• Puts itself at odds with key Government policy
• Trust chief: Can’t be ‘engine’ due to pollution
• Backs creating Land Use Plans for islands
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas National Trust (BNT) has placed itself at odds with a cornerstone of the Government’s economic growth strategy by voicing its opposition to the cruise industry’s expansion in The Bahamas.
The environmental watchdog set out its position in a May 6, 2021, letter responding to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for Disney Cruise Line’s Lighthouse Point project where it said its position was based on “principal” due to the industry’s status “as one of the most heavily polluting sectors” in the entire tourism industry.
Eric Carey, the BNT’s executive director, acknowledged that this stance may place it at odds with the Government given that the latter had embraced cruise tourism - and especially the development of new ports by the likes of Disney and Carnival - as a key element in its economic growth strategy pre-COVID.
However, he wrote: “The BNT is well aware that the cruise industry is a major part of the Government’s tourism development plan for The Bahamas, and that our islands are a major destination for the cruise industry. Notwithstanding this national economic development policy, the BNT is obligated to state our opposition in principle to this industry.
“Cruise ships are recognised as one of the most heavily polluting sectors in the global travel and tourism industry. According to published data, ‘many of the richest and most varied ecosystems in the oceans, such as coral reefs, have seen the threat to their existence increased by the presence of cruise ships in the places where they can be found’.
“As such, the BNT as the leading environmental organization in The Bahamas does not support the expansion of this industry.” Mr Carey confirmed the accuracy of the letter, which was written to Rochelle Newbold, the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection’s (DEPP) head, to Tribune Business yesterday.
Explaining that there were “basic” reasons for the BNT’s stance, he explained: “As the leading environmental organisation in country, the BNT is more interested in promoting sustainable development, environmentally responsible development, that has less of an environmental footprint.
“As you know, The Bahamas is at the forefront of climate change impacts. We are the most vulnerable country in the Caribbean, and one of the most vulnerable on the planet. As such, any development proposed for The Bahamas, our preference is to not increase our global carbon footprint and not contribute significantly to the existing threat to The Bahamas, which is climate change and its impact.”
Mr Carey, while arguing that it was “indisputable that the cruise ships have very large carbon footprints”, did acknowledge that companies such as Carnival have begun to switch some of their ships to cleaner-burning liquefied natural gas (LNG) fuel while also committing not to dump sewerage and other waste in the ocean.
But, despite the sector’s efforts to clean-up its act, Mr Carey added: “It’s not an industry that the BNT supports as an engine that’s part of our economic development.” While conceding that the cruise industry provides The Bahamas with jobs and a multi-million annual economic impact from its passengers’ spending, he reiterated: “Our preference and hope is that we would seek to explore more sustainable development options.”
The Minnis administration, in particular, had identified developing cruise ports near or in major population centres as a key element in its economic growth strategy even before the pandemic. With the Nassau Cruise Port’s $250m transformation underway, and the $250m-$400m Disney and $200m Carnival cruise ports moving through the permitting stage, The Bahamas could see over $1bn in cruise-related investments if the Grand Lucayan purchase by Royal Caribbean/ITM Group is ever consummated.
However, Mr Carey added that the BNT was more focused on eco-lodges and low-density developments that provided jobs and left minimal carbon footprints, such as the alternative proposed for Disney’s Lighthouse Point project by One Eleuthera Foundation and its partners.
Disney Cruise Line, though, was the one that purchased the project site from its previous private owner to the exclusion of all other proposals. Mr Carey said he “endorses” Tribune Business’ suggestion that the Lighthouse Point situation should have been addressed by the Government prior to Disney Cruise Line’s purchase through so-called Land Use Plans.
The Planning and Subdivisions Act 2010 required the Government to develop such plans for each island, where they would be used to guide development and determine which areas were used for residential purposes or commercial needs. None of these plans have yet been completed, but the Free National Movement (FNM) has promised to make progress in this area in its election manifesto.
Without land use and zoning guidelines, Mr Carey said The Bahamas was unable to determine which areas were appropriate for development or certain types of development. Had they been in place, they could have blocked Disney Cruise Line from its planned cruise port/beach destination at a location regarded as one of the most scenic and environmentally-sensitive in Eleuthera and the entire Bahamas.
“It would be timely to create those Land Use Plans,” Mr Carey said. “They can protect the environment, save lives and prevent economic disasters by avoiding placing infrastructure in many parts of the country that are low-lying areas prone to flooding and storm surges.
“I’m a strong proponent of these Land Use Plans, and hope whoever is elected next week will create them to help mitigate the types of mistake we see around our country and drive sustainable development and low density development.”
Mr Carey and the BNT, in their May 6 letter to the DEPP, said: “The record for most developments in The Bahamas has been a net negative impact on biodiversity with minimal mitigation offsets. It is the view of the BNT that developers should strive to increase the amount of biodiversity on a site through their landscaping and mitigating activities, particularly in and around ecologically sensitive areas.
“It is our view that if the Government does approve this project, that there are opportunities for Disney Cruise Lines to demonstrate corporate environmental responsibility, and thereby help to establish a new normal for such developments in our country.”
As for Lighthouse Point itself, they added: “We wish to state for the official record that it remains the view of the BNT that the best use of this area would be for the land and surrounding marine environment to be established as a protected area.
“Lighthouse Point is of world-renowned outstanding beauty worthy of world heritage status, and is currently listed as a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA). We remain disappointed that our efforts to acquire the land for the creation of a national park and associate sustainable development were unsuccessful, as this would have protected the area in its most natural state in perpetuity.”