Archive | November, 2017

Environmentalists Decry South Cat Cay Development, Document Lack of Marine Protection ‘Before our very eyes’

Inadequate silt barriers allow disturbed sand and silt to float over open waters, smothering coral reefs and suffocating the life that depends upon the habitat, potentially endangering grouper, hogfish and reef species and upsetting the full eco-cycle in a fragile eco-system. The above image was taken from a small plane flying over a development underway at South Cat Cay in the northern Bahamas. Environmentalists from three groups want to know where are those who are supposed to be protecting the marine environment of The Bahamas? They fear the project will mirror the tragedies of nearby Bimini where world-famous dive sites were destroyed by a massive dredger to make way for a cruise ship dock. The cruise ship does not call on Bimini anymore and more than 150 people have been laid off from their jobs at the resort it was intended to serve.

A small plane circled slowly, flying over the blue-green waters of the northern Bahamas. It should have been a day of sightseeing, photographing an island under carefully managed development with its fragile marine resources protected as the gems that will lure those who will eventually visit, live there or leave their yachts.

Instead, what they saw as they flew over South Cat Cay sent chills down their spines and cries of outrage and despair from their hearts. The group in the plane included representatives from Save Our Home, a Bimini-based organization, Save The Bays and Waterkeepers Bahamas.

Save The Bays Chairman Joe Darville said what he saw convinced him more than ever of the urgency of creating comprehensive environmental protection legislation and placing an environmental watchdog on every project.

“It takes hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years to create coral reefs and minutes with heavy equipment to destroy it,” said Darville. “We are pleading, not asking, pleading with the government. When will you listen? When will we begin to take these gifts that God gave us seriously and stop allowing uncaring people to eviscerate them in the name of progress? This is not progress. This is evil.” 

The story below is their story, in their words. Save Our Home wrote it at the close of their aerial and land inspection during early November 2017. Their words have not been edited. The introduction, they said, was gleaned from previously published reports:

In 2009, the Government of the Bahamas under PM (Hubert) Ingraham gave full environmental approval for the 85-acre privately owned South Cat Cay for an exclusive, high end, hospitality, and marina project. The project will comprise a 53 room five star branded boutique hotel with related amenities, 29 marina condo units, 37 residential units, a 137 slip marina, restaurants, shops and recreational facilities. This high-end resort will also include an upmarket residential community. 

During the course of construction in two phases, it is estimated that some 75 Bahamians will be employed, and upon completion and build out some 170 permanent jobs will be created. In addition to the $94 million capital investment by the developers, their economic impact assessment projects over $200 million in real estate sales over the first five years, which will significantly benefit government revenues, suppliers, and employment. The developer said the project will bring considerable benefit to Biminites in the form of employment and entrepreneurial opportunities generated by proposed retail space and excursions in the marina village. They said they plan to purchase Bimini built skiffs for bone-fishing excursions led by Bahamian guides. A Bahamian will operate a ferry service to and from Bimini; an artist in residence program will expose Bahamian artists to new techniques; a recording space will dedicate studio time for local musicians and local cooks will be provided with classical training. Additionally, a fund is being established for primary and secondary educational facilities in Bimini to further long-term environmental awareness. It is also proposed that a marine sanctuary will be created to the south-east of South Cat Cay to complement the educational initiative.

Dredging and infrastructure work is underway at South Cat Cay where a hotel and marina were approved for the 85-acre site under the former FNM government, but environmentalists want to know where is the protection for marine resources?

But there comes a point when you start to feel like it’s just Deja-vu, that we have heard all this before, been promised jobs for Biminites, been told the highest environmental impact studies are being adhered to, but the reality is, to those of us who live here, it’s all just “hot air” and what they think people want to hear to sell us another story of jobs, progress, and investment, but at what expense is the big question?

On Thursday, November 9 the Save Our Home-Bimini Environmental Activist group was invited along with members of the Save The Bays team and Waterkeepers Bahamas to fly over South Cat Cay and witness for ourselves what is really going on. Pictures and videos never lie and there before our very eyes was proof that the development is taking place as we speak, without the relevant silt barriers in place, the kind that actually work and contain the silt that is, properly installed without gaps and without proof of the silt drifting for miles. Memories of the same devastation at the hands of RW (Resorts World) Bimini in 2014 during the dredging of the cruise ship pier spring to mind, with the same ineffectual yellow silt curtains that within two weeks of being installed broke open, covering the ocean in drifting polystyrene and the beaches to this day, covered in yellow plastics. The cruise ship was rendered obsolete in a year. Meanwhile, we lost 12 main dive sites off the west coast of Bimini, smothered in silt, which suffocated the corals and partially buried the stones of Atlantis, sites that divers come from all over the world to see and that locals earn their living from in dive tours. Marine life dwindled to a point that some species are no longer seen in these waters.

In the past couple of weeks, more than one hundred Bahamians have been fired from RW, leaving people wondering if the resort is going bankrupt over rumors that they are losing in excess of $26,000 a day. And whilst the resort here in Bimini conjures images of a sinking ship, long predicted by those of us in the know due to the size of the development being too big for the infrastructure on such a small island, the Government is meanwhile playing out the same story all over again in South Cat Cay. 

Sand and silt from dredging and excavating on South Cat Cay can smother coral reefs and kill the life that depends on the marine habitat. Already, say representatives of three organizations that inspected the development site this week, the once plentiful sea turtles in the area are no more.

Large populations of turtles used to be seen on the cays around South Cat, just like they did offshore from RW Bimini. Now the water is so muddy with silt, nothing can be seen and in Bimini an annual Power Boat Grand Prix is organized around the very reefs that are home to turtles and sharks. 

Bimini and South Cat Cay has a blessing and curse, a blessing that it is at the top of the Bahamas chain and so brings an abundance of tourism to these shores, but a curse that successive governments seem to cash in on in taxes from such large-scale developments, none of which is seen invested back into the local communities. As Fred Smith QC has pointed out, until we have local governance and taxes made on these islands invested back into local community developments, instead of going into the countries capital never to be seen again, the family islands will continue to deteriorate and decline. 

One would think, that when heads of agreement come together, that a budget could be put in place with the developers to financially cover the employment of an on-site environmental advisor to monitor the development and provide weekly reports that all is in keeping with plans laid out, providing jobs for Bahamians and protecting our shores. Instead, developers seem to think they have carte blanche to do whatever they like while no one is watching. Accountability seems sadly lacking throughout the Bahamas development. At the end of the day, we are left with our natural resources ransacked and foreign developers pulling out, once the damage is already done. New legislation is needed putting the environment first in order to save one of the most beautiful parts of the world before it’s too late. With the Bahamas being such low lying islands and global warming and sea levels rising, it makes no sense not to put new environmental legislation at the top of the priorities list moving forward. 

Waterkeepers Bahamas Trains Volunteers to Test Waters for Swim Safety

Safe Swimming — Daniel and Peta Murray do practical assessment at Silver Point Beach, Grand Bahama, following a training session with Rashema Ingraham, Waterkeepers Bahamas Executive Director. The organization monitors waters at 16 public beaches around The Bahamas with conditions reported to and available on the international SwimGuide.org website.

Waterkeepers Bahamas Executive Director Rashema Ingraham spends hours at beaches in The Bahamas every week, but she isn’t splashing in the water, combing for shells or searching for treasure.

Ingraham is part of a team that tests water at 16 public beaches in The Bahamas on a regular basis. The monitoring is a partnership between Waterkeepers Bahamas and an international organization called Swim Guide that maintains an up-to-date beach and water condition report on 7,000 beaches around the world. Reports are available at SwimGuide.org.

With the agreement between Swim Guide and Waterkeepers Bahamas inked in August, the monitoring duties have been so time-consuming that Ingraham has had to ask for volunteers. This week, they began their training.

“Getting volunteers to hang out at the beach filling vials with water samples is not the most difficult task,” laughed Ingraham. “So while it sounds glamorous, once you start the work you appreciate how serious it is and how valuable a service you are performing.”

Ingraham, Grand Bahama Waterkeeper Joe Darville and Clifton Bay Southwest Bays Waterkeeper Fred Smith lead the local Swim Guide partnership. Testing is very time-sensitive. Collected samples are run through specialized equipment within an eight hours window of retrieval and uploaded on the SwimGuide website within 28 hours for public access. For an

Serious work where others play – Young Vernice Flores, a volunteer with Waterkeepers Bahamas Swim Guide program, is learning the skill of collecting water samples at Xanadu Beach. Looking on are Flores’ parents, Drs. Ryan Perez and Vermie Jean Florendo-Perez. Samples will be tested within three hours for feces and other bacteriological substances that could pose a risk to swimmers.

accurate comparison, every sample is collected at the same GPS coordinates as the previous one at every beach.

“Timing and scheduling can be challenging,” said Ingraham. “If one of us is in Nassau and we need to get back to the testing equipment in the office in Grand Bahama, we have to time our collections and our flights to the minute.”

The good news is that the beaches in The Bahamas that have been tested have never been found to pose health threats to swimmers that many others around the world do, leading to beach closed signs.  

“We have found traces of feces, usually after a storm or after a holiday when beaches are very crowded,” said Ingraham. “But most of our waters enjoy the excellent tidal flow and the tides and currents keep the waters surprisingly free of perils. We cannot say the same for beaches and mangroves which are not respected. We are a country that continues to litter and we should be ashamed of ourselves. That’s why it is so important to get the message across to boys and girls when they are young.”

Among the beaches monitored in New Providence are Jaws Beach, Montagu, Adelaide Beach, South Ocean and Coral Harbour.

Save The Bays Sympathizes with Resorts World Bimini Workers Following Lay-offs, Says Resort Suffered Damage after Developer Ignored Environmental Warnings

Environmental advocacy group Save The Bays expressed sympathy today for the 150 workers laid off from Resorts World Bimini just as the high season was set to start, but said construction of the resort and surrounding properties proceeded “full steam ahead despite repeated and stern warnings about its disregard for the natural environment and what the impact could be.”

Resorts World Bimini (RWB), which features a high-rise Hilton hotel, casino, and large marina, announced the layoffs

Three years after the 450-foot suction dredger M/V Niccolo Machiavelli (above) was retained by developers to dredge the North Bimini bay to clear the way for a 1,000 ferry dock to serve the casino and hotel under construction, the ferry is no longer in service, several of the world’s most precious coral reefs were destroyed and on Wednesday, Resorts World Bimini announced it was laying off 150 workers. The company blamed it on ongoing hurricane repairs and storm-related declines in visitor numbers. Save The Bays reports that developers ignored local and international advice, pleadings and warnings that could have prevented the environmental degradation of the fragile, low-lying island and its marine resources.

 Wednesday, blaming it on the damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma with the company’s president Missy Lawrence claiming a hurricane-induced dramatic drop in tourism across the region.

Her comments came a week after one Exuma resort report, Grand Isle Villas on Emerald Bay, said it just experienced its second consecutive record year with occupancy rates higher than ever, more than triple what they were four years ago. Romora Bay on Harbour Island reported similarly positive results, saying both its small hotel and active marina had enjoyed their best season ever.

“Whatever the real reason for the lay-offs is, our sympathy lies with the workers who should have been looking forward to more, not less, work at this time with the season just getting underway,” said Save The Bays Chairman Joe Darville. “Resort executives are blaming the lay-offs, which they call temporary, on weather-related events. No one takes pleasure in pointing a finger and saying we told you so, but we (STB) made numerous trips to Bimini at the request of concerned residents who witnessed outright disregard for the environment and worried about what the long-term impact would be if there were a strong storm.” Hurricane Irma struck in September, causing flooding and power outages in North Bimini. There was no loss of life. 

According to Darville and to residents, warnings about the effects of environmental damage went unheeded.

“As someone once said about another project, ‘They left out no mistake,’” said Darville. “Everything was out of proportion for a tiny island surrounded by coral reefs that were its main attraction and served as its protector breaking up the power of waves in storm conditions. Developers destroyed several of those world-famous reefs that had formed over thousands of years. They brought in a 450-foot destroyer barge that tore through precious coral reefs to dredge for a ferry to bring people in from Florida for day trips to gamble at the casino and return to Miami. Residents begged them to stop. Bimini Blue Coalition filed suit and won an injunction until they could prove they had permits. In the end, they built the massive 1,000-foot dock and the ferry began its service.”

But things did not turn out the way the developer, Genting, and operator, RWB, hoped. Ferry service ended in January 2016, a little more than two years after it began and following stops and starts attempting several versions of the excursion. 

In areas of North Bimini where residences were being built by the same company that developed RWB, local fishermen and small tour operators expressed shock when they saw concrete and garbage being dumped on mangroves, suffocating protected native species that serve as the habitats and nurseries for fish, conch, and crawfish. They protested, too, when they saw huge boulders yanked out that had acted as natural protection against oncoming waves, removed to make way for broader beaches. 

“No one who ever grew up in The Bahamas would remove protective rocks,” said Darville. “You can’t mess with Mother Nature.”

Local Biminites and Save The Bays were not alone in their concern.

A delegation of international conservationists visited Bimini and filed equally troubling reports of their findings.

“The Bahamas are some of the most beautiful and wonderful places in the world,” said Marydele O’Donnely, director of international policy for the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC). “I’ve traveled extensively and I have been absolutely amazed by how the habitat looks here. But when I see developments like what is happening in North Bimini I am not only alarmed and concerned but really saddened. Things have happened here that shouldn’t have happened. You can have development but you need to do it properly, and it hasn’t been done properly.”

Government representatives are scheduled to visit the island in the coming days to prepare their own assessment. That delegation will be led by Environment Minister Romauld Ferreira and Member of Parliament for West End and Bimini Pakeisha Parker Edgecombe.

Save The Bays Applauds Ragged Island Green Rebuild Plan ‘Most Progressive Measure in Region to Prepare for Climate Change’, Seeks Progress Report

Outspoken environmental advocacy and education organization Save The Bays today redoubled its support for the government’s plan to rebuild storm-ravaged Ragged Island with sustainable design and renewable energy sources, creating the first fully green island in the region.

“The Bahamas now has an opportunity to become a regional leader in mitigating against the effects of climate change with the initiative the Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis and his team of environmental engineers announced following their visit to Ragged Island, witnessing the devastation firsthand,” said Save The Bays Chairman Joe Darville.

That visit and the pledge that followed took place in September and Save The Bays said it is eager to learn of progress but remains hopeful that government was sincere.

“Our hearts go out to those in Ragged Island who weathered the storm either on the island or elsewhere and now have little left but their incredible pioneer spirit. We understand their pride when they say they lived a long time without government and they don’t need government to tell them they can or cannot return home and how they should build. But these times are not like the times of old. We live in a new age when the warming of the waters and rising seas are combining to create more powerful storms and potentially deadly storm surges. The Prime Minister and his team recognize that with virtually every single building on Ragged Island lashed by winds or devastated, now is the time to build right for the future.”

Save The Bays’ positive response came on the heels of the announcement by the Prime Minister that government wanted to evacuate remaining residents temporarily to allow crews to move in and clean up the destruction left by Hurricane Irma. The storm that made history for the length of its intense winds at more than 140 mph and for days at 180 smashed into the tiny 9-square mile island as a Category 5 and demolished everything in her path. The roof of the small schoolhouse was ripped off. All that remained of the teacher’s residence was a pile of wood planks. Not a single building was left unscathed. More than a week later, there is no electricity or power. There is great fear of disease. Carcasses of animals killed by the storm remain.

Clearing it all away will spell the beginning of a new life for Ragged Island, says the current government and Chester Cooper, Opposition Member of Parliament for Exuma and Ragged Island, agrees.

“If they are able to do as they say and create coastal zones that require a different building code including structures that are substantially higher off the ground to allow water to flow through in case of a storm surge, and if they use all renewable sources of energy, Ragged Island can become a model for sustainable development in the face of climate change,” said Darville, a certified climate change leader who trained under former US Vice President Al Gore who first brought climate change to the attention of a public that did not want to believe the reality that would be facing them in generations to come.

Minister of Environment Romauld ‘Romi’ Ferreira, a veteran environmental attorney, and consultant, also fully supports the plan.

“We can no longer continue to put hydro and electric on these flood-prone, low-lying coastal islands and expect them to survive the conditions that climate change will dictate,” said Ferreira. “What happened in Ragged Island is heartbreaking but sometimes it takes a tragedy to make us look at things with new eyes and a fresh perspective. This is a golden opportunity to rebuild and get it right. Ragged Island could become the model.”