By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
A WHITE House Presidential Award recipient expressed displeasure yesterday at the environmental damage caused by developments at Nygard Cay and North Bimini. He called the government’s “flippant” approach to ensuring that laws and best environmental standards were followed “shocking”.
Alex Matthiessen, who received his prestigious award for his work to promote clean and sustainable energy use in US national parks, visited the country this week with five environmentalists from major international groups to observe the impact developments are having on the environment.
The group, hosted by the Save the Bays organisation, arrived on Monday and left yesterday, visiting Nygard Cay, areas in Bimini affected by the Resorts World Bimini development, and the Clifton Pier Power Station.
Although they did no formal studies on the environment, they said their observations disheartened them.
Regarding Nygard Cay, Mr Matthiessen, an alumni of Harvard University, said: “It would be premature or irresponsible for us, having only (seen) the place once, to start talking in detail of what the environmental impacts are, but one of the things I’m struck by in addition to the damage we do know is happening is the fact that I don’t think that anyone, in particular the Bahamian government, has studied carefully what the potential damage is before they’re issuing overnight permits to allow (Peter Nygard) to basically continue with activity after the previous government already told him to cease and desist from continuing with what he is doing.
“The problem is really a lack of a process here,” he added. “One of the things I was most alarmed by is when we went snorkelling just over Nygard Cay over some reefs there, we got into the water and there was a ton of fish all around us and we got excited, delighted to be there swimming with so many fish and then as soon as we moved away from the boat, the fish really kind of declined in number. And there were some reefs you could tell were really in bad shape. We came back up in the boat and our hosts explained to us that the reason they were near the boat is because they’re feeding the fish. And what that basically says is so much habitat around the area has been destroyed that the fish are no longer going to be there on their own because there’s not enough habitat, there’s not enough food.”
Sharon Khan, international director of Waterkeeper Alliance, one of the world’s largest environmental groups that addresses issues pertaining to the water, said she found the “destruction of Jaws Beach,” which is adjacent to Nygard cay, distressing.
“The environmental impacts that are happening there as reclaimed sand from the sea bed to develop a beach for private use is taking away sand from the beach for public use, and this is one of the last beaches that remains open to the public for the Bahamian people and for tourists who come here and do not have freedom to walk on private beaches as well,” she said. “This is one of the greatest examples of environmental destruction that is happening here in the Bahamas, reclamation of sea bed for private use.”
Marydele Donnelly, director of international policy for the Sea Turtle Conservancy, the world’s largest sea turtle conservancy group, said she was struck by the amount of silt in the water at Nygard Cay.
“We had gotten off the boat and we snorkelled in several spots and my initial impression when I got in the water was I was so surprised. When I looked down at the bottom there were some live corals, but not a lot and many of them were silted over and that comes, of course, with development and causing turbulence in the water and that sort of thing, and I thought, what a terrible loss for the people of New Providence that what must have been healthy corals not so long ago, because of one person’s decision to make some changes in the bay, the whole bay has been altered now in really important ways.”
Gabrielle Parent-Doliner, a Canadian member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, said the legal battle surrounding whether to grant Mr Nygard’s applications for Crown land and building permits in the area “has been covered across every major news station in Canada”.
Regarding the marine environment of Bimini, which recently attracted a lot of attention because of seabed dredging by Resorts World Bimini, the environmentalists said development in the area has already had negative impacts.
Mr Mattiessen said: “There are four clear cut environmental impacts on Bimini. One was all the dredge fill that was dumped on Mosquito Point, which is apparently, according to local folks, a critically important habitat for local species. There is a very significant sea grass bed there and it is a very important habitat for fish and other aquatic species and basically it was obliterated overnight when they dumped 600,000 cubic yards of material right on that cay. In the case of nature being able to renew itself, in that case you’d have to remove all that sand and it would take decades, if not generations before that could be returned to its former complex habitat.
“Second, the amazing amount of silt in the water, both on the lagoon on the east side of the developed strip as well as on the side of the Florida strait. We went diving on the west side and it was just filled with a lot of siltation from the dredging project and the pier building project that was happening. No one’s opposed to development, but it’s important that development happens in a very sensible way.
“Resorts World Bimini, along with the Bahamian government, basically decided to put the pier in the worst possible place that would have the greatest impact on the greatest number of dive sites which are vitally important to the local Biminite economy. Third, the channel that was dredged back in 2001 up in the lagoon to provide access to that Resorts World Bimini facility is still to this day, 13 years later, kicking up sedimentation around the lagoon which is going to have a deleterious affect on sea grass growth and therefore habitat. Fourth and finally, this proposed golf course that will be built in the wetlands of the lagoon is going to be incredibly destructive to bone fish habitat and bone fish are very important to the Bahamian economy. If you destroy that wetlands that will mean there is a lot less habitat for bone fish to travel into and they’ll just stop coming to Bimini because there’s not enough habitat for them to find safety from predators and also to find food.”
As for the Clifton Pier Plant, the environmentalists expressed concerns about the impact waste from the site is having on the water.
Mr Matthiessen said: “You never want to be discharging oil or a fossil fuel into the water because that can have lasting impact on aquatic life which can get poisoned from it. Even more important that the direct environmental impact on aquatic species is what it portends for the Bahamian people and culture and economy because that should be a clarion call for the government. The reason it’s oil is spilling in all likelihood is it’s a 60-year-old plant that’s way outlived its normal design life so it’s going to start problems and be more and more of an expensive liability for the government.”
The environmentalists all said the developments could have taken place with much less environmental damage.