Dear Prime Minister Minnis,
There has perhaps never been a time when good faith communication between government and its constituents was more important than now. As we emerge slowly from the worst pandemic in a century and the nation’s economic security remains in peril, I understand and appreciate government’s efforts to seize upon the fastest means to place this nation back on her feet. However, given the unprecedented burdens shouldered by your government, I feel compelled to emphasize what would ordinarily be self-evident. Blind haste and desperation make for bad decisions and bad policy.
The authority your government gave Crystal Cruises to penetrate our unique and treasured Family Island communities carries great risks. I will use Spanish Wells as an example, but strong inferences must be drawn from that example and applied to the other intended ports of call.
With no public consultation, the people of Spanish Wells were “notified” via a secret RFP aimed at a few select tour operators that Crystal Cruises had been granted permission to anchor off of Egg Island and ferry as many as 650 passengers to the community beginning the first week of July. For many, this information might as well have been news that a huge extinction-level meteorite was hurtling towards the island and would enter the atmosphere on the fifth day of July, a deal concocted in secret that would have a cataclysmic impact on their lives. Given the arctic welcome Disney received in 2016 when pursuing Egg Island for an ill-conceived cruise port, one would think our government had heard the message loud and clear — Spanish Wells doesn’t want cruise tourism.
How did we get from Disney to Crystal? Crystal Cruises is literally the bottom of the barrel. They receive an “F” for sewage treatment, air pollution and transparency on the globally-respected Friends of the Earth Cruise Ship Report Card. Information on water quality is not available. Sadly, Crystal is the dregs of the most polluting tourism modality on earth and your government is allowing this filth and exploitation to flood our fragile and pristine Family Islands.
While your government may be patting itself on the back for the concierge-like manner in which it materialized a cruise ship from the haze of financial angst that hovers over the nation, it is abundantly clear to the residents of Spanish Wells that little or no thought was given to what they actually needed or wanted. Worse still, it appears that absolutely no thought was given to the potential economic, social and environmental downside of the Crystal Cruise deal.
The economic risks
As your government must know, Spanish Wells has spent decades meticulously building its own unique, enviable and sustainable model of tourism. Do you understand the potential blight the Crystal deal represents to their unique brand? Many Spanish Wells residents have invested their life savings to leverage the island’s unique style of escapist tourism.
Spanish Wells visitors come to the island over and over again exactly because it is NOT a cruise port of call, does NOT embrace mass tourism and does NOT need or want a sudden increase in visitors. Within the space of a few hours, a petition opposing this scheme garnered hundreds of signatures from residents and visitors alike, and there is no end in sight.
The vast majority of Spanish Wells people don’t need or want the pocket change that cruise passengers spend. They are fully aware that it takes 28 cruise passengers to spend as much as one of their stayover guests. Do you have any idea how much money the island’s second homeowners spend within the community every year and that they will very likely stay away if the picturesque island’s soul bears the unmistakable taint and stink a cruise port of call will bring?
The social risks
Did the government give pause for a moment to consider the social impacts of converting Spanish Wells into a cruise port of call? Do you comprehend the pride they feel in their small, quaint, simple, uncrowded and Godly island? There are approximately 2,000 people who reside on Spanish Wells. Do you think they actually want 650 cruise passengers (equivalent to nearly a third of the island’s total population) “crawling” around their island?
Moreover, it appears your government never gave any thought to the fact that Spanish Wells has a very busy and bustling harbor and waterfront. Can you even imagine 650 cruise passengers, most of whom are in their 60s, milling around the waterfront as the island’s fishermen struggle to perform their many tasks in some semblance of the manner in which they are accustomed?
Spanish Wells is a small community with limited infrastructure. Do you know how many public toilets there are? Have you even asked yourselves whether the infrastructure is prepared to accommodate a sudden explosion in human activity? Have you ever been to the beach in Spanish Wells? It’s empty. Neither the settlement nor its beaches have ever experienced anything close to 650 visitors at once. To Spanish Wells, a fleet of tenders coming ashore from the Crystal Serenity may as well be hostile landing craft coming ashore in a surprise attack.
Last, did you give any deference to the fact that the people of Spanish Wells revere and love their Egg Island? An assault on that island gem is a knife in the belly of the community.
The environmental risks
Clearly, your government has given zero thought to the unavoidable environmental impact of this shameful scheme to allow Crystal to penetrate our Family Islands.
In 2016, Egg Island received international recognition as a “hope spot” designation, along with 13 other sites globally. Hope spots are marine areas of ecological significance, recognized and promoted for long-term protection under a global conservation campaign overseen by Mission Blue, a non-profit organization founded by Dr Sylvia Earl. Egg Island has also been designated as a proposed Marine Protected Area (MPA) by Bahamas Protected Area Fund, as a part of the Caribbean Challenge Initiative, which targets the protection of at least 20 percent of our marine and coastal environment by 2020.
As for anchoring at Egg Island, what can I say except for the starkly obvious: the idea is reckless and short-sighted. How has this project been fast tracked without the public consultation mandated by several international agreements The Bahamas on committed to, including Agenda 21 and the Sustainable Development Goals or an environmental impact assessment and management plan? Not to mention our own Environmental Planning and Protection Act. Clearly no thought was given to the fact that even an anchored ship such as the Crystal Serenity will disgorge as much air pollution as tens of thousands of automobiles. The propeller wash alone can smother reefs up to 1.5 kilometers away. The impacts to fisheries is also a risk that simply cannot be ignored.
The island’s seabed currently does not bear the hideous anchor scars that now deface hundreds of square acres of the Berry Island seabed after the Bahamian government allowed cruise ships to anchor there; we don’t need to add Egg Island to the list. Enough is enough.
I could go on and list all of the likely environmental impacts, but I know from experience they bear less weight in your government’s view than the above economic concerns. Your government does not see our environment as our most precious financial resource, even though we use our exquisite beauty to lure visitors to our country, which puts food on our tables.
I urge your government to consider that, according to the Economic Valuation of Ecosystem Services in Bahamian Marine Protected Areas conducted by BREEF (the Bahamas Reef Environmental Educational Foundation), the Nature Conservancy and the National Trust in 2017, the existing network of MPAs is worth $6 billion per year in ecosystem services including crawfish habitat, shoreline protection, tourism and carbon storage. MPAs provide important sanctuaries to keep healthy populations of queen conch, grouper, spiny lobster and other marine species that are commercially valuable. Fishing is the foundation of many Bahamians’ livelihoods; in Spanish Wells, it is their lifeblood. The industry is already under stress due to poaching and other stresses. There is no wisdom in adding more poison to the well. Impediments to conservation efforts could have rippling economic effects.
I reiterate my call from September 2020 for an environmental impact assessment to be carried out on the entire cruise industry, that will help us determine the way forward.
If nothing else, I pray that this letter will make your government turn and face itself in the mirror and ask whether the Crystal Cruise deal is really in the best, long-term interest of our country. Are you helping Crystal Cruises or are you helping us? I want to know. The people of the Family Islands want to know. In fact, we have a right to know.
Executive director, reEarth
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