Berry Islands’ economy doing well, but hampered by poor infrastructure
GREAT HARBOUR CAY – Lined with breathtaking beaches and beautiful bays, Great Harbour Cay (GHC), referred to as the capital of the Berry Islands, has more than its fair share of cosmetic shortcomings.
As the twice-daily 19-seater propeller plane lands on the seven-and-a-half-mile long and two-and-a-half-mile wide island, there is a sense that one is arriving at an abandoned building at a deserted airstrip.
It’s a 20-minute flight to travel the 58 miles to the cay from New Providence, but for most people caught up in the bustle of life in the city, the quaint community might as well be a world away.
Despite having roughly 800 residents, the only signs of life at the main terminal are the passengers standing behind a chest-high chain link fence waiting to board the just-arrived aircraft.
One man offloads the baggage as passengers deplane; one woman checks tickets as passengers enter the aircraft.
Leaving the airport, the once-paved road is littered with massive potholes every few feet.
Multi-story townhouses sit on large plots of beachfront property and colorful vacation homes run along the coast of the island. At its peak, acres of untouched land and a nine-hole golf course are notable areas of the scenery.
The island’s economy remains afloat through two private cays: Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Great Stirrup Cay, both of which employ many residents from the mainland.
The heart of the community is the mail boat, which brings supplies and groceries to the island weekly. However, when the boat fails to show up, stores go empty and residents struggle to find essential food items.
When the mail boat arrives after a week’s absence, the dock is packed with people trying to secure their packages and eager consumers in stores asking, “Has the bread or eggs been offloaded yet?”
Some residents fear that without the cruise lines or the mail boat, the island would have to be vacated immediately.
Anthony Winder, 59, owner of A and L Grocery, one of three grocery stores on the island, said that although the economy of Great Harbour Cay is stable, if not for the cruise lines, the island would be in trouble.
“As far as the two cays are concerned, because of the two cays, the local economy is doing very well,” Winder said in an interview with The Nassau Guardian.
“Within the last couple of years, [both] CocoCay and Great Stirrup Cay, they have made a lot of improvements to their cays.
“CocoCay, for example, they just built a pier to accommodate the ship so that they can have more stopover as opposed to using tenders.”
He added that CocoCay invested hundreds of millions on the pier and renovations to the cay.
“The cruise ship basically is the engine that runs this community,” he continued.
“Without that, I don’t know.
“Many of us would have to resort to moving out of here because on the mainland there is nothing here to sustain us. There’s nothing here.
“We talk about the mail boat, the mail boat is very vital to the community because the mail boat system was introduced years ago.
“Mainly because of us being an archipelago, the mail boat was vital to these islands.
“[With] Nassau being our capital, everything is transported through Nassau.
“…Without the mail boat, really, we [are] basically dead in the water.
“In the last couple weeks, our regular boat the Gurth Dean has been down.
“They had some issues with their boat, engine problems and things, so we had to use the Legacy.
“We’ve been having boats almost every two weeks.
“If you notice the last boat that [was] here, you [would have] noticed the amount of supplies they brought in.
“That was mainly because they had backups.
“Anytime they miss a week, the stores are basically empty.
“You look in A and L’s coolers for example, they were empty.”
Winder said that he has been able to manage the issue by doubling up on his orders but keeping fruits, vegetables, eggs and milk is difficult because they don’t last very long.
He added that the infrastructure of the island is falling apart, noting that the airport, dock and public roads are in deplorable conditions.
Wayde Francis, 55, is a carpenter and fisherman who said he has lived in Great Harbour Cay all his life. He said that the best part of living on the island is the water. However, he also believes that if the cruise ships shut down their operations, the island would go under.
“That’s the main income over here,” Francis said.
“No cruise ship, no island, trust me.
“If the cruise ship pulls out, I don’t know what would happen over here.
“Everybody would have to go someplace else, trust me.
“What else here? What else to do here?
“If there [isn’t any] money here making, I wouldn’t be able to sell [any] fish to nobody [because] nobody has [any] money.
“If you see the cruise ship stops, that’s it…”
He said when the mail boat fails to show up, it’s hard to find anything to cook.
“I’d probably just have to eat a lot of fish and conch if the mail doesn’t come,” he said.
“Nothing to drink; all the Kalik gone. You know, I’m a Kalik man. That ain’t right.”
Davanno Newton, 24, a laborer at Island Site Development (ISD), said he has lived in Great Harbour Cay just about his entire life. He said he’s glad to see the cays expanding, which brings in more money, but he added that the ports of entry on the mainland need to be addressed as soon as possible.
“The main island itself needs improvement, [not] just the two cays,” Newton said.
“The ports of entry, the government dock and the airport should be the most important right now and at least a hotel [built].”
He added that after he graduated high school in New Providence, he came back home to find work. He said that it was much easier to secure a steady job in GHC than New Providence.
Cleveland Ramsey, 47, a former educator and principal of the island’s lone school, the R.N. Gomez All Age School, said although the island has its issues, he feels that the economy is doing “pretty good”.
“Currently I think the economy of Great Harbour Cay is blooming,” Ramsey said.
“I think the increase that perhaps the entire Bahamas is feeling, Great Harbour Cay is indeed feeling that.
“[We have] many tourist arrivals, a lot of the second homes are pretty much booked and I think we’re doing pretty good.”
Asked what he thinks could improve on the island, he said the terminal building at the airport.
“I think that is a key priority because obviously it is one of the gateways for [people] to come through to our island and obviously when they come to the island you want them to come with a good feeling to the Berry Islands,” he said.
“[But] right now what we have there, I don’t think it speaks well of us as a people.
“I know that the government has already committed to doing something to upgrade the terminal building and so we wait anxiously to have that project started.
“Secondly…our roads right now are in a deplorable condition and I think the central government needs to pay some close attention to improving our road infrastructure.
“It is a terrible situation.
“I think if we could do those two things right now it would help the community tremendously.”
Education: Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) 3rd Year