reef. When you have algae growing, coral cannot grow and even when there is coral growing and existing, the algae gets close to it and starts to destroy it.”
The situation is dire, Smith said, but not yet past the point of no return.
“This used to be one of the most beautiful dive spots in the world, and it still has the potential to be if they would stop destroying it with all the chemicals,” he said.
Smith added that Guana Cay is a perfect example of the destructive power of the “Anchor Project” theory of national development, which ruins traditional communities – often without living up to the many promises made by the developers and the local politicians who facilitate the deals.
Albury said the once idyllic community has been severely affected by the location of a large-scale resort on the island, undertaken without proper consultation with the locals.
“We have traffic now, we have crime, we have car accidents. We actually now have a policeman on the island, because we are having problems with people breaking into houses. Before, you knew everybody,” he said.
Albury said it is important for all traditional Bahamian communities to fight for their rights, as they have the most to lose. If the environment ends up being ruined by an anchor project, the wealthy developer can simply “pick up and start again someplace else”.
The SGCRA president said the community has been waiting “for a long time” for Baker’s Bay to fulfill its obligations under the heads of agreement that allowed the project to go forward.
These included building a community center, reserving the water sports business exclusively for Bahamians, creating a beach park, building a solid waste facility for the whole island, and providing housing for police officers.
“In addition to that, there were also promises of environmental monitoring, and none of that ever came into play,” he said.
A newly released video of Smith’s visit to Guana Cay is part of an ongoing series of short films covering key aspects of STB’s fight for a better Bahamas. It can be viewed on Save The Bays website, www.savethebays.bs, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SaveTheBays, or on the organization’s YouTube channel (http://bit.ly/1z3kupy) Please leave comments and share it with friends.
Founded just over a year ago, Save The Bays has taken The Bahamas by storm. The grassroots effort to protect ecologically significant areas of the archipelago from unregulated development has transformed into a broad-based coalition that is at the forefront of both social and environmental issues. The group is calling for comprehensive environmental protections, oil spill legislation, greater transparency in government and much needed ‘conchservation’ laws.
With more than 17,200 followers on Facebook, STB is the fastest growing, most popular non-profit, non-government organization in Bahamas history on social media.
The group’s petition calling on the government to enact an Environmental Protection Act, a Freedom of Information Act, to stop unregulated development and to take a stance against oil pollution, is also climbing in numbers, with 6,384 signatures so far. To get involved, sign the petition or learn more, visit www.savethebays.bs.