By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Diving activities off southwestern New Providence have generated a $376 million economic impact over the past five years, a Bahamas National Trust (BNT) report has estimated, through attracting 70,000 visitors annually.
The report, submitted to the Government as part of a proposal to create a Marine Managed Area for southwest New Providence, said the location’s reputation as the ‘Underwater Hollywood’ when it came to film-making created “immeasurable” economic benefits for the Bahamas.
Apart from the James Bond movies, ‘Thunderball’ and ‘Never Say Never Again’, the BNT report detailed how southwest New Providence’s marine environment had played host to numerous movies and TV programmes since 1915.
Focusing on the work and economic benefits created by Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas, which has been using the area for film-making over the past 30 years, the BNT study said: “The worldwide publicity generated by these productions is nearly immeasurable, as the world has associated the waters off Nassau with healthy and abundant coral reefs and marine life.
“The economic impact of the film and TV production businesses alone on New Providence is estimated at over $5 million a year in direct expenditures in hotel room nights, food and beverage, transportation and other services rendered by local Bahamians for these production companies.”
Noting that Stuart Cove directly employed 125 Bahamian and international staff, the BNT report added: “These employees spend their payroll on local apartments, houses, at the grocery store, pubs, restaurants, etc, creating a yearly estimated economic impact of another $5.9 million from staff and the company’s expenditures locally.
“Furthermore, when the tourist expenditures are calculated, given almost 70,000 tourists either dive or snorkel the reefs off south-west New Providence, the direct expenditures of these tourists in the local hotels and restaurants are calculated at $64.3 million dollars a year (hotel, food and beverage, plus other vacation expenditures).”
Using figures generated by an economic impact study conducted by Cline Group, the BNT paper said the direct economic impact from Stuart Cove’s activities off south-west New Providence was $75.176 million per annum.
“This totals over $375 million over the last five years in direct economic impact to the south Western side of New Providence,” the BNT paper said.
“In addition, a study conducted by the Bahamas Diving Association in 2008 estimated that the shark diving industry in The Bahamas alone generates roughly $78 million a year in direct economic impact.”
Making its case for a Marine Managed Area, the BNT acknowledged that Bahamian national parks, especially marine parks, had been developed “as a result of serendipitous events” with little stakeholder input.
It said the plan for south-west New Providence aimed to change this, adopting a multi-user approach with the area zoned according to different activities.”
“Such zoning will continue to allow the general use of the area by each resource user, but encourage practices that will ensure the long-term continued use of the marine resources,” the BNT study said.
“For example, these zones will essentially be about managing competing resource uses and allow for uses including recreational fishing, shipping and tourism.
“The managed area will implement appropriate zoning to address issues such as overfishing, habitat damage and land-based impacts, as well as uses that conflict one another or are incompatible with marine protection.
“By enforcing existing fisheries regulations as part of the multi-zoning approach, it can minimise existing threats to the area and encourage the sustainable use of the marine resources in west New Providence.”
The BNT study said the “most significant potential conflict would be between fishermen, recreational non- consumptive activities, such as scuba diving, and the use of the area by charter boat companies and private boaters”.
It noted that the Clifton area was also a major transhipment point for receiving the Bahamas’ fuel and oil supplies, given the proximity of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation’s (BEC) Clifton Pier power plant and Commonwealth Brewery.
“The continued operation of these companies is vital to sustaining the quality of life for Bahamian residents,” the BNT study acknowledged.
“However, the implementation of environmentally-friendly best practices is as equally important for protecting the livelihood and quality of life for local residents.
“As such, the establishment of a marine area managed by the Bahamas National Trust can ensure that such best practices are implemented by all user groups, something that has been difficult to manage to date.”