By AZALETA ISHMAEL-NEWRY
THE island of Eleuthera is becoming an important economic hub and environmentalists say the sale of a large parcel of land at the southern tip, known as Lighthouse Point, requires close examination.
The spot has the one of the best beaches in the Bahamas and untouched land where habitats, important scientific research and artifacts lay, they said.
The One Eleuthera Foundation’s petition to “Save Lighthouse Point” and its surrounding areas that make up 720 acres has gained local and international attention.
The petition garnered 1,600 signatures within one month on the One Eleuthera Foundation’s Facebook page.
And, while Prime Minister Perry Christie has mentioned the petition in the House of Parliament, more action needs to take place to save the land from the wrong kind of development – like a gated community or mega resort – the group said.
Prominent Bahamians, ordinary citizens and foreigners have signed the Lighthouse Point (LHP) petition, which states: “Archaeological and scientific findings have been significant and as reported this place is considered to be one of the most important, unexplored archaeological and scientific sites in the Bahamas.”
The nearby Millars Slave Plantation has artefacts that date back to the early 1780s and traces of the Lucayans can be found in the ruins of old Bannerman town and at Lighthouse Point, the group said.
“The Bahamas is an ecological paradise on Earth and there are only a few ecosystems like this (Lighthouse Point) that remain,” said the Foundation in a statement.
The natural beauty of LHP is powerful and one student said she “Felt in touch with God” during her visit there.
Errol McPhee, who hails from nearby Bannerman Town and signed the petition, said: “There were many major developments on Eleuthera and as economic hard times came upon us, the investors left. It is time for eco-friendly investments that will include the residents and descendants of Eleuthera.”
Although the One Eleuthera Foundation is at the helm of this fight, it is the Eleuthera Land Conservancy (ELC), a non-profit organisation that works towards the protection of Eleuthera’s terrestrial and marine resources, that is raising money to purchase Lighthouse Point.
Others that support the cause include: the Nature Conservancy, the Bahamas National Trust, the Island School, and BREEF.
“We want successful, sustainable and responsible development in Eleuthera and I think our Prime Minister understands this,” said Shaun Ingraham, the CEO and founder of the One Eleuthera Foundation. “We would also like a natural park established so that Bahamians and visitors can enjoy the space. Much like Clifton, we should have a Lighthouse Point National Heritage Park.”
In 2009, Professor Pieter T Vissher of the Marine Sciences Department at the University of Connecticut and a group of scientists wrote a letter to the former government advising of the grave implications of misguided development.
Dr Vissher along with other scientists from the US, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland have 60 years of research experience and authorship on several hundreds of scientific papers as well as over $20 million in combined research.
In his letter, Dr Vissher wrote: “Lighthouse Point on Eleuthera could possibly turn into a construction site that will alter the surrounding coral reefs, beaches and perhaps most importantly, the hyper-saline lake (Big Pond) near Bannerman Town.
“Granted economic development is critical in securing jobs, improving infrastructure, et cetera, but at what cost? We hope that a development can be designed using the unique ecological properties of Lighthouse Point while preserving the scientific integrity of Big Pond so that the Bahamian people will retain this for generations to come.
“Big Pond harbors many answers about the origin of life, climate change (that is recorded in the layered sediments at Big Pond), and even offers windows in deeply routed medical research questions. The ecosystems are similar to the earliest life forms we know on Earth, going back three billion years.
If ever we want to unlock the secrets of what happened to life, and to our planet over the billions of years that shaped it, we need systems like Big Pond.
“Survival of the sediment ecosystems could lead to the discovery of new chemicals, potentially with medical applications like antibiotics. Space scientists at NASA also helped sponsor research at Big Pond and they believe that the mud of Big Pond will help in interpreting rocks on Mars and beyond.”
Another important commitment to preserving Lighthouse Point and the Big Pond area lies in the Caribbean Challenge Initiative (CCI), which the government signed, committing to protect 20 per cent of the marine and coastal habitats by 2020.
The Nature Conservancy has invested $20 million in return for a commitment from the 10 Caribbean countries to support and manage new and existing protected areas.
Under the CCI, the Bahamas expanded Andros West Side National Park from 185,032 acres to 1,288,167 acres to protect creek, mud flats, sand flats and mangrove forests that are important habitats used by elusive bone fish and tarpon during their life cycles.
There are still no designated conservation areas on Eleuthera.
On April 20, executive director of the Bahamas National Trust, Eric Carey tweeted, “BNT Council passes Resolution supporting protection of Lighthouse Point. Strong message. Hands off Mr unsustainable developer!”
The zoning bylaw for such land: “Prohibits any use of land and the erecting, locating or use of any buildings or structures on land (ii) that contains a sensitive ground water feature or a sensitive surface water feature; Prohibits any use of land and the erecting, location or use of any buildings or structures within any area defined as – (i) a significant wildlife habitat, wetland, woodland or area of natural or scientific interest or (iii) archaeological resource.”
Shaun Ingraham said, “Eleuthera is losing a lot of its recreational areas to construction and Lighthouse Point may be one of them.”
Once purchased and appropriate sites protected, development would follow, the group said. But this would comprise low impact and compact waterfront models, according to a plan known as “A Shared Vision”.
The plans include easy access for visitors and jobs for the local community, including work for construction workers, cooks, landscapers, scuba divers, fishermen, maids and tour guides.
Entrepreneurial opportunities would exist for those who rent out boats, bikes or scooters, the Foundations said.
The site would also feature local artisans who would show visitors a true heritage tourism experience.
The group asked that the government:
• Maintain the road as a crown road
• Maintain all public access to all beaches
•Protect Big Pond Under Section 23 (i) (e); (f) and (g) of the Planning and Sub-Division Act
• Declare a portion of the offshore areas as conservation area
• Make a monetary contribution to help purchase the land and establish infrastructure.
The One Eleuthera Foundation, a non-profit established one year ago, has completed many projects that improved healthcare, infrastructure on the island and created jobs.
They recently secured a $25,000 grant that helped refurbish Ocean Hole in Rock Sound and a $37,000 grant from the Susan G Komen Foundation to help promote awareness of and testing of breast cancer.
Since their start, the OEF has received $500,000 in direct or pass-through grants that benefit Eleuthera.
• For more, see today’s Business section.