By Nikita Shiel-Rolle
The economic future of The Bahamas has become a popular conversation. This is the second time within a year that overnight we have incurred upwards of a billion dollars in losses. There is a sense of fear and uncertainty among Bahamians and this is something we must acknowledge. As a nation, we don’t yet know how we will navigate ourselves through this storm.
Over the past few months, our dependence on social services provided by the government and civil society has increased. We cannot ignore the fact Bahamians don’t have the financial resources to buy food, as a result, many are returning to working the land and sea to provide for and support their loved ones.
We saw this when Eric Carey and his team at the Bahamas National Trust spoke from Bone Fish Pond National Park reminding us protected areas are not fishing grounds. Protected Areas provide critical habitat for economically important species such as the conch and spiny lobster and mangrove ecosystems like Bonefish Pond help to reduce storm surge and provide a buffer for coastal communities during hurricanes.
Sustainability is finding the balance between protecting our ecosystems and their biodiversity and receiving the ecosystem benefits that support our livelihoods.
It’s exciting that the Prime Minister charged the new Economic Recovery Committee with the task of being bold and creative, urging them to think and act in new ways to aid our quick recovery as we build a dynamic and diverse economy. This is a great first step and I would like to contribute with a few suggestions for the committee:
1) Identify Bahamians with expertise in small island sustainability, sustainable natural resource use and management, community conservation, arts and culture and climate action to add to the committee.
While tourism will always be a part of our economic portfolio, it needs to be intertwined within the orange (arts & culture), blue (the ocean), and green (land) economies. Inspiring entrepreneurship in these economies is exactly what we need and we have Bahamian specialists in all of these areas. Add outstanding Bahamians from different sectors to the team and brainstorm together.
You need diversity of thought right now because you have to do something that has never been done. Find the fresh young minds eager to contribute to our National Development - there are many and they are smart. This is a time for fun and inspired innovation. Get excited, be creative and together imagine what a thriving Bahamian economy looks like.
Go big. Be Ambitious. And remember the science shows the economic benefits of sustainable development.
2) Resist the temptation to run back to what is comfortable. When brainstorming economic solutions Member of Parliament for Long Island, Adrian Gibson proposed returning to longline fishing to bolster our fisheries production.
While we must reflect on the lifestyle practices of the past to inspire our way forward, we must also be guided by sound science. We have to make the best decisions based on all the available information. Longline fishing uses thousands of baited hooks on lines that can be up to 62 miles long. It is environmentally destructive and reduces the economic value of our oceans.
Our economic development plan must hold true to the Government’s mission of creating a resilient island nation.
3) Prioritise education, research and development. The University of The Bahamas is perfectly poised to drive the innovation required for this economic transformation. Make a commitment to increase funding for university programmes and research.
4) Be intentional with how you foster development in the Family Islands. Kenwood Kerr, a co-chair for the Economic Recovery Committee, shared his personal thoughts that highlighted construction as an immediate way to get jobs for “persons who are unskilled and semi-skilled while reducing that social burden on the system”. While construction will be an inevitable part of our economic development, don’t let the urgency to provide jobs cloud your judgment.
Ensure all development plans align with our new Bahamian sustainability paradigm. Hold firm, know the inherent value of our resources - and don’t sell us out. Allow our natural resources to carry and sustain us during this time without tourism and respect our ocean and island biodiversity because this is the foundation in which we are building our new economy.
5) Remember everyone is skilled in something and that new skills can be learned at any age. Don’t shy away from opportunities to develop new industries requiring diverse skill sets.
Life-long learning must become a “Bahamian Ting”. We must create safe and encouraging spaces for Bahamians of all ages to improve our literacy which includes civic, science and ocean literacy. As the Blue Economy is a priority investing in education and ocean science must be at the forefront of the economic recovery plan. The intersectionality of the blue economy with life on land, the arts and culture must not be overlooked.
6) A sustainable and resilient island nation must be your mantra. Be ambitious. Imagine the unimaginable with specialists from a range of sectors. Know that we are now in an entrepreneurial space.
It’s going to be challenging and there is a high probability the first plan is going to have some holes in it. This is why you must implement strong monitoring, evaluation, reporting and re-imagining mechanisms which engage all Bahamian communities. Collect quality data that documents the progress of these new economic initiatives.
Transparency during this recovery process is paramount. Sharing the detailed steps of the economic recovery plan with us will help establish trust and support for the plan. Lastly, create opportunities for Bahamians from all backgrounds to meaningfully engage in the recovery process.
There is no going back to normal. Things will be different and it will be better. Bahamians are incredible, passionate, creative and talented people - this is our time to shine.
When we reflect on this time we will realise this current economic pause is our “Noah” moment. We must get to work by building our “Ark” and know with the same certainty the sun will rise and that there will be a rainbow at the end of this current economic storm.
Nikita Shiel-Rolle’s is a Bahamian conservation biologist and the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of YME & the Cat Island Conservation Institute. She is a UNESCO partner and a focal point for the UNESCO established Caribbean Climate Change Youth Network.