Thursday, October 11, 2018
EDITOR, The Tribune
“FREEDOM.” That is what the island of Eleuthera represents, indeed what its name means—from the ancient Greek word Eleutheria. A sense of freedom is exactly what so many who visit this rural island in The Bahamas come seeking, and what what draws people like myself who were born on Eleuthera back home. There are few places in the world where you can feel as truly liberated as when you’re standing at the southern tip of the island, on a pristine peninsula that has long been recognised as one of the most iconic and beautiful landmarks of the country - Lighthouse Point.
However, this site of local, national and regional importance is under immediate threat. A cruise ship company has made a bid to buy the land and turn the site into a port, which would allow them to boat hundreds of thousands of tourists a year to yet another “private island” experience. A cruise ship port at this much-loved landmark is the antithesis of the what makes Eleuthera—a wild, beautiful island—so special.
The 700-acre peninsula was a site of historic importance for both the pre-Colombian Lucayan inhabitants and the subsequent settlers who depended on the light at Lighthouse Point to navigate their ships through the treacherous shoals. It is a pristine place of tremendous biodiversity - vibrant coral reefs, submarine precipices descending into the Exuma Sound, sharks and deep-sea fish on “the bridge,” turtle nesting beaches, dramatic limestone cliffs, inland wetlands, and forests. It is a space for local recreation and outdoor education for Bahamians, and it is a tourism attraction like no other. The untouched beauty and wilderness of Lighthouse Point continually inspires visitors to explore the length of Eleuthera and the charming settlements along the way, adventure down the bumpy road to Lighthouse Point, and experience nature at its finest.
Disney Cruise Lines has proposed to change the ambience and spirit of the space by constructing a $200million pier to dock their ships, dredge a marina, and build land-based facilities along the coast. All of this would enable them to shepherd ashore their herds of guests for the day a few days a week, who would leave behind garbage and sewage for the small island of less than 10,000 residents to process.
There are numerous irrevocable environmental impacts that would be caused by the construction and operation of a cruise ship port in such a pristine location. Dredging for construction would result in sedimentation on nearby coral reefs and sea grass beds, killing fish, corals, and other marine life, and regular ship docking would cause air pollution and further sedimentation on a daily basis. Cruise ship groundings and everyday anchor damage have destroyed huge areas of live coral reef around the world. In 2012, a cruise ship pulverised the reef in The Bahamas off Freeport and left scars of toxic bottom paint to contaminate the waters. Construction on land would destroy sensitive ecosystems and archaeological sites, impact turtle nesting beaches, and cause more run-off into the sea.
The construction of a cruise ship port at Lighthouse Point would also restrict local access and contribute only minimal economic benefits to local communities. In the cruise ship tourism model, virtually all amenities for cruise passengers are provided by the cruise line itself, rather than by local businesses. As such, while cruise ship visitors make up 75% of annual tourist arrival numbers in The Bahamas, they contribute only 10% of the tourism revenue. It is the country’s stop-over tourists who stay in hotels or guest cottages who, though they constitute only 25% of total visitor numbers, contribute 90% of the tourism revenue. Moreover, each of the major cruise lines visiting The Bahamas already has a private island destination, Disney included, as they already take their guests to Castaway Cay in the northern Bahamas. Yet, they are now looking for a second private destination.
BREEF and partner organisations on Eleuthera and throughout the country are standing together against this proposed development with an alternate, Bahamian-inspired plan for sustainable development of the area that will leave the most pristine few hundred acres of the tip of the peninsula untouched, while creating a hub for eco-tourism that will provide a variety of jobs and opportunities for local entrepreneurship. Critically, the alternate plan would also allow for and encourage local and visitor access to the entire peninsula. Eco-tourism is the fastest growing sector of the tourism industry, adhering to the values of ecological, cultural and economic sustainability that people are embracing around the world.
The case of Lighthouse Point, Eleuthera will be seen as a deciding point in the future of the tourism model in The Bahamas and potentially for other small island developing states around the world. Do we continue to choose the “high environmental impact with low economic returns” option of allowing our most precious landmarks to be locked away as private cruise destinations? Or, do we instead chart a new course, highlight what makes each island in the archipelago of The Bahamas unique, and optimise the use of our natural assets and human resources, so that both our visitors and the people who inhabit these islands truly experience the best of what the country has to offer? We at BREEF are committed to ensuring that we take this second path to secure our future. To date, over 30,000 people have voiced their support and signed a petition to protect Lighthouse Point. Please join us.
October 10, 2018.