Archive | May, 2015

Fears of further Guana Cay destruction

This dredger can pump up to 250 cubic yards of fill an hour. Concerned residents say it has been working off the north coast of Guana Cay every day since September 2015, including weekends and holidays. They fear the spoil is being used to fill in protected wetlands for the construction of high-end homes in the exclusive Baker’s Bay development.

This dredger can pump up to 250 cubic yards of fill an hour. Concerned residents say it has been working off the north coast of Guana Cay every day since September 2015, including weekends and holidays. They fear the spoil is being used to fill in protected wetlands for the construction of high-end homes in the exclusive Baker’s Bay development.

Residents of this once pristine island believe protected wetlands could be under threat from new round of dredging activities

Distraught residents are calling on the Ministry of Environment to urgently investigate a new round of dredging off the coast of Guana Cay, Abaco, which they fear is leading to the destruction of invaluable areas of protected wetland.

Having been forced to watch helplessly while the fragile offshore reef system suffered extensive damage over the last five years due to the controversial Baker’s Bay development, locals now want the government to step and save what is left of this once pristine island before it is too late.

“Just when we thought it could get no worse, we find that the developers dredging at the north end of the island,” said Troy Albury, president of the Save Guana Cay Reef Association (SGCRA).

“A powerful dredger has been on site since September 2014. It is digging huge holes in the sand bank on the bay side of Baker’s Bay. When you drive by you can the see the bank scarred by huge holes where the dredge has sucked up the sand and pumped it inland.”

Albury noted that according to the law, permits must be issued for every dredging event in The Bahamas.  He said residents want the authorities to verify whether or not this current work has the proper authorization.

“We also want confirmation of where the spoil is being pumped. The dredging is clearly not for maintainence of keeping a channel clear for navigation,” he said. “From what we can see, it appears that the dredging is occurring over a wide area, with the sole purpose of filling in low-lying areas so those can be sold to build houses on.”

Albury said locals are unable to verify this for themselves, as for years they have been denied access to Baker’s Bay – and are even blocked from using a portion of the publicly owned Queen’s Highway that passes through the property.

“We can’t see where the spoil from the dredging is ending up. They are pumping it inland through 12-inch pipes and the fear is that sensitive wetlands are once again being filled in,” he said. “We are particularly concerned about certain areas of key ecological significance, which according to the heads of agreement for Baker’s Bay, are not to be disturbed.”

He said this anxiety has only been heightened by the developer’s continued neglect of several other obligations under the agreement.

These include commitments to build a community center, reserve the water sports business exclusively for Bahamians, create a beach park, build a solid waste facility for the whole island, and provide housing for police officers.

“In addition to that, there were also promises of environmental monitoring, and none of that ever came into play,” Albury said.

From 2004 to 2009, the SGCRA, in conjunction with fast growing social and environmental movement Save The Bays (STB), mounted a groundbreaking legal campaign against the Baker’s Bay project, which elevated the issue of unregulated development to the level of national attention.

STB chairman Fred Smith said Guana Cay is a perfect example of the destructive power of the “Anchor Project” theory of national development, which ruins tradition communities, often without living up to the many promises made by the developers and the politicians who facilitate the deals.

STB congratulates government on Freedom of Information move, Urges Independent Non-Political Commissioner Appointment

Vanessa Haley-Benjamin, CEO of the fast-growing environmental movement Save The Bays, congratulates the Christie government following release of draft Freedom of Information Act, but urges attention to public input and appointment of an independent commissioner to assure an end to secret deals that can harm the environment.

Vanessa Haley-Benjamin, CEO of the fast-growing environmental movement Save The Bays, congratulates the Christie government following release of draft Freedom of Information Act, but urges attention to public input and appointment of an independent commissioner to assure an end to secret deals that can harm the environment.

Calling it “a step in the right direction,” Save The Bays CEO Vanessa Haley-Benjamin today congratulated the government on the release of the draft Freedom of Information Act, but said to be effective the final legislation must provide for an independent commissioner and contain “more teeth than loopholes.”

“Releasing the long-awaited Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) draft this week was a step in the right direction and Save The Bays welcomes the news and congratulates the government,” said Benjamin. “But a step is just that. One step in a long journey. The path to true freedom of information which is the public’s right to know and the bedrock of any democracy means the act must have more teeth than loopholes.”

The first condition of real freedom of information is to remove it from the political arena, she said.

“The appointment of an independent commissioner is absolutely essential if freedom of information is to be effective,” said Benjamin. “That is the first requirement and the most basic tenet – take politics out of it. We will know that the government is serious about the public’s right to know if those charged with answering requests for information are non-political and their jobs are not tied to a given government office where their jobs can be threatened or their answers influenced.”

Independent administration will demonstrate that those who are introducing freedom of information legislation are not just paying lip service to the increasing calls for the right to know, but really mean it, she said.

Those calls have gotten louder in volume and more frequent in number over recent months, thanks in part to repeated activity, rallies, social media calls and demonstrations hosted by Save The Bays with partners representing a broad cross-section of civic, religious, business and labour organisations. At one rally last year, it was estimated that associations that joined Save The Bays in calling for freedom of information numbered over 60,000 people.

“We are extremely pleased that the government is responding,” said Benjamin. “Freedom of information is urgently needed. As it stands now, developments are being approved with virtually no input from residents even when those developments are going to directly affect them. That should never be the case. And we need to know before the first shovel turns the first soil how proposed projects are going to impact the environment. How many times have governments sacrificed treasures of nature and history in the name of jobs? If we are serious about preserving our coral reefs, our mangroves and wetlands that are the nurseries for young fish, our bonefish flats, all our marine resources that make the Bahamas the beautiful country it is, we must be serious about public participation in the planning process.”

Currently, she said, there is no provision for the public to see what contracts are being negotiated or what treasures of nature or history are being sacrificed in the name of jobs.

“If freedom of information becomes part of our culture, it will mean an end to closed door deals and the only time information is withheld will be when it could be a breach of national security. We hope that is the case and they are not just playing with emotions with the introduction of this act that we have been awaiting since the former government introduced but never passed it,” said Benjamin. “The time is now. Let’s get it right and it will become the legacy of this administration that will help preserve this magnificent Bahamas for future generations.”

Students Graduate from Environmental Program

The 2015 Graduates of the Youth Environment Ambassador (YEA) speak to parents and spectators about Bahamian environmental issues. The program is spearheaded and funded by fast-growing environmental group Save The Bays. The event took place at the Wallace Groves Auditorium of Mary Star of The Sea Catholic Primary School. (Photo: Jenneva Russell)

The 2015 Graduates of the Youth Environment Ambassador (YEA) speak to parents and spectators about Bahamian environmental issues. The program is spearheaded and funded by fast-growing environmental group Save The Bays. The event took place at the Wallace Groves Auditorium of Mary Star of The Sea Catholic Primary School. (Photo: Jenneva Russell)

Friends and family members filled the halls of Wallace Groves Auditorium of Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Primary School to cheer on just under 30 students as they walked across the stage as certified leaders and environmentalists graduating from the Youth Environment Ambassador (YEA) program spearheaded by fast-growing environmental group, Save The Bays (STB).

The program is formed in partnership with Glover & Associates Inc. and international training company, Center for Creative Leadership.

YEA Program Director Joseph Darville said the graduation is symbolic of a milestone that will make a difference in the future appreciation and protection of the environment.

“With all of the environmental issues being faced right here at home, education is a must,” he said. “Through our program, we are educating the future – the youth – which is imperative to the preservation of the future of the environment.”

The YEA program, now in its second year, serves as the educational arm of Save The Bays and is driven by funding from the organization aimed at protecting the physical and cultural heritage of The Bahamas.

As the graduates crossed the stage, cheers of proud parents and onlookers echoed throughout the auditorium.

During the 10-session YEA program, students explored national parks, kayaked through mangroves, visited industrial facilities and heard from experts involved in park management and eco-tours – all educating and molding them into stewards of the environment.

 

Graduates of Youth Environmental Ambassador (YEA) program show off their drumming talents. The group was taught by Shayne Bethel from Junkanoo World Bahamas. Drumming was included in this year’s leadership development component of the YEA program to help build confidence among students who are able to express themselves.  (Photo: Jenneva Russell)

Graduates of Youth Environmental Ambassador (YEA) program show off their drumming talents. The group was taught by Shayne Bethel from Junkanoo World Bahamas. Drumming was included in this year’s leadership development component of the YEA program to help build confidence among students who are able to express themselves. (Photo: Jenneva Russell)

The program served as a learning experience for not only the 27 graduates but also the five facilitators and two trainers.

Javan Hunt, a YEA facilitator said the experience was both a rewarding and unforgettable lesson, one that he hopes the graduates will take seriously and share with others.

“The learning process never stops,” he said. “It’s how we evolve and grow. That’s why we are grooming leaders to facilitate growth and change in this country because we need more leaders to champion the environment. We must protect where we live.”

Youth Environment Ambassador Program Director, Joseph Darville presents one of 27 graduates with a certificate of achievement for proving growth as a leader and becoming more knowledgeable about the environment. (Photo: Jenneva Russell)

Youth Environment Ambassador Program Director, Joseph Darville presents one of 27 graduates with a certificate of achievement for proving growth as a leader and becoming more knowledgeable about the environment. (Photo: Jenneva Russell)

In addition to receiving pins and certificates, students treated the audience to a drumming selection to showcase what they learned under the tutelage of Shayne Bethel from Junkanoo World Bahamas.

“We found that drumming is a means of creative expression,” explained Darville. “We believe that once persons are open enough to express themselves, it translates into their being stronger ambassadors for the environment.”

The scholars also showcased some of what they learned about the environment through environmental projects based on coral reefs, mangroves, dolphins and the seashore ecosystem.

Gail Woon, another STB director in attendance, said she was happy with the accomplishments of the YEA graduates and has high expectations for the next semester.

Program Director of the Youth Environment Ambassador (YEA) program, Joseph Darville (left), congratulates a recent graduate of the YEA program with a certificate of achievement and pin. (Photo: Jenneva Russell)

Program Director of the Youth Environment Ambassador (YEA) program, Joseph Darville (left), congratulates a recent graduate of the YEA program with a certificate of achievement and pin. (Photo: Jenneva Russell)

“Everything starts with them (youth),” she said. “With the enthusiasm that I am seeing in this room, I expect for even more students to register for our next session.”

The next session will run for a total of six months beginning in October.

In addition to its educational efforts, Save The Bays is committed to passage of a Freedom of Information act, environmental protection act, accountability for oil pollution, and an end to unregulated development. With more than 17,400 Facebook friends and nearly 7,000 signatures on its petition, the association is the fastest-growing NGO in The Bahamas.

Students of the Youth Environment Ambassador (YEA) program present Gail Woon with a photo plaque of appreciation as Joseph Darville, directors of Save the Bays, looks on. (Photo: Jenneva Russell)

Students of the Youth Environment Ambassador (YEA) program present Gail Woon with a photo plaque of appreciation as Joseph Darville, directors of Save the Bays, looks on. (Photo: Jenneva Russell)

STB YEA Graduation: Facilitator Speech

Good afternoon once again parents, guests and young ambassadors.

We live in a very beautiful country.  A country we sometimes take for granted and it’s common to hear amongst high school students how they can not wait to get away from the Bahamas!  I know that for a fact because I was one of them.  It wasn’t until I traveled and schooled away from my country did I miss the everyday things that made me who I am as a Bahamian.  You know what I’m talking about, the white sandy beaches, conch salad and cracked conch just to name a few.

That is why when I was invited by Mr Darville aka uncle Joe as our young leaders call him, to become involved with Save the Bays, I accepted immediately because it involves two things I’m passionate about- the environment and leadership!

And I’m sure that I speak for all my fellow facilitators when I say that this has been the best, best experience I’ve had the privilege to be involved with.  What’s not to enjoy!

We work with some of the best and brightest minds Grand  Bahama has to offer.

We learn about the environment in hands on and fun ways.

We meet industry leaders and learn how they work with environment in safe ways.

We step outside of our comfort zones and are open to change.

And most importantly we groom leaders!

My lord, this sounds so good..I think adults might want to join and learn more about this country and our own environment!

But seriously, I’ve learned so much from these people and this program and met wonderful people like David Rose and of course Gail Woon, Rashema Ingraham, Nikie Severe, Jensen Farquason and Sharon Glover amongst others that they have stopped being just colleagues and quickly became family.

If you don’t remember anything that is said this afternoon, remember this: that the learning process never stops, it’s how we evolve and grow.  That’s why we are grooming leaders, to facilitate growth and change in this country because we need more leaders to champion the environment.
Secondly, other people vacation where we live so this must be paradise!  We must protect where we live because you never miss the waters until the well runs dry.

So with that being said I’d like to recognize those young ambassadors who have been to every session.

A special thank you also to your parents because it’s not easy waking up when you don’t have to work and we understand that you have so much to do on a Saturday. So thank you and we really appreciate your sacrifice.

STB hails draft environmental bill a good first step

Minister Dorsett and his PLP government congratulated for launching public consultation process; finally addressing the urgent need for environmental protection laws

 

 

Save The Bays (STB) welcomes the news that a draft Environmental Protection and Planning Bill is being circulated for public comment in response to the Rubis fuel spill crisis in Marathon. We consider the move a significant victory for environmental protection, due process and the rule of law in The Bahamas.

 

Minister of Environment Ken Dorsett is to be congratulated, along with the rest of the Cabinet, for acknowledging not only the urgent need for enhanced environmental protection legislation, but also the legal requirement that all stakeholders and interested persons be afforded an opportunity to comment and offer suggestions before new laws are passed.

 

STB is currently in the process of reviewing the Bill and will comment further on its contents – particularly regarding the need to consolidate all existing environmental regulations into a single, rational, all-embracing regime – very soon.

 

We have long pointed out the need for a comprehensive Environmental Protection Act covering all aspects of the use of and interaction with the precious natural resources of The Bahamas. Our first impression is that the draft Bill falls short of this standard in a number of areas and we hope the government will prove itself willing to amend accordingly in an effort to protect our nation’s patrimony for the benefit of future generations.

 

In the meantime though, we wish for the record to commend the Christie Administration for approaching this most important issue in a forthright and open manner, in consultation with the Bahamian people.

 

– Vanessa Haley-Benjamin, CEO, Save The Bays

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Originally Published in The Tribune

By: Larry Smith

April 22nd, 2015

 

A major environmental controversy is playing out on the other side of the globe that, in many ways, mirrors our own experience here.

The big issue is the dredging of waters near Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to facilitate massive coal exports to China and India. This port expansion will result in a huge increase in shipping in the area, not to mention significant additional carbon emissions that are warming the planet.

The Great Barrier Reef stretches over 1,800 miles and is the only living thing on earth that is visible from space. It was discovered by Captain James Cook in 1770 when his ship, Endeavour, ran aground during a scientific voyage.

From the top of a nearby island’s hill, Cook surveyed the scene and wrote in his log: “I discover’d a Reef of Rocks extending in a line North-West and South-East, farther than I could see.”

Today we know that this huge reef complex contains the world’s largest collection of corals, as well as a great diversity of other marine life. This combination attracts over two million visitors a year who generate billions of dollars for the Australian economy. But coal mining and shipping are also big revenue earners.

Most of the reef ecosystem was designated a World Heritage site in 1981. But in a few weeks, members of UNESCO’s world heritage committee will meet to determine whether the Great Barrier Reef should now be listed as being “in danger”.

According to a recent editorial in The Guardian, a British newspaper, “Rising sea temperatures, increasing ocean acidification, swelling numbers of cyclones, pollution problems triggered by fertiliser and sewage run-offs from farms and cities, and damage caused by the development of ports on the east coast of Australia have had a combined and devastating effect on the Great Barrier Reef.”

Marshalling the scientific evidence, the editorial noted that over the past 30 years, the Great Barrier Reef has lost half its coral. “Had the Taj Mahal, another World Heritage site, lost half its structure, there would be no doubt that it would be deemed to be in danger,” The Guardian said.

Closer to home, recent deep dredging off Miami has also led to the destruction of corals in the area. This is not due to the dumping of dredge spoil, just the dredging – and it has occurred in spite of assurances by proponents that protective measures would work.

The Port of Miami is spending over $200m to expand a shipping channel to make room for a new generation of supersize cargo ships that will soon be transiting the Panama Canal. And Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades is next. The results are predictable.

According to National Geographic, “Outside Miami’s Biscayne Bay, coral reefs that were once a vivid rainbow have been turned a barren grey, choked in sediment, by a dredging operation run by the US Army Corps of Engineers.”

Reefs around the world have experienced drastic declines as a result of pollution, acidification and overfishing. Higher ocean temperatures, which can bleach coral and kill corals, have also damaged reefs. And recent research has pointed to the impact of overfishing on the planet’s already beleaguered coral reefs, which are some of Earth’s most important nurseries for marine life.

Researchers examined more than 800 reefs in 64 locations around the world and found that 83 per cent had lost more than half of their fish, with most of these losses having occurred since the 1970s. Even when protective measures to control and limit fishing are imposed, it can take up to 60 years for a reef to recover.

“The recent reports from, Australia coupled with the report of reef damage from the Port of Miami dredging, remind us that even with large marine protected areas and regulations, we still are not doing enough to protect the oceans,” University of Miami marine biologist Dr Kathleen Sullivan Sealey told me.

“In The Bahamas, marine protected areas are small, there is no management of coastal pollution and the Department of Marine Resources is under-staffed. Although the Bahamas has spectacular marine waters, it has failed to submit even one World Heritage site to UNESCO that would show we care for and value our marine heritage.”

She said The Bahamas was failing badly in marine conservation: “declining fisheries, marine debris and pollution, along with the loss of coastal wetlands and mangroves show that we have to completely re-think how we approach marine conservation. And every Bahamian needs to think hard about what fish and conch mean to them culturally and economically, as well as ecologically. People make jokes about the oil spills off Clifton like the oil won’t impact their lives or livelihoods, but the oil is a daily poison in the oceans.”

Casuarina McKinney at Bahamas Reef Environmental Educational Foundation agreed. “The Bahamas and Australia have a lot in common regarding coral reefs – importance, threats and conservation efforts. Reefs in both countries provide significant value from ecosystem services such as tourism, fisheries and shoreline protection. And our reefs are facing localised threats from damaging coastal development, habitat destruction, overfishing and land-based pollution, along with impacts from global climate change.”

Two big local examples will suffice to make the point.

At Bimini, the government has given Malaysian conglomerate, Genting, carte blanche to convert the island from a fishing village into a throbbing Miami suburb, bringing hundreds of thousands of gamblers in by cruise ship. To do that, they have built a mini port by dredging through some of the most ecologically valuable reefs in the area – which serve as major tourist attractions and provide important habitat for fish.

There is also talk of destroying what remains of Bimini’s mangrove-lined lagoon to make way for a golf course. The scale and insensitivity of Genting’s Bimini Bay development is astounding, and it is difficult to see how such massive investment in such a small place can be either financially or ecologically sustainable.

Meanwhile, the south coast of New Providence, with its important reefs and dive sites, has faced years of abuse from oil spills, shipping accidents and dredging. The government-operated power plant at Clifton Pier is a major source of pollution for the entire area and a major dredging operation is currently underway at the Coral Harbour Defence Force base that is completely unregulated, with plumes of sediment enveloping the southwest reef.

Coral reefs around the world are now being destroyed at a staggering rate. Some estimates suggest around 600 square miles are lost every year, a rate double that of rainforest destruction.

According to television environmentalist Sir David Attenborough, “reefs provide homes for around a quarter of all marine species. If you want beauty and wildlife, you want a coral reef. Put on a mask and stick your head under the water. The sight is mind-blowing.

“The truth is the natural world is changing. And we are totally dependent on that world. It provides our food, water and air. It is the most precious thing we have and we need to defend it.”

• What do you think? Send comments to lsmith@tribunemedia.net or visit www.bahamapundit.com.

The auditor-general and the politicians

The post of Auditor-General is independent and constitutionally mandated. The Auditor-General is required to audit government departments annually in the interest of safeguarding public funds.

More specifically, the Auditor-General must ensure …

that all reasonable precautions have been taken to protect the collection of public monies, and that the law relating thereto has been observed;

that all payments are made with proper authority, and are supported by sufficient proof of payment; that all public funds spent are applied to the purposes for which the House of Assembly intended.

Audit reports are submitted to the Speaker of the House of Assembly, who effectively publishes them. And usually, there is a significant time lag between the date of the actual review and the publication of the report.

This makes the information stale news, which suits the government of the day perfectly. The reports are given perfunctory lip service by politicians of all stripes, not to mention the civil servants who are named in them. And there is no follow-up that the public is ever made aware of. Life simply goes on.

In the current circumstance, a special audit report for July 2012 to September 2014 found its way into the public domain relatively early (although the political directorate received it first). This meant that the contents were more relevant to current issues and personalities.

So what was the result?

Well, the two retired politicians who are in charge of a government agency that disburses public funds elected to construe criticism of their programme as a personal affront. They even arrogantly refused to appear before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, which wants to examine the Auditor-General’s conclusions.

Are these the actions of responsible government leaders in an accountable administration?

The bottom line is this: our emperors totally reject the idea that the public has a right to information. It is really as simple as that. And it cuts across the board – politicians, civil servants, etc.

Somehow we have to convince them otherwise.

• What do you think? Send comments to lsmith@tribunemedia.net or visit www.bahamapundit.com

Read original article here