ON July 14, history was made in North Bimini. On this sleepy little island with a total population of barely 3000, more than 200 people marched from Paradise Point to Resorts World Bimini, holding placards high and their heads even higher. Their demands were selfless and supported by experts, conservationists and those who care about the marine environment from around the world – stop the wanton destruction of Bimini’s fragile environment and put in place measures to protect what is left.
To understand how significant and historic this was and what the people who participated are crying out for we need to first appreciate the extreme unlikeliness of an organised march in Bimini.
First, the historic event that took equal doses of energy, organisation, frustration and anger took place on Bimini, a place where you would be hard-pressed to find any travel piece that did not describe the tiny island in the sun as sleepy or laid-back. This is not a college town nor a city given to uprisings. The most organized type of event here is shark diving. Even the dolphins swim freely, unpenned, and if visitors want to swim along, that’s okay by them. Call it somnambulistic if you wish, but the reality is that radicalism, revolutions, uprisings and demonstrations in North Bimini are as rare as snowfall.
If Bimini is hardly a setting that lends itself to this kind of unified resistance and demands, the second factor that sets this march apart is what it was – and was not – about. It was not about the usual causes that drive groups of people to unite and demonstrate, not about wages or benefits or overtime pay or poor working conditions. This was a march driven by a single unifying cry – to save the island that those who are fortunate enough to live there love, and those who visit on a regular basis think of as their second home.
Biminites and visitors, including many who boat over from South Florida on a regular basis, have every right to be angry. They have watched as their island, its coral reefs, mangroves and wetlands have been carelessly destroyed in the name of development. For nearly 20 years, Biminites have waited for the enactment of legislation creating the North Bimini Marine Reserve. As the group that calls itself Save Our Home, Bimini, wrote in a letter published last week, “Despite environmental impact studies, investigations, committees, surveys, town meetings, talks from environmental agencies proving the dire need for a North Bimini Marine Reserve, petitions, lawyers, church leaders, scientists, heads of state, the Queen’s representative all stating facts, proof and reports that Bimini was the “highest priority in all of the Bahamas for an MPA” (Marine Protected Area) in 2000, still nothing has been forthcoming.” (Actually, there was a marine reserve declared but a declaration not backed by legislation is little more than an empty promise).
That open letter addressed to Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis days before the march begged for relief, stating “Over the past 20 years, Bimini has been systematically raped and pillaged at the hands of greedy foreign investors.”
The Tribune is not opposed to development, nor are the good people of Bimini. What we are strongly opposed to and what Biminites have suffered from is reckless and unsustainable development.
Hundreds of acres of mangroves have been covered and smothered. Mangroves are essential to any eco-system where they exist. They not only serve as the nurseries of baby fish, turtles, sharks, conch and crawfish but act as a buffer against storm surge, one of the critical barriers that protect the shore and people living close to the sea from oncoming waves. It has been reported that trash and concrete have been tossed onto vast mangrove areas. Natural rock that also protects the shoreline has been yanked out to create wider beaches, again leaving the coastline more vulnerable. Some of the world’s most precious and fragile coral reefs, thousands of years in the making, were churned up and smashed by heavy equipment during dredging for a 1,000-foot long pier that is no longer used.
Biminites have seen the colour of their water change. They have seen the thousands of shrimp that used to line the shore vanish. They cannot find any more of the rare sawtooth shark that drew scientists and researchers to the island to track the endangered species of ray.
What they see instead of the bountiful fish and the marine life they depended upon for centuries is plumes of toxic smoke as trash fires burn and construction workers, mostly foreign, battle air heavy with mosquitoes.
So when they marched last Friday right through the gates of Resort World Bimini where Mr Gerado Capo, operating as RAV Bahamas, has reportedly repeatedly told people he could do whatever he wanted, the peaceful demonstrators strode right up to the front of the Hilton. The high-rise hotel visible for miles on the otherwise flat islands of North and South Bimini is so out of place that it is like wearing a ball gown to a ball game. Even inside the gates of Resort World unlikely supporters joined the march by golf cart, begging to save Bimini before it is too late.
Surely, if it is the people’s time, the people of Bimini have made their case and now it is time for the government to act. Biminites do not deserve to have their water or power turned off so people in the casino can play at games that locals are not allowed to play, at enjoying the lights while locals are left in the dark, unable to run a fan or a light. Biminites do not need to forego showers so the guests of Resorts World Bimini can enjoy the water. Most importantly, the people of Bimini deserve the attention and the respect of any developer and of the government and all they are asking for is respect for the environment and the marine life they treasure.
• A video made by the Save Our Seas Foundation voicing concern about Bimini's environment: