By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Government is seeking to develop a sustainable framework for unlocking Andros’s ‘natural economic capital’, which studies have suggested could deliver $260 million a year “in net economic benefits”.
A $600,000 Inter-American Development Bank project, entitled ‘ecosystem-based development for Andros island, has been engaged by the Christie administration to incorporate the island’s natural attractions and resources into a ‘masterplan’ that will guide its development.
An IDB paper on the project, obtained by Tribune Business, says: “The general objective of this operation is to ensure that the natural capital (biodiversity and ecosystem services) of Andros.... is mainstreamed in the development analysis and physical planning for the future of the island, with a view to ensuring the future well-being of all Bahamians, including Andros island residents
“The proposed operation is designed to address urgent gaps and needs in support of evidence-based decision making on the future development of Andros.”
The project aims to determine the economic value to the Bahamas’ of Andros’s various ecosystems, which a previous study by V. Hargreaves-Allen, conducted for The Nature Conservancy, estimated at $260 million per year.
“There have been attempts to measure the economic value of the ecosystem services provided by Andros island,” the IDB paper acknowledged.
“Using estimated values calculated for other locations as indications of economic value (using ‘benefits transfers), one such study found that the habitats on Andros were thought to generate $260 million a year in net economic benefits which, if sustainable, would be worth $4.6 billion over the next 25 years.
“However, the same study recognises the shortcomings in the estimates due to the short time-frame and lack of biophysical data from Andros.”
The IDB project, which was alluded to by Prime Minister Perry Christie earlier this year, is thus attempting to create a framework for the Bahamas to maximise the economic benefits from its environment and natural resources.
The project paper also pledged to examine the “trade-offs” between realistic development plans for Andros with the impact on its environment and coast, and propose “a viable and actionable master plan which optimises the economic value of natural capital through sustainable use”.
The IDB described Andros, with its 2,300 square mile land mass and 10,000-strong population as “largely undeveloped” with the main economic activities centred on agriculture, tourism, fishing and the Government.
The island also possesses the world’s third largest natural barrier reef, “some of the most extensive wetlands in the Caribbean”, and supplied between 25-40 per cent of Nassau’s freshwater needs until the capital switched to reverse osmosis plants.
“Andros supports a number of coastal and marine ecosystems, including broadleaf coppice forests, pine forests, palm shrublands, sawgrass, rocky shores, beaches, mangroves, seagrass beds and tidal creeks which provide habitat for many rare and endangered species,” the IDB paper said.
“ In addition, these ecosystems provide goods and services (ecosystem services, which are critical for the local as well as national economy. These include provisioning services (seagrass habitat for sport fish), regulating services (mangroves and reefs for protecting economic infrastructure and coastal populations from storm damage, coastal erosion, and flooding, forests and wetlands for maintaining water quality), and cultural services (bird habitat and reefs for recreation).”
The IDB added that its project would help to “plan and guide” the Government’s development plants for Andros, which include the Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI); a deep water port for commercial and cruise shipping; and efforts to revive farming, eco-tourism and sports fishing.
“Current and emerging threats to the integrity of Andros’s biodiversity and ecosystem services include water pollution, dredging and habitat conversion, overharvesting of fish stocks, invasive species, natural disasters, climate change and sea level rise,” the IDB said.
“Based on the ‘State of the Coast’ report, the highest impacted areas were in North Andros and in Driggs Hill, South Andros. More research into the potential vulnerabilities of Andros to each of these threats is urgently needed, as is planning appropriate land and watershed use, management and policy.
“An understanding of the economic value of the potential losses in ecosystem services associated with specific threats is required for policy and planning.”
The Bank added the main risks to a successful project were a lack of involvement by Androsians in reviewing physical planning and development plans, plus “a lack of co-ordination” among the Government agencies involved. It felt both risks could be mitigated.