NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Two dozen independent scientists and experts have raised concerns over Disney Cruise Line’s proposed Light House Point development, the latest in a campaign to block the project.
A letter released by the “Stop Disney – Last Chance for Lighthouse Point” campaign “strongly” urged Disney to relocate the cruise port to pursue a more sustainable development alternative; suggesting the cruise line pick an already degraded site to rehabilitate.
However, Disney fired back yesterday calling the several of its claims wildly speculative and misinformed rhetoric being shared by those who oppose the project”.
Dr Mark Penning , vice president, Animals, Science & Environment at The Walt Disney Company, said the letter made important points about the value of coral reefs and the rich biodiversity of the region, but several opinions shared were “not based in fact”.
The Lighthouse Point project involves the development of a cruise port and on-shore facilities to handle up to a million visitors each year.
The letter was initiated by Dr David Philips, Chair of the Board of Directors at the Fisheries Conservation Foundation.
Philips expressed strong concerns regarding the proposal by Disney Cruise Lines (DCL) to develop Lighthouse Point (LHP) for the operation of a cruise ship port in South Eleuthera in The Bahamas.
“Lighthouse Point is a unique natural site containing valuable marine habitats, rich biodiversity, and endangered coral species,” the letter said.
“The construction and operation of the port would cause irrevocable, long-term environmental, cultural, and economic harm to South Eleuthera and The Bahamas. The current project, if allowed to proceed, would undercut the Bahamian Government’s international commitment to protect the oceans and their marine resources.”
It continued: “In spite of LHP’s proposed protected status, the Heads of Agreement that was released on March 20, 2019 outlines DCL’s granted rights to Disney to negotiate a 50-year-lease on the Point’s surrounding seabed and seek the permits to build a $250 million 0.6 mile long pier and onshore facilities to handle up to 20,000 cruise ship passengers per week.
“A construction project of this scale in a proposed protected area clearly contradicts Disney Cruise Line’s commitments to “ensuring a world where wildlife thrives and nature is treasured and protected” and to “minimizing its overall impact on the environment while encouraging and activating environmentally responsible behavior”.
“Lighthouse Point was initially proposed as a Marine Protected Area because of its important ecological, historical, and geological features abundant and species shark populations, sand/mud flats, sandy beaches, seagrass beds, patch reefs, coral reefs, and deep-water features.”
The letter read: “Construction and operation of the port will prompt unprecedented local levels of ship and human traffic, as well as pollution, leading to the disruption of marine habitats and displacement of organisms,” and that “construction and increased boat traffic results in the suspension of bottom sediments, which can lead to partial or complete mortality of corals that provide energy for the entire ecosystem.
Yesterday, Penning reiterated Disney’s pledge to only move forward with a project at Lighthouse Point if it aligns with the company’s deep and long standing commitment to the environment.
“We have spent an unprecedented two years working hand in hand with a team of highly qualified and experienced scientists and other professionals to complete a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment,” the Walt Disney VP said.
“When we submit our EIA in the near future, it will be based on extensive field work, robust data collection and analysis, direct engagement with those who have studied the site and the species observed there, and an exhaustive review of available literature.”
Penning continued: “We remain committed to moving forward with our project in an environmentally responsible manner, and affording protection to this beautiful space and the species that use it. As we have said numerous times before, our plans include developing less than 20 percent of the site and employing sustainable building practices, such as an open-trestle pier to avoid dredging.
“We have already established environmental monitoring programs that will continue through construction and into operation, and will donate more than 190 acres of privately owned land to the Bahamian people.
“In addition, we have committed to a multi-faceted program to educate our guests about the role they will play in protecting this special place, something we have been able to effectively do with Disney projects around the world.
“This commitment is on top of existing environmental initiatives, such as the millions of single use plastics we have eliminated across the Disney Cruise Line fleet, and the millions of dollars in grants the Disney Conservation Fund has awarded for marine conservation and restoration programs around the world, including several in The Bahamas.”
Dr Penning underscored the much needed economic opportunities for local residents the project will create. “This not only includes the quality jobs that will be created during construction and operation, but also the purchase of goods and services and the opportunities for Bahamian ownership that the project will create,” he said.
“This property was for sale for several years and the previous owners had received approval on plans that would have been far more impactful to the site. There is always a delicate balance between sustainable economic development and protecting the environment and we have accomplished that with our plans.”
Penning said the company welcomed an opportunity to engage in “reasonable and productive” conversation with any individual or organization about the Lighthouse project; however, he added it was questionable whether such an engagement was possible given the tactics employed by the Stop Disney campaign.