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‘Govt on environment is say nothing, do nothing’

Marine biologists, scientists, and professional divers, representing The Bahamas National Trust and other local organisations participated in a rapid marine assessment of the seabed in Northern Berry Islands on September 8th, 2020 following reports of habitat damage due to cruise ships anchored in the area.

Marine biologists, scientists, and professional divers, representing The Bahamas National Trust and other local organisations participated in a rapid marine assessment of the seabed in Northern Berry Islands on September 8th, 2020 following reports of habitat damage due to cruise ships anchored in the area.

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Sam Duncombe

By KHRISNA RUSSELL

Tribune Chief Reporter

krussell@tribunemedia.net

AN activist has branded the government “regressive and secretive” in its handling of environmental issues.

Sam Duncombe, of reEarth, criticised the Minnis administration over its position regarding how cruise ships are punished for what could be irreparable damage to the seabed. She said the urgency of the matter is apparent in continued accounts from fishermen who say the ships are deploying anchors that continue to drag across the ocean floor uprooting everything in its path, creating “unbelievable damage”.

It has ignited serious concerns from these men who depend on the ocean to survive, Ms Duncombe said.

Her comments came as the Bahamas National Trust released a statement yesterday accounting its findings from a rapid assessment of damage from ships anchored in the northern Berry Islands.

The BNT said its study was inconclusive despite its team observing more than ten ships in the area at the time of the assessment with anchors in sandy and hard bottom habitats between 60 to 90-foot depths. It recommended a comprehensive study to determine the effects of cruise ships as long as they remain anchored in Bahamian waters.

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A massive cruise ship anchor and heavy chain observed on hard-bottom habitat at the time of the assessment.

Earlier this month, Minister of Agriculture Michael Pintard and Minister of the Environment Romauld Ferreira in a joint statement said government dive teams were being dispatched to investigate damage to marine life and the seabed from ships sheltering in Bahamian waters near the Berry Islands.

The ministers said an initial dive, while limited in scope, showed “significant damage” to the marine environment allegedly caused by ship anchors.

Following this statement, Ms Duncombe urged the government to make its investigation into the alleged damage to coral and fishing grounds by cruise ships “quick” and “public”.

She is disappointed in the lack of information released since then.

“If there are people who are constantly out gathering evidence then obviously those companies (at fault) need to be fined,” she told The Tribune yesterday.

“I do not really understand the attitude of this government when they know the continued impact that cruise ships have on our environment and in this case, think about it, pretty much since March or April many ships have been anchored in our waters. Who is actually looking at the damage of every single one of them?

“They are talking about the anchor chains rubbing all over the seabed crushing coral. We can’t afford to be doing anything bad to coral. You know the oceans are warm because of climate change. Coral (reefs) are being affected from that so from our perspective we need to be doing every single thing possible to mitigate any of these issues on our reefs and on our mangroves.

“They are what saves the oceans in terms of the fish having homes to go to and if you remove those homes those fish are gone forever. They will either perish looking for other reefs or they will just move to another reef.”

She continued: “The micro steps that we are taking toward protecting the environment that sustains us is absolutely ridiculously staggering.

“It is standard procedure for this government to say nothing and do nothing.

“This administration is the most regressive and secretive government I have ever encountered. You always think well it can’t be worse than the last set and then the new set comes in and you go ‘Oh, my God, they are worse than the last set.’ This is the most regressive government we’ve ever encountered.

“They are back on LNG. They are encouraging more private cruise ships, which we know have minimal economic impact for the country and maximum environmental impact. Their attitude on oil and the fact that they still want to go ahead and drill some oil without even attempting to find some other way to get out of this ridiculous stupid regressive idea that we, in 2020, when there is a glut of oil in the world because of COVID-19 and not likely to go away any time soon.”

Recently Ms Duncombe received an email from a fisherman who has seen the ships assemble near Great Harbour Cay.

It read: “Presently I am 13 miles west of Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands. It is one of our best crawfishing grounds. There have been up to 27 cruise ships at anchor in the area. Each deploys an anchor chain of up to one mile and as the wind and currents shift the chain is dragged across the ocean floor uprooting everything in its path.

“Coral reefs, the grass sea bed and our crawfish habitats. Each day some boats leave and others return anchoring in new locations there by carving out new paths with their chains. Can anything be done about this situation?”

In another email, a concerned citizen deemed the damage “unbelievable”.

“We just had a fisherman we know in our shop telling us about his experience seeing 20-plus cruise ships anchored in our waters and the damage their chains are causing to the fishing grounds,” the message noted. “We also have a close friend from Spanish Wells who’s a fisherman and says the same thing... that the damage is unbelievable.”

Carnival has said it was unaware of any issues with its ships related to allegations of seabed and marine life damage caused by vessels sheltering in Bahamian waters near the Berry Islands. While Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, parent company of Celebrity Cruises, also insisted its ships were in compliance.

Earlier this year, the cruise industry was forced to shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of travel restrictions, a number of cruise ships have been sheltering within The Bahamas for several months.

The environmental and ecological impact remains largely unknown, BNT said in its statement.

“On September 8, BNT and its partners conducted a rapid marine assessment of the area. The site visit included experts from the BNT’s science department and local organisation partners. Scientists and marine biologists representing Perry Institute of Marine Science, Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation, and Atlantis Resort’s Marine Aquarium Operations Department were integral to the assessment. Bahamian scientist, Dr Ancilleno Davis, and underwater photographer and BNT ambassador, Andre Musgrove, were also part of the expedition.

“More than ten ships were surveyed at the time of assessment with anchors in sandy and hard bottom habitats between 60 to 90-foot depths,” BNT said.

“Photo and video documentation reveal evidence of disturbed substrate, seagrass, and associated algae likely due to large anchors and heavy chain drag. However, the study is inconclusive about the potential effects to coral reefs and fisheries as originally reported. With this recent documentation and mapping of the area, a comprehensive study is suggested to determine the effects of cruise ships as long as they remain anchored in Bahamian waters.”

“BNT and its partners have formally communicated their findings to the Ministry of Environment and Housing, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources, writing to be involved in an Environmental Impact Assessment, if further action is considered.

“Results from official assessments would be used to make informed decisions regarding policy for commercial vessel anchoring in The Bahamas and zoning to allow or prohibit anchoring. Other possible outcomes would be the valuation of damages for destruction to the seafloor that results from vessel traffic.”

Comments

Chucky 3 years, 9 months ago

Cruise ships have us by the balls.

Fine them or harass them too much and they will cripple our tourism rather than continue to support it.

tribanon 3 years, 9 months ago

They're also notorious for paying bribes to government officials as a means of getting or doing whatever they want. That's the real problem.

proudloudandfnm 3 years, 9 months ago

Actually they need us more than we need them. Geography is our nest friend. Especially after Covid. Short cruises will be huge. Time for us to use our leverage and implement strict policies with severe punishment for cruise ops in our waters...

proudloudandfnm 3 years, 9 months ago

This is ridiculous now. Mooring buoys should have already been installed! What is government doing? They should have demanded buoys been installed the very next day. No need for surveys, just install the damned buoys. We have a couple of companies in Freeport that could have had this done already!

As for punishment. We can't punish them since they aren't breaking any laws...

SP 3 years, 9 months ago

The Bahamas and the Caribbean are the biggest cruise destinations in the world. Cruise companies need us more than we need them! If cruises never restarted, people would fly to Caribbean destinations, stay longer, and spend more in resorts.

Cruise companies are the bullies of the Caribbean because CARICOM countries stupidly allow themselves to negotiate individually with multi-billion cruise lines, and doesn't have enough sense to pull together as a regional body to regulate the industry for the betterment of the entire region!

Cruise lines have gotten away with piracy of tourism!

I am very happy some awareness is being focused on the damage cruise ships are causing in our country. However, serious emphasis must also be focused on forcing cruise lines to allow resort destinations a more equitable share of income from tourism.

In this regard, CARICOM has totally failed the Caribbean people!

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