Tourism minister defends approval of Exuma park dredging
Tourism Minister Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace yesterday defended the government’s decision to grant approval to a developer to dredge in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park.
“It is especially important that the public understand and appreciate that private ownership predates the creation of the Bahamas system of protected areas, and that notwithstanding their creation, the government and[the Bahamas National Trust]must recognize that private owners have a right to expect to be able to enjoy their property-so long as that enjoyment does not constitute unsustainable behavior,”said Vanderpool-Wallace while contributing to debate on amendments to the Bahamas National Trust Act in the Senate.
“The reality in the case of the Exuma Cays is that the Exuma Park already had six privately held cays when it was created. As we learned, permissions were given severally in the past, which allowed development on some of those privately held cays.
“We acknowledge the overall value of the Exuma Park is close to being immeasurable. The Park’s contribution to research, marine replenishment and the stock of the world’s knowledge about some of the oldest geological specimens requires careful and prudent planning, management and long term sustainable funding for its continued care and preservation.”
Several weeks ago the government approved the request of Prince Karim Aga Khan IV to dredge a yacht-basin to accommodate 150-foot vessels at Bell Island.
According to the minister, the Protected Area systems would only be a success if there is buy-in from all neighbors and communities.
He said if authorities fail to convince Black Pont residents(among others)that poaching is destructive and will adversely impact not only fish stocks in Exuma but beyond, the Park stands to lose.
He said if the private residents in the Park do not accept the intrinsic value of this marine(and land)nursery and support it financially and through their behavior, the Park system would lose.
Vanderpool-Wallace said the Planning and Subdivision Act 2010 will form the basis for planning decisions for the islands of The Bahamas.
“As we identity and continue to set aside unique ecosystems throughout The Bahamas, we must also plan for impact to guard against destruction,”the minister said.
“The principles for sustainable development can find no greater focus than in our protected area network. Communities exist immediately outside and adjacent to the park system. Nearby communities all contribute heavily to activity in and throughout the Exuma Parks System.
“As well, passing boats affect marine life in and around parks. Serious risk of fire and loss of precious biodiversity threaten the Park. If development outside the Park is not coordinated with planning within the Park, the cumulative, detrimental impact on the Park itself could be calamitous.
“Equally, if the park is not seen as friendly to visitors, a global treasure, husbanded and stewarded by Bahamians, it will not ensure its own survival.”
Vanderpool-Wallace said the Bahamas must find a way to permit harmonious, co-existence with nature; maintain the essence of protected areas; evaluate the cost of funding and maintaining such areas and enshrine permanent public access in protected areas and communities.