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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.

SUPREME COURT RULES ON APPLICATION FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW

COMMONWEALTH OF THE BAHAMAS

IN THE SUPREME COURT
Public Law Division
PUB/JRV 0004 of 2015
JR4
IN THE MATTER OF AN APPLICATION FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW
Before:
Appearances:
Between
THE QUEEN
AND
MICHAEL MAJOR
(in his capacity as the Director of Physical Planning)
Respondent
Ex Parte Coalition to Protect Clifton Bay
Applicant
The Hon. Madam Justice Rhonda P. Bain
Mr. Frederick R. Smith, QC with Mr. Romauld
Ferriera, Mr. Roderick Dawson Malone, Mr.
Martin Lundy II for the Applicant
Mr. Wayne Munroe, QC with Mr. David Higgins
and Ms. Adelma Roach, Ms. Anastasia Hepburn,
Mr. Clinton Clarke Jr. and Ms. Tommel Roker for
the Respondent

Mr. Damien Gomez, QC and Ms. Gia Moxey for
Peter Nygard, an Affected Person
Mr. Leif Farquharson and Mr. John Minnis for the
103 Neighbours, Affected Persons
21 & 22 March 2017
Ruling No. 2

 

CLICK HERE  to read the full judgment!

 

 

Waterkeepers Bahamas Urges Government Not to Shorten Closed Season for Grouper

Climate change already adding more threat to survival of endangered species, says environmental advocacy group

 

Waterkeepers Bahamas urges the government not to shorten the closed season for Nassau grouper with the species already on the critically endangered list and marine ecologists reporting that the stock has declined between 70% and 90% in several historical locations in The Bahamas. (Photo courtesy of Grant Johnson – Shark Lab)

Waterkeepers Bahamas today expressed alarm over government’s announcement it was considering a plan to shorten the closed season for Nassau grouper, a critically endangered species already threatened by over-fishing and climate change.

“The Bahamas is one of the few places in the world where the Nassau grouper still survives,” said Waterkeepers Bahamas Executive Director Rashema Ingraham. “The species is on the IUCN Red List because it is critically endangered. It has been wiped out by overexploitation in far too many places where it was once plentiful and one of the reasons that it survives in The Bahamas despite fishing to satisfy the daily consumption demand is because there is a closed season that allows adult grouper to aggregate, spawn and reproduce. Without that legislated ‘safe’ time, we could be facing the same outcome resulting from mistakes other countries made and from which they are now trying to recover.”

Ingraham cites Cayman as an example.

In 2016, after suffering a major reduction and near loss of its once prolific Nassau grouper, Cayman enacted sweeping legislation, including a closed season from December through April, limiting the take to five a day per vessel and restricting the size to 16” – 24”.

Florida has enacted a total ban on the harvesting of both the Nassau grouper and mammoth grouper, also known as Jewfish.

Ingraham also cites international authorities who have studied Nassau grouper and other marine life in The Bahamas.

“Dr. Craig Dahlgren, a marine ecologist who works with the Perry Institute of Marine Science, said the most recent studies from The Bahamas indicate the abundance of Nassau grouper has declined over the past two decades between 70% and 90% in several historical locations,” said Ingraham. She added that Dahlgren found only two of six documented spawning aggregation sites in Long Island still active. And The Bahamas is one of the few remaining places in the world with active aggregate spawning sites. 

“In study after study, marine scientists and ecologists are finding the same thing – overfishing is the primary cause of the decline of Nassau grouper worldwide, resulting in far more of the threat to the survival of the species than natural disasters or marine environmental changes,” she said.

“Nassau grouper is the fish of The Bahamas. Ask any Bahamian what kind of fish he wants, ask any restaurant what the most popular fish is and the answer will invariably be grouper,” said Ingraham. “Imagine The Bahamas without Nassau grouper. That could very well be the case if we do not ensure a suitable closed season is enforced, a breathing space for the species and allow it to reproduce. Now, with climate change resulting in rising seas and warming sea temperatures threatening the health of coral reefs on which the grouper depends, the species is at even greater risk.”

Ingraham’s comments came on the heels of remarks by the Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Renward Wells that the government was considering reducing the period of the closed season that now runs from the first of December through the end of February. The remarks drew immediate reaction from the Bahamas National Trust and others.

“In December of 2014 when the government instituted a fixed closed season rather than having to debate and set the policy every year, there was a great sigh of relief,” said Joe Darville, Chairman of Save The Bays and Grand Bahama Coastal Waterkeeper. “Organisations like the Moore Bahamas Foundation and BREEF rushed to thank the government for its foresight when that legislation was passed. It is hard to believe, in fact, I had to read the headlines twice because I thought I must have misunderstood, that the government would now be thinking about moving backward when we were gaining. Just look at what is happening in the crawfish industry. Since the Defence Force has been patrolling the more remote southern islands with the Sandy Bottom Project, doing a good job keeping poachers at bay, and with the closed season that is harder to violate because of the stepped up patrols, the fishermen who go after crawfish are saying they are having the best season in years.”

Both Waterkeepers Bahamas and Save The Bays urge the government to maintain the current fixed closed season and monitor the Nassau grouper population carefully, ready to act if the season has to be extended.

“The fishermen who are asking for a shorter closed season could soon be asking a different question if we do not give the Nassau grouper a chance to reproduce,” said Darville. “They could be asking ‘Where did all the fish go?’ Let us not be greedy now and sorry later.” 

Save The Bays 2nd Camp Eco-Explorer Week Treats Younger Campers to Environmental Treasures and Secret Places

Campers all over the world ride horses, swim and eat S’mores by an open fire, but at one camp in Grand Bahama youngsters got to hang out with fish, mangroves, reef balls and sting rays. They were the dozen lucky enough to take part in the second session of Camp Eco-Explorer.

Sponsored and run by Save The Bays in partnership with Waterkeepers Bahamas along with volunteers like Elfsworth Weirm Grand Bahama Park Warden at Bahamas National Trust (BNT), Keith and Linda Cooper of West End Ecology Tours and Barry Smith at Paradise Cove, the week-long Eco-Explorer camp allowed children ages 7-11 to study and feed sting rays, explore mangroves, wetlands, and pine forests and learn about deforestation from salt water intrusion caused by hurricanes and storm surges. 

“We went where most kids on Grand Bahama will never go, to The Gap, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pXU7UlTCG8),” said camp co-director Rashema Ingraham, referring to an expanse of wetlands intertwined with fresh water tributaries and flats, home to tarp and bonefish and waters so clear you can read the date on a coin on the bottom. The area, a cornucopia of tropical wonders, has been identified as a national park and is maintained by the Bahamas National Trust. 

For Tafari Fountain, a fifth grader at Freeport Gospel Chapel School, no amount of S’mores could begin to compare with feeding stingrays. “We went on many adventures but my favorite was at Paradise Cove where we got to snorkel and get a close look at the beautiful fish in our waters. The most memorable activity was learning how to hold pilchards when feeding stingrays,” she said.

“Everywhere we went, the campers brought a youthful curiosity that was such a joy to see,” said Ingraham, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Bahamas. “You could see that when they first saw an animal or a fish of any size, there would be a little bit of fear and then as they swam with them or got to learn more about the animal the fear would be transformed into wonder.” This is the second year Waterkeepers Bahamas and Save The Bays partnered to host the camps, the first week for older campers, the second for younger.

 

 

Save The Bays, Waterkeepers Graduate 12 Happy Campers after Intensive Week-long ‘Everything Water’ Learning Experience

They swam, snorkeled, recorded, reported and studied the marine environment and by the end of the week, 12 teens from Grand Bahama had a new respect for the waters around them and the critical role water plays in sustaining life on the planet.

The students were the dedicated dozen who qualified for Camp Eco-Explorer.

It was the second year that environmental advocacy organisations Save The Bays and Waterkeepers Bahamas offered the camp. This year’s first session, held under the theme Everything Water, was earmarked for 11-15-year-olds, the coming week beginning August 8 is for younger students. Both focus on the connectivity of elements that together create life-giving ecosystems. 

“This was the best camp experience ever,” said Waterkeepers Bahamas Executive Director Rashema Ingraham. “We embraced camp activities like team-building, information-gathering and field trips and placed them against the backdrop of some of the most breathtaking waters in the world.”

Campers snorkeled on coral reefs alive with vibrant colours and teeming with tropical fish. They examined reefs for damage, debris and detritus. They studied mangroves and learned the importance of wetlands as nurseries for immature fish, conch and crawfish as well as buffers protecting shorelines against storm surges. They visited Owl’s Blue Hole, learned about the mythical creature Lusca, went to Ben’s Cave and the Burial Mound at the Lucayan National Park to observe marine life in a freshwater setting. They examined how man-made structures on shore impact marine life and studied the differences between fresh, salt and brackish water. They kayaked from mangroves to tip of the ocean. 

“This was the kind of camp experience that happens once in a lifetime and creates memories that last a lifetime,” said Joe Darville, Save The Bays Chairman. “The kids had a ball. More importantly they came away with such profound feelings about how important it is to protect our waters and the marine life they support.”

Days began in a classroom and ended with production of a poster summing up lessons learned during hands-on experiences. Kellon Albury and Anaiya Armbrister were honored with Most Outstanding Boy and Girl Campers. Local yoga instructor LaKrista Strachan led students in yoga and breathing exercises, reinforcing the connectivity theme.

“I shared with them how important Mother Earth is to us. The trees give us oxygen and we reciprocate with carbon dioxide.,” said Ms. Strachan. “Once they started to tune in to the sounds around them such as the waves crashing on the shore, or the birds singing in the trees they were able to relax.” 

“You could see the progress of their thoughts,” said Ms. Ingraham, “as the quality of their posters with action messages got better every day. We now have 12 more ambassadors for the marine environment who, we hope, will inspire others to protect the beauty of our Bahamian waters and treasure the memories of their Camp Eco-Explorer experiences.”

 

Beach, water conditions at your fingertips, thanks to new monitoring service by Save The Bays, WaterKeepers Bahamas

Thinking about a swim? There’s an app for that. For the past two months, Save The Bays and Waterkeepers Bahamas have been monitoring 16 beaches on New Providence, Grand Bahama and Bimini, collecting and testing water samples to check for bacteria and ensure safe swimming conditions and shoreline activities.

            The testing and reporting are part of an international program known as Swim Guide, produced by an organization that provides information on 7,000 fresh water and marine beaches in New Zealand, Canada, the U.S., Mexico, and now The Bahamas. The information it shares ranges from historic perspective on weather, tides, water quality and conditions to current levels of Enterecoccus (bacteria). In some places where there are specific issues, swim guide tests for sewage pollution as it does at a popular beach where the water is no longer fishable in Canada.

“We couldn’t be more excited to announce that, thanks to Save the Bays and Waterkeepers Bahamas, recreational water quality information for the Bahamas is now available to the public. The Bahamas is the fifth country to join Swim Guide. And Waterkeepers Bahamas and Save the Bays are our first Swim Guide affiliate in the Bahamas,” said Gabrielle Parent-Doliver, Swim Guide editor. “Thanks to their work, Swim Guide users have access to information about the quality of the water in the Bahamas. Their sampling program is critical providing the public with information about the quality of the waters, which will allow them to take precautions to protect their health when water is contaminated.”

According to Waterkeepers Bahamas Executive Director Rashema Ingraham, the testing has been smooth, revealing healthy conditions in those beaches tested to date.

“What makes the swim guide site or app so helpful is that the information is real time up to date,” said ingraham. “I posted sample results from the main beach at Alice Town, Bimini at 3:37 today, about an hour ago, so people can see how current it is. If the water sample is more than seven days old, instead of a green icon meaning it’s safe to jump in or eat the fish from that water, it will have a gray icon indicating test results are too old to be useful. There will also be a place where you can easily see if the waters on that beach have passed the safety test 95% of the time.”

Chairman of Save The Bays Joe Darville believes the monitoring service should be an asset for The Bahamas and an aid for officials.

“Both the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Health will be able to benefit from our regular testing which has to be done every week with samples run through the lab equipment that we maintain,” said Darville. “We will be pleased to share the results with officials and we are honoured that Save The Bays and Waterkeepers Bahamas were selected as the official monitoring and reporting organisations. This makes The Bahamas the only country in the region that can say it reports on the safety of its waters on 16 of its most popular beaches every week. And we would not be able to do this without the network of volunteers we have, including the cadets who have graduated from our marine environmental programs in Grand Bahama.”

Along with a description about the individual beaches and any threatening weather conditions that could impact recreational activities, the reporting shows safety or warning based on Enterococcus count per 100 ml water. Too high a count can lead to a variety of infections including urinary tract infections, bacteremia, endocarditis, and meningitis. Results are posted on swimguide.org and on Save The Bays website and Waterkeepers.org.

A complete list of the beaches being monitored is available on any of the three sites or on any of the three organisations’ Facebook pages. 

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 242News.com, 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.”