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
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.