[Coral-List] Guana Cay Islanders and the Big Picture

Erik Gauger erik at notesfromtheroad.com
Thu Mar 16 13:00:32 EST 2006

Todd -

I want to address some of the issues that you've raised here.
You are making the assumption that you are somehow the first
person to make a friendly gesture towards the developer and that
your email and the reply from Mike Meldman somehow shows

In fact, this has happened several times before, and several
scientists have in fact attempted to work with the developer and
provide them with data or advice and recommendations - remember
that there are no coral scientists in their employ that anyone is
aware of.  They are fisheries and botanical scientists.

There are a lot of related issues in the Discovery Land Company
project, and they all fit together like a puzzle.  The scientific
consensus indicates that this development is too big to be
resolved by incremental technology suggestions - this is a
massive project on a tiny island.  The island is 7 miles long.  3
of those miles will essentially be mowed down - and a huge marina
will literally be cut out of the island and will nearly butt up
against the beach.  All evidence suggests that despite any menial
steps the developer has taken to slow the nutrient increases into
the coral reef - they cannot prove that they can get anywhere
close to the nutrient levels required to keep the reef alive.
But this coral issue is more complex than just nutrients.  Look
at the amount of mangroves being pulled out, the gray water from
the marina that will leach into the island's only fishery, the
massive silting that will be caused a dredging project that will
in many ways equal the earlier failed Disney dredging project.
The developer is not addressing any of these concerns publicly -
if they have the answers, which they claim they do, their answers
would be in use right now by developments around the world.

One thing that coral conservationists should address is the idea
that in almost every instance, the local community with long-term
interest in its land and community has an innate understanding of
their land and the consequences in the future - coral
conservationist MUST see the community as their first ally.  By
fiercely opposing and avoiding public consultation with the
locals, the developer has made it clear that they don't want to
work with the community at all.  In Meldman's email to you, he
called the local's concerns 'a smear campaign.'  This is an
incredible statement: In every instance, I have seen the locals
take the high road, although certainly if their way of life is at
risk, they are not required to take the high road.  But they do -
and they should be commended by us for it.  It is incredibly
amazing that on an island of 170 people, the locals have taught
themselves coral conservation and have chosen to work with the
right people.  Their message has always been a scientific one, a
legal one and a community one.

On the other hand, I have plenty of emails where the
environmental spokesperson for Discovery Land Company literally
mocked the scientists trying to help the locals.  Additionally,
this same spokesperson has called my work defamatory and called
into question my right to report on this matter, because I am
myself a foreigner.

You have all been talking about worldwide coral issues for the
past two weeks.  This is a good example of ordinary people -
traditional Bahamian fishermen, grocery store owners and cottage
owners - bringing very relevant conservation issues to the
forefront.  I strongly believe that the best way to 'act locally'
is to support the local's efforts and concerns.  If you believe
mangroves are essential to coastline ecology or you believe coral
reefs require a low nutrient level; then this message, and the
best result, will be found through the message of these fishermen
and grocery store owners. If they happen to come to agreement
with the developer by having their environmental concerns
answered - then that is a wonderful outcome.  But if the
developer has to leave the Bahamas, then the islanders of Guana
Cay have done a great service to places like Fiji or the Cayman
Islands - by setting a higher standard for developers building
adjacent to coral reefs.

Todd - we should always encourage people like you who are willing
to offer advice to a developer.   But - we have to see all
developments as part of a community; and when they are not - when
they cannot work out the scientific concerns with the community
whose grandchildren must make their living from the ocean - then
that developer disqualifies themselves from the right to change
the environmental and cultural face of the island.

Several people have mentioned golf courses in Hawaii.  There is a
big difference, in my opinion.  Hawaii courses are often high up
on cliffs; there is plenty of land between them and the sea.
Plus, the reef itself is often far out at sea.  The water is
different there - its deep water ocean.  The two cannot be
compared.  Here, the cays are tiny - only ? mile wide in some
instances.  If you pour a glass of water into the limestone rock,
the water disappears.  In a few months, that water has soaked
into the reef.  But the developer plans to have 300-400 foot
boats (its in a link in their website) in their marina.  Imagine
the gasoline, the gray water, the pollution, the golf course
nutrients - these questions are not being answered.

As long as these questions are not being answered and the
environmental concerns satisfied, lets work with the islanders
themselves - they are, oddly enough, the ones raising the biggest
questions in the coral-development world right now.

Todd, you said this, "...in my view if the concern is that the
development will destroy the reef, then what must occur to
develop the property without destroying the reef or what must
they do to prove that what they are doing will not destroy the
reef?  I have suggested that we put together a voluntary
scientific team to give them an honest assessment."

There is already a voluntary scientific team in place, acting on
behalf of the islanders.  They are monitoring the reef
independently and are doing so pro bono.  Also, the developer
'hides' the fact that there is a coral reef in their literature.
If you look at their maps of the proposed development and their
glossy literature, the reef is erased.  They don't need the reef
to make their billions.  This model relies on golf and a marina
to sell this property.


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