[Coral-List] Community and Scientists

Erik Gauger erik at notesfromtheroad.com
Thu Mar 16 20:21:47 EST 2006

Nicole - thanks for your thoughtful reply.  In my experience, the need for
extremely eco-sensitive development in certain critical areas, and the
effects of the past 50 years of development in these areas is really just
now coming to light on a broader scale.  Additionally, just in the past few
years have we seen developments genuinely fit into this scientific model.  I
do not see developers as inherently evil, and I believe that with proper and
tough environmental laws, community involvement, knowledge about the value
of eco-development, and encouraging conservation groups - developers will
change.  And consumers are slowly evolving themselves - 'ecotourism' -
genuine or not - is the fastest growing segment of tourism.  With that in
mind, the attention to detail that Discovery Land Company has placed on the
environment would make it a great golf development...in a suburban region of

There is a good book called "Last Resorts: the cost of tourism in the
Caribbean."  It looks at the effect of megadevelopments on local communities
and the environment, and makes a good case for involving local communities.
It also points out the costs of developments that alter the culture and the
environment.  Developers develop - but if they are also part of a community
and scientific groups such as the coral world can be more vigilant as a
group, we will see this change come sooner rather than later.

Just to throw a loop in this discussion, and I don't mean to divert too
sharply from a discussion about coral - I believe that things like taste,
culture, architecture, etc play closely to environmentalism.  If a
development appears out of context with the surrounding area, there is
probably something intrinsically wrong with its sustainability component as
well.  As a part time amateur travel writer, I mostly sleep in a tent with
holes in it.  Rarely, however, I get to visit genuine eco-developments and I
have always been impressed by the attention to detail, the love of the
culture, the use of sustainable material, and above all how interested the
clients are in learning about how the development works with the surrounding
communities and the environment - there is hope.

The few scientists who have come to the assistance of the locals of Guana
Cay have helped on several levels; without them it is unlikely the court
case would be as strong as it is and the developer's P.R. campaigns may have
silenced the locals.  Scientists and data offer credibility and solidify the

"Can scientists write/fax articles of concern - relating the possible
outcomes of this project (mangrove removal, impacts of dredging and
siltation, increased nutrification from the golf course) to Bahamian

Yes, and they have and they are.  But these people have full time jobs, as
do I, and they need more assistance, more research, more baseline data and
more concerned scientists and citizens taking a few minutes out of their day
to email somebody, write a letter to www.saveguanacayreef.com, etc.  There
are lots and lots of people who are on the side of the locals, but the most
valuable assistance somebody can offer is to elucidate from a very specific
point of view, quoting from genuine research, and calling the media.

One more thought, Nicole.  You mention which newspapers can we write too,
etc.  I have a theory that the types of places where coral reefs tend to be
are usually too distant, and the story too 'small' for large newspapers to
visit and report on unless it directly affects their readership.  With that
said, it is the tourism and travel media that has the budget and best grasp
on small islands adjacent to coral reefs.  I am absolutely convinced that
publications like Caribbean Travel & Life, Conde Nast, Islands Magazine, etc
are the publications that are most qualified (in terms of budget, etc) to
discuss these types of issues t the audience it impacts.  It is absolutely
horrifying to see that these types of publications almost universally avoid
the big conservation issues.  These magazines send the world's vacationers
off to their destinations - they are the only link between Coral Island #237
and the developed world.  I think conscious consumers, concerned scientists
and advertisers can make a point of relieving these magazines of their fears
to get into real journalism on the areas they cover.  Come on, would you
rather read about Guana Cay's colorful battle or a puff piece on the lobster
at Hotel Atlantis?


  -----Original Message-----
  From: nicole caesar [mailto:nixa20 at yahoo.com]
  Sent: Thursday, March 16, 2006 2:52 PM
  To: Erik Gauger; coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
  Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Guana Cay Islanders and the Big Picture

  Erik and others,

  In my experience developers develop, it's up to the community and
scientists (usually) to protect and attempt to preserve whatever natural
resources are being threatened.
  You mentioned that the islanders are expressing concern, how can the
scientists with coral reef ecology knowledge assist them in this situation?
  Can scientists write/fax articles of concern - relating the possible
outcomes of this project (mangrove removal, impacts of dredging and
siltation, increased nutrification from the golf course) to Bahamian
  What local radio shows can interested scientists call in to?
  Can enough noise be made to get documentary shows from wedu and other
stations interested in the proposed development and its ramifications?
  What was that biblical thing where the army blew the trumpets and the wall
came crashing down - i'm not religious, just saying that if enough voices
speak up in tandem and are channeled through certain avenues - we may just
get enough attention from the Bahamian government etc, to make the
developer's life not so easy..........

  Nicole Caesar
  Concerned grad student

  Erik Gauger <erik at notesfromtheroad.com> wrote:
    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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