TWO environmental organisations are calling on Carnival Cruise Lines to dry-dock plans to build a $200m cruise port in East End, Grand Bahama, citing the area as “one of the most fragile and important ecological wonders of The Bahamas”.
Instead, say members of Save The Bays and Waterkeepers Bahamas, the port should be built in Freeport, where the infrastructure to support it already exists and where the economic environment would welcome it.
The National Economic Council last week gave the green light for the conclusion of a heads of agreement with Carnival Cruise Lines for the $200m cruise project in East End. The government has said that such a port would have great economic impact and negotiations with the cruise company have been going on since the summer of 2015.
“We welcome Carnival Cruise Lines and recognise the importance of the cruise industry to the overall economy of the Bahamas,” said Joe Darville, Chairman of Save The Bays.
“Our fear is that the very beauty that Carnival’s passengers and other visitors find in Grand Bahama could easily be destroyed if the port is built in that area. It is one of the most fragile and important ecological wonders of The Bahamas.”
Waterkeepers Bahamas Executive Director Rashema Ingraham said East End is a microcosm of all that makes the environment of The Bahamas “the amazing treasure” it is.
“Driving past the Casuarina Bridge and the new Jack Hayward Bridge into East End, a whole world opens up,” she said. “There is nowhere else in The Bahamas quite like it, even the light is different. But it is very fragile and much of it is quite shallow or marshland. The campus of the College of The Bahamas is on marshland.”
One of the greatest concerns, say the environmentalists, is the impact that such a port could have on the potable water source.
“Grand Bahama sits on one of the three greatest watersheds of The Bahamas, the others being Abaco and Andros,” Ms Ingraham said. “There is a reason that the storage tanks were located at East End. The water table extends for miles and if you allow salt intrusion through dredging you will be affecting the source of water for much of the northern Bahamas.”
Ms Ingraham and Mr Darville also said that East End beaches, including Gold Rock Beach, are the most desirable of all of Grand Bahama’s 80 miles of beach and coastline and may be the only place in the Bahamas where swimmers and snorkellers can swim among free dolphins who live and play in the waters less than two miles offshore. They also cite untouched coral reefs at Lightbourne Cay. Environmentalists and animal rights advocates have also voiced fears that the dolphins could be captured and kept in a confined area for swim with the dolphins’ experiences for cruise passengers to earn additional revenue for the cruise line.
“There is at present no infrastructure or amenities out east to support such a project,” said Darville, whose organisation’s petition has garnered nearly 7,000 signatures. “That whole area is also at basically sea level replenished with mangroves, flowing tidal creeks and other marine amenities, all of which will be destroyed by any such development. Why take a chance risking the loss of one of the great ecological treasures of The Bahamas when it can be moved just a matter of miles and create the same economic benefit without harming marine life, rare owls, a blue hole, the water supply, magnificent coral reefs, marshlands and an area where dolphins still swim free and in the wild?”
Sam Duncombe, a board member of Save The Bays and founder of reEarth, added her voice to the concerns. “East End is also the site of the Lucayan National Park,” she said. “How can there even be consideration of a major cruise port in such a delicate low-lying area, with wide sand bank at low tide on one side, marsh and mangroves on the other, a small national park with historic value? It would be hard to imagine a less suitable place for a port.”
She said she does not believe there is any way an environmental impact assessment could recommend going forward with the port in the proposed location. Save The Bays and Waterkeepers, as well as re-Earth, also expressed concern about how an area so confined and fragile would handle the trash, packaging and garbage generated by cruise ships carrying thousands of passengers making weekly or more frequent stops.
Carnival has made no secret of its desire to have its own private port/passenger getaway in The Bahamas, a senior executive confirming its intentions to a Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) gathering at Palm Cay last year. It is just about the only cruise line without its own Bahamas private facility, with rivals such as Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines already possessing their own getaways such as Coco Cay in the Berry Islands and Half Moon Cay near Cat Island.