ON FRIDAY of last week, The Tribune ran a story headlined ‘Activists’ Fear for Cat Cay.’ The article was accompanied by several colour photos taken from the air a few days earlier showing once-stunning turquoise waters off South Cat Cay in the northern Bahamas clouded by sand and silt.
Heavy equipment stood on a tiny sandbar. Dredging was taking place immediately offshore with gaps in silt barriers. The coastline had been scarfed and looked as bare as a baby’s bottom. Or perhaps dredged sand had been piled on a coast where it had not previously existed to create a wider beach.
Whatever the history, the present showed an unnatural coast bereft of greenery, rocks or any naturally occurring topographical features.
It was one more time that Save The Bays tried to call attention to environmental damage in the name of development. The organisation that has more than 20,000 Facebook followers has said repeatedly, loudly and clearly, it is not anti-development. In fact, the same attorney who serves as the group’s legal counsel represents developers in his legal practice with Callenders & Co, a century-old law firm known for its pro-business bent as well as human and environmental rights.
We listen to what this group says because they have had the courage to stand up where many others have not. Their reasons are understandable - ties to government or other funding support that comes with conservative restrictions leaving their hands tied and mouth shut as they go about their work trying to educate or advocate. We have no doubt the tiny Bahamas probably has more well-intentioned and hard-working environmental organisations and causes per capita than just about anywhere in the world.
But while the number of people involved in preserving the environment is substantial, while the voices of the courageous grow louder and their pleas take on more urgency, the government acts as if it is business as usual. Developers come in with a plan, promise the earth, including careful resource management and environmental contributions, gain approval and turn to work. On paper and in the Heads of Agreement, it all sounds good. Environmental impact assessments have to reviewed by the BEST Commission, recommendations negotiated and more promises made.
Then the job begins. Heavy equipment arrives. Coral reefs are in the way, they are demolished in the name of jobs for a marina that will attract mega yachts. Dredging is done without adequate silt barriers. Mangroves that serve as the hatcheries and nurseries of fish, conch and crawfish are mowed over or used as dumping grounds for concrete and trash.
And in the end the people of The Bahamas lose out.
What do we have to do to get a government which cares about the environment that makes The Bahamas the land and sea it is, the envy of nations and peoples worldwide? What do we have to do to get a comprehensive environmental protection act so no one – local or foreign – can destroy the environment, abuse and misuse its resources without paying a high price?
We watch the work of Save The Bays because these are not radical people who want workers to drop their hammers, drills and hopes to hug trees. All they are asking for is a government to have the courage to stand up to developers who ride roughshod over the fragile Bahamian environment. All they are seeking is a rule for developers to demonstrate careful practices and create sustainable development, carried out with respect for the environment and all that takes is one comprehensive piece of legislation.
We believe that is what the public wants as well. Shortly after the ‘Activists’ Fear’ story ran in print, The Tribune posted a video of the flyover that led to the discovery of what was going on at South Cat Cay and in a matter of hours it had been viewed more than 450 times. That tells us the public cares. If the public cares, where are the people who make and enforce policy? Where is the Minister of the Environment, Romauld Ferreira, an environmental lawyer and consultant who held such promise pre-election? Where is the Minister of Works Desmond Bannister who has impressed us so much in other ways?
We cannot continue to wait until cases go to court as one government after another continues down the outdated path of acting as if it is a choice between the environment and the economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The future of economic development lies in the blue economy and the green economy. Together they will account for the majority of jobs and replace the manufacturing economy. Facets of the blue economy – shipping and maritime transportation, seafood and fisheries, desalination, port infrastructure, minerals, aquaculture and mariculture – will not only generate hundreds of billions in global income but help to mitigate climate change in an age when 40 percent of the world’s population lives within 62 miles of a coast. The power of the green economy in renewable energy sources, waste management, improved farming methods and more is almost immeasurable. In Australia alone, it is estimated at $243 billion by the year 2030.
The Tribune is not opposed to development at South Cat Cay though we have strong reservations about the size of a 137-slip marina. We simply urge the government to insist the development be carried out in a way that is responsible to community and respectful of natural resources, preserving and enhancing the land and sea that makes this country the magical spot on earth that it is.
Remembering Ronnie Butler
Ronnie Butler died at age 80 at his home in Nassau on Sunday morning and a nation mourned. A crooner without parallel, Ronnie captured the essence of The Bahamas in song and made all of our lives richer and better for it. He was fun, funny and so immensely talented and humble, it is hard to imagine life and concerts without him. Rest in peace, Ronnie. You gave us all you had and more.