By Roderick A Simms II
An advocate for Family
Andros, vast and barely touched by modern society, remains one of the least densely populated areas in the Caribbean and the last true frontier of The Bahamas. It is the ultimate blank slate for nature enthusiasts and those looking to truly get off-the-grid. Despite its image as a remote getaway, Andros brims with near limitless potential for those willing to carve their own path.
Home to the colossal West Side National Park and Blue Holes National Park, hundreds of blue holes, and the world’s third-largest barrier reef, Andros is the perfect choice for intense ecotourism development. Hoteliers in Andros have wisely avoided the temptation of large-scale ‘anchor projects’, opting instead for smaller and more environmentally-friendly boutique resorts catering to a variety of niche tourism markets, such as the exclusive Kamalame Cay or the remote Flamingo Cay Lodge. offering hunting and flats fishing on the secluded western coast of Andros. Existing properties on Andros have laid a strong foundation for flats fishing, scuba diving, bird watching and other nature excursions, but there remains much more room for growth.
Although Andros hosts some of the largest parks and marine preserves in the country, the island’s potential as a hiking and camping hot-spot remains largely untapped. Camping and treks into the heart of the island could grow tremendously, but this requires a commitment from the Government and passion from the private sector, especially among young entrepreneurs, to develop national parks into a full-fledged attraction for visitors seeking experiences outside the usual beach and dive excursions. Traditional Bahamian industries and pastimes, including sponging, crabbing and pigeon hunting, could all be expanded upon and incorporated into the island’s collective tourism product. Andros’ huge tracts of virgin land also make it an attractive site for agricultural businesses.
Airlift and Arrivals
Andros was one of the fastest-growing Family Islands in terms of foreign air arrivals, according to the last Ministry of Tourism statistics dating from the first three quarters of 2017. Foreign air arrivals had steadily increased over the previous two years, growing nearly 21 percent during the first eight months of that year. As of August 2017, Andros Town and San Andros enjoyed a nearly 25 percent and 22 percent bump in arrivals, respectively, compared to 2016. Congo Town, too, saw more modest growth of roughly 3 percent for that period.
The island has four airports, including the Andros Town International Airport (ATIA) located near Fresh Creek. Although ATIA serviced charter flights from the US, tourism stakeholders have been working with domestic and international carriers to secure more airlift into Andros.
Andros’ vast size is both a blessing and a curse for its growing ecotourism industry and wider economic development. Andros, at over 2,300 square miles, has historically struggled to create a centralised economy. The main draw of pristine and secluded lodges means that Andros’ existing infrastructure is stretched relatively thin across the island. Keeping a reliable supply of water is an occasional challenge for some local businesses due to their dependence on individual settlements’ water systems.
However, several public works projects throughout the island, including a large-scale road project running from Fresh Creek to Nichol’s Town, and a water and sewerage overhaul in southern Andros, have provided a bump in the local economy while improving the quality of life for existing and future homes and businesses. Andros also faces many of the same impediments to growth commonly found in the Family Islands, chiefly a shrinking population and pool of workers as more residents leave the island for New Providence. However, investment incentives and minimising red tape for small businesses could reverse this trend.
Preserving for Future Generations
Beyond the immediate infrastructure concerns, however, is the issue of preserving Andros’ natural beauty and its vulnerable coasts in light of the threat that climate change poses to the country’s development. Hurricane Matthew caused substantial flooding and damage in several communities in northern Andros, serving as another reminder of the need for comprehensive coastal zone management reform. To address these concerns, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) approved a $35m loan for improving the risk resilience of The Bahamas’ coastlines.
Approximately $3m of this loan was allocated to strengthen Andros’ at-risk coastal zones through natural habitat restoration – a process that often involves restoring features including mangroves, coral reefs and seagrass beds – in the hopes of lessening the damage caused by increasingly powerful hurricanes and storm surges. Following up this project with firm commitments to invest in, and promote, low-impact tourism could turn Andros into a model for sustainable ecotourism across The Bahamas and the region.