The Save Guana Cay Reef Association (SGCRA), which mounted a groundbreaking five-year legal campaign in opposition to the Baker’s Bay development, warned of serious implications for the surrounding reef – recognized as one of the best dive sites in the world – as well as for the rest of the previously unspoiled island. The group fears now that their predictions have come true.
“There has been environmental desecration out here,” said leading environmental advocate Fred Smith, QC. “They burned the entire forest, they tore down the mangroves, they dug it all up.”
Smith, chairman of fast-growing social and environmental movement Save The Bays, fought alongside the SCGRA between 2004 and 2009 for the rights of Guana Cay residents. During a recent visit to the island, he dove the reefs along with association president Troy Albury to witness firsthand the extent of the damage.
Albury explained that nutrients applied to maintain the health of the golf course drain into the surrounding water and lead to accelerated algae growth.
“We know the nitrogen is running off the course,” he said. “We know that from algae samples we’ve taken right close into the shore and algae samples we’ve taken at the reef. We have lost 40 percent of the coral cover in the last two years.
“Algae is always in competition for turf area on the reef. When you have algae growing, coral cannot grow and even when there is coral growing and existing, the algae gets close to it and starts to destroy it.”
The situation is dire, Smith said, but not yet past the point of no return.
Smith added that Guana Cay is a perfect example of the destructive power of the “Anchor Project” theory of national development, which many assert ruins traditional communities – often without living up to the many promises made by the developers and the local politicians who facilitate the deals.
Albury said the once idyllic community has been severely affected by the location of a large-scale resort on the island, undertaken without proper consultation with the locals.
“We have traffic now, we have crime, we have car accidents. We actually now have a policeman on the island, because we are having problems with people breaking into houses. Before, you knew everybody,” he said.
Albury said it is important for all traditional Bahamian communities to fight for their rights, as they have the most to lose. If the environment ends up being ruined by an anchor project, the wealthy developer can simply “pick up and start again someplace else”.
The SGCRA president said the community has been waiting “for a long time” for Baker’s Bay to fulfill its obligations under the heads of agreement that allowed the project to go forward.
These included building a community center, reserving the water sports business exclusively for Bahamians, creating a beach park, building a solid waste facility for the whole island, and providing housing for police officers.
“In addition to that, there were also promises of environmental monitoring, and none of that ever came into play,” he said.
A newly released video of Smith’s visit to Guana Cay is part of an ongoing series of short films covering key aspects of STB’s fight for a better Bahamas. It can be viewed on Save The Bays website, www.savethebays.bs.