Archive | July, 2017

Waterkeepers Bahamas Hosts Splashmania 1st Ever Event in Bahamas Pits Powerful Paddlers Against Sea in Fun Races

It was a first of its kind and it was hard to tell which was louder – the plop-pop of the paddles or the laughter of the racers.

Organized and hosted by Waterkeepers Bahamas, the event was called Splashmania and like the name implies it was a perfect excuse for spending a day at the beach. 

“When you are a child, going to the beach is just about as good as life gets. As we get older and responsibilities weigh us down, sometimes we need a little reminder about why we live in The Bahamas and love the water so much,” said Rashema Ingraham, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Bahamas. “Hosting an event like Splashmania helps put us back in touch with the wonders of our waters and that is in line with what Waterkeepers represents which is to make our waters fishable, swimmable and drinkable.”

According to Ingraham, the turnout at Manta Ray Village on Williams Town Beach was better than expected.

“We had about 20 races, covering individual and team races, and indeed all participants really came to enjoy the fun,” said Ingraham, who heads the local affiliate of an international alliance that operates largely with volunteer monitors. On six continents, thousands of volunteers and limited staff monitor, test, assess and report conditions of their oceans, rivers, lakes, ponds and streams. The Bahamas has three affiliate Waterkeepers of the 300 in the global alliance – Grand Bahama, Clifton- Western Bays, and Bimini.

Races were broken down by age and distance with Kaylee Murray, 8, and Tafari Fountain, 10, taking top place honours in the youngest category. In the teen group, Tristan Rampersaude, 15, went the distance alone to come in first as did attorney K. Brian Hanna in the men’s division. In women’s, it was the tandem duo of Gayla McPhee and Naisha Russell who power-paddled their way to a trophy. Michael Flowers powered his way to Best of the Best while K. Brian Hanna and team earned a second trophy for corporate group and the Grand Bahama Sailing Club won the civic and service organization category. 

“We couldn’t have done this without the support of all our sponsors I want to give special thanks to Manta Ray Village and Restaurant, Grand Bahama Nature Tours and Freeport Aquatics Club,” said Ingraham. “Between those sponsors, they provided the venue, all the kayaks, paddles and vests and the buoys and all the race materials we needed.”

Other sponsors included ALIV, Barefoot Marketing and, Bellevue Business Depot, Fast Track Management, Kosha Ltd., Mechanical Engineering, Ocean Reef Yacht Club, Out da Sea Restaurant, Rotaract Club of Freeport, Pelican Bay Resort, Save The Bays, Subway Freeport and the YMCA Grand Bahama.

Waterkeepers Bahamas and Save The Bays partner in several water-related activities including helping to sponsor the learn to swim programs at the YMCA Grand Bahama and the Freeport Aquatics Club.              

March, Flotilla Demonstration Set for Bimini Residents, Boaters Say ‘No’ to Golf Course, Demand Marine Reserve

Bimini residents supported by an international flotilla of boats are expected to turn out for what they are promising will be the largest demonstration in Bimini’s history, a ‘Save Bimini’ march and peaceful demonstration this week to urge creation of a long-promised marine protected area and denial of any plans to allow a resort development to build a golf course.

The scheduled demonstration is the culmination of what organizers are calling “20 years of broken promises.” Their online petition has already garnered more than 750 signatures and respected names from Dr. Guy Harvey to the influential international dive association based in California have backed their pleas for a marine sanctuary. 

“For 20 years we have been promised that Bimini would be protected. For 20 years, we have been promised that a North Bimini Marine Reserve would be legislated. Instead we all have gotten is more unfettered and wanton destruction of our fragile environment,” say those united under the title of Save Our Home, Bimini, an island in the northern Bahamas known for its spectacular dive sites and unparalleled fishing. 

That diving and Bimini’s fishing were severely impacted in 2014 when Resorts World Bimini, despite protests from around the world and a legal action, began dredging, tearing up thousands of year-old coral reef formations to make way for a 1,000-foot pier. A little more than a year later, the pier was abandoned, the ferry it was built to accommodate no longer making the trip from Florida. 

It was at the start of dredging the non-profit DEMA, Diving Equipment and Marketing Association, in San Diego, took notice and joined the voices urging government not to allow the dredging to take place. DEMA’s Executive Director Tom Ingram said the dredging of 220,000 cubic yards of seafloor at the heart of Bimini’s pristine reef system to accommodate a resort’s cruise ship ferry could ruin what is a “recreational diving jewel” of The Bahamas.

He strongly urged the government to look carefully at the project before allowing it to move forward, even as a 450-foot mammoth dredger began the excavation.

“A very real concern to DEMA and to all diving businesses – especially those based in nearby Florida ­– is the fact that any environmental degradation, especially of the magnitude being described in the North Bimini Ferry Terminal Project EIA and its addendum, is likely to have a negative impact on the perception of pristine diving which Bimini now holds in the minds of diving consumers,” Ingram said.

At the same time, world renowned marine artist, scientist and conservationist Dr. Guy Harvey pleaded to protect Bimini’s marine resources, which he said his foundation’s research showed played an important role in the life cycle of the Atlantic Ocean.

“The islands of Bimini are an environmental gem and every step should be taken to conserve these resources,” Dr. Guy Harvey wrote.

His words also fell on deaf ears.

According to Save Our Home, Bimini, there are too many unanswered questions about why, they say, Bimini’s marine life was left unprotected when it was intended to be the top priority.

“With the establishment of 18 new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) being hailed as an important victory in the ongoing fight to protect the unique ecological heritage of The Bahamas, why then, was one of the 19 proposed MPAs, specifically the North Bimini Marine Protected Area (NBMR), omitted from the designation?” the group asks.

“In January of 2000, North Bimini was listed as the “HIGHEST PRIORITY” site in the entire country for an MPA. North Bimini, along with 4 other sites, were deemed as the first 5 MPA’s to be established, and the goal was to have all 5 of these sites fully protected by 2002.

“In January of 2009, a Town Meeting was held at the Bimini All Age School to discuss Bimini’s MPA and the findings of the recently finished Black & Veatch report, which summarized the past and current scope of the Bimini Bay Project (now Resorts World Bimini). During this meeting, Phillip Weech from the BEST Commission announced to the people in attendance that the NBMR had been officially declared. There were over 100 people in attendance, and the meeting was widely publicized in national and international media outlets. The declaration of the NBMR was reported in media outlets ranging from National Geographic to the Washington Post, and many, many others. During this meeting, it was also clearly stated that a golf course would not be allowed to go forward. In discussing the golf course after the meeting, it was widely referred to as a “dead issue.”

The group said declaring the marine reserve was an important step, but meaningless unless it was enacted into legislation.

“From November, 2012 to the present, dozens and dozens of emails and letters have been sent to Minister (Obediah) Wilchcombe, Minister (Kenred) Dorsett, and Minister V. Alfred Gray concerning this matter, yet none of them have offered any information or answers in return. During this time, the golf course has also reappeared in the marketing for Resorts World Bimini and is said to have been given the “green light” to go ahead by the Government. 

“The importance of the NBMR is something that has really never been doubted or in question. It not only will serve to replenish and maintain conch, lobster and fish stocks around Bimini and the Northern Bahamas, but it will also serve as the very foundation for Bimini’s entire tourism industry, which revolves around the island’s healthy waters and marine ecosystems.

“The rules of the NBMR have already been announced, and will allow for Catch-and-Release Bonefishing by Bimini’s Licensed Guides, and also the harvesting of Land Crabs in and around the East Bimini area. For all other fisheries products, the NBMR will be a “no take” zone. The NBMR will also help maintain the ecological integrity of Bimini’s reefs and surrounding waterways, and protect the habitats therein.”

Organizers also say the local district council supports the North Bimini Marine Reserve as do all but one of Bimini’s hotels.

Unsurprisingly, only Resorts World Bimini has not officially stated their support,” they say.

“So why was the North Bimini Marine Protected Area the only MPA that was NOT approved for implementation by the Government of the Bahamas? Because RAV Bahamas and the new Resorts World Bimini development want to create a golf course on one of North Bimini’s last remaining mangrove wetlands, despite being explicitly told back in 2009 that this would not be allowed.

The previous Government refuses to stand up for the stakeholders here on Bimini, and has ignored all requests for information about the NBMR in recent months. Meanwhile, RWB has unleashed additional reckless development projects on the island, which include further


Record Number Turn out for Town Hall Meeting, Decry Bimini Environmental Damage, Urge Marine Protected Area Legislation

A crowd reported to be the largest in Bimini’s history for a public meeting turned out for a town hall organized by locals who sought support from Save The Bays and Waterkeepers Bahamas to crystallize the urgency of enacting the already declared North Bimini Marine Reserve in the face of ongoing environmental damage that could take hundreds of years to repair and restore.

A crowd estimated to be the largest ever to gather for a public meeting in Bimini packed a school auditorium last week, many passionately decrying what they described as environmental devastation threatening to erode fish populations, wipe out endangered species and suffocate the island’s famous coral reefs and critical wetlands.  

A few in the highly charged audience claimed the resort, casino and residential development in North Bimini that is being blamed for the damage created jobs. Most shouted the consequences were too great. They cited world-famous coral reefs clobbered or choked by sediment during dredging for a 1,000-foot pier that a year after its construction sits unused. They pointed to materials they could not identify strangling mangroves. They spoke of 163 acres of wetlands smothered by waste and in places what appears to be cement. 
The meeting, called by locals who asked environmental advocacy groups Save The Bays and Waterkeepers Bahamas to assist, tackled unsustainable development, the need for true local government and the repeated call for legislation to enact the North Bimini Marine Reserve. 
Perhaps more importantly, it crystallized a devotion to Bimini’s famed waters and reefs among locals and visitors to whom Bimini is a second home, several of whom traveled to the island just for the meeting.
“What this meeting should be about is the legislation for the North Bimini Marine Reserve (NBMR),” said Neal Watson II, whose family has been leading dive tours in Bimini for nearly 50 years. “I don’t think there is anyone here tonight who does not agree. Going forward, the clear discussion should be: Where is it, what is it and what are the rules?” Watson traced the history of promises of a marine reserve back to the 1980s when the Bahamas Dive Association first called for it. By 1999, it had official attention and between 2008 and 2009, government announced the declaration of the North Bimini Marine Reserve with the news receiving wide local and international attention, but no legislation followed. Nearly a decade later, that declaration remained just that – lacking the legislation to create it that would include boundaries, policy, rules and regulations.  
“Right now, globally, 50% of the reefs are gone, 50% of the mangroves are gone, 50% of the forests are gone, more than 50% of fresh water is gone,” said environmentalist Sam Duncombe, urging Bimini to protect its remaining reefs and the mangroves. “When you bring in the green economy, when you make a living because you are taking your visitors to places of natural beauty, you are preserving what is giving you that money, the beauty that those visitors came to see and enjoy. You are allowing future generations to live on that.”
Duncombe’s words fell on wide open eyes following the viewing of a video by Switzerland-based Save Our Seas that painted a real time picture of the waters and marine life, the dredging and destruction, the mangling of the mangroves.
One woman said she attended the meeting because she was scared that the Bimini she fell in love with for its beauty was being compromised.
“I thought Bali was the most beautiful place in the world and then I saw Bimini,” she said.
“We feel Bimini is at a critical place right now,” said Jenny Cook, who spearheaded the organization of the meeting. Cook, who operates a yoga retreat and conducts tours to swim with dolphins in the wild, said the meeting represented “a new beginning.”
For Waterkeepers Bahamas Executive Director Rashema Ingraham who lives in Grand Bahama, the meeting had special meeting. Her family hails from Bimini and relatives were among those begging to save the waters that drew about 50,000 visitors a year to the islands in the northern Bahamas before a sophisticated high rise Hilton, megayacht marina and gambling came to the island. Her welcome remarks hit home with many.
“These gems, called the Bimini islands, have a special place in history. The natural beauty, captivating mangroves forests, colourful dive sites – the magnificent and diverse marine species, have touched the hearts of Ernest Hemingway, Martin Luther King II. There is no mistake that Emmanuel Francis, Alexander Weech, Benjamin Saunders and George Levarity have all, in days of old, made Bimini their home.  Here, making a living and feeding their families because of the abundant blessings from the waters surrounding us.
“The bayside to the East, the Oceanside to the West, meeting together by waves – giving Bimini life.  Precious life, sacred life, abundant life, harmonious life. Tonight, let’s remember the memories of Captain Manny Rolle, Captain Bob Smith & Bob Gladden. Let’s remember Bonefish Ray Pritchard and Rudy Dames and of course Bonefish Ansil Saunders and my dear Cyril Saunders.
Let’s remember all before us, and those after us as we work towards HISTORY – his-story, her-story, your story – OUR STORY that respects and appreciates the magnificence of the natural, tranquil but complex systems of the islands of Bimini.
“Words, pictures, videos, voices, emotions, passion, curiosity, perseverance HOPE but no fear emits from us all.  This is the NEW BEGINNING. The African Proverb says “If you want to go somewhere fast, go alone.  If you want to go somewhere far, go together.”  We are going together, working together – to SAVE OUR HOME.
According to Cardinal Bain, too much has already changed. 
“The time right now is critical. I remember Bimini back then as a tropical paradise,” said Bain. “Fast forward. There are no birds left. No butterflies. I haven’t seen a butterfly in two years. The sea turtles have diseases. There’s no sand on the beaches. There’s beach erosion. The waters of our island are not as clear as they used to be. Fifty percent of the mangroves have been ripped up for development.”  
Resorts World Bimini spokesperson Michelle Malcolm attended the meeting along with other representatives from RWB, RAV and related companies. Malcolm insisted that much of the damage being discussed was not the fault of Resorts World, but when the dredging issue for the 1,000-foot pier was raised, she said, “What happened, happened,” and indicated that Resorts World wanted to move on and develop better relationships with more dialogue with locals, one of whom immediately spoke of promises in abeyance.
“What we are calling for is for Mr. Capo to carry out the promises he made legally… in Phase One for a new school, new water plant, new fire truck, an expanded and improved clinic,” said one participant who called for a halt to construction to allow time for assessment.  
Now, many fear that the plans for a golf course will go through.
“What I know is that I been a fisherman all my life,” said Denver Stuart. “Tourists ain’t really coming here to gamble because they have the same from state to state in the U.S. They ain’t come here for the Hilton. They tell me that. They coming here for the fresh conch, the fresh fish, the clean waters and all the marine life we have that is available for them to snorkel or to scuba.” 
Stuart said the thousands of shrimp that lined the coast a few years ago had now all but vanished, their habitat in the wetlands devastated by concrete and other waste covering the mangroves.
Speaker after speaker spoke of dramatic changes.
“Bimini has 300 years of history, now we have to put sea walls where they were never needed before,” said Aaron Franklin Smith.
Clifton-Western Bays Waterkeeper and Director of Legal Affairs for Save The Bays Fred Smith, QC, declared the root of the problem went beyond environmental impact to how decisions were made.
“The big challenge that Bimini has and all the islands of The Bahamas face is that the government in Nassau runs the country. It is called the Commonwealth of The Bahamas islands, not the Commonwealth of Nassau,” said Smith. “Nassau needs to experience the power of the people. I can feel the frustration, I can feel the anger, I can feel the disgust, I can feel the hope. You should not have be talking to the (Cabinet) minister about whether or not you should have a park. Save The Bays is not against development. We never have been. We need true local government in The Bahamas.”    
Save The Bays had begun legal action on behalf of Bimini Blue Coalition but that action came to a dramatic halt when the government filed a motion to place a $600,000 security for costs for the case to move forward.
Speaking to a standing room only crowd at the close of the two-hour, sometimes volatile meeting, Save The Bays Chairman Joe Darville pleaded with Biminites and those who flew or boated in for the meeting to stand up for what they believe in.
“Contact the Minister of Environment and Housing, or your MP, let your local government representatives know Bimini is our home and our voices will be heard.”