Front Porch | Beautiful Bahamaland threatened by plastics and climate crisis
From a celestial vantage point, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield enthused: “The most beautiful place from space is The Bahamas with all the gorgeous colors of the ocean.”
After a terrestrial journey traversing the ocean banks of The Bahamas, the jade and aqua waters of the Exuma Cays, the pink majesty of the roseate spoonbills of Inagua and the kaleidoscope of dazzling colors and vistas of our archipelago, Hadfield’s observation of The Bahamas would likely prove even more enthusiastic.
Flying low into Mayaguana just before a saffron and marigold-glazed sunset, a visitor might observe below an undisturbed white beach flushed by lime green waters and bespeckled by pink dots reminiscent of Georges Seurat’s pointillism on a canvas.
Upon closer inspection, it is a flock of flamingos flying home to their colony, their iconic pink ruffles captured brilliantly by Bahamian artist Lynn Parotti.
As a dear Bahamian friend who resides in the U.K. often chimes, it is nearly always “champagne weather” in The Bahamas in both senses of the term of art.
A young Bahamian friend who wisely retreats annually to Hope Town, Abaco, is mesmerized still, after many years, by the beauty of Elbow Cay.
The cay’s iconic candy cane 89-foot lighthouse, which guards the harbor’s entrance, also adorns our $10 bill. It remains a beacon for boaters and visitors today, just as it served as warning yesteryear of the dangers of Elbow Reef.
Erected by the British Imperial Lighthouse Service in the 1860s, it is one of two remaining beacons in the country that have resisted automation.
The inhabitants of Hope Town elected to retain a lighthouse keeper who is responsible for keeping the beacon lit. There are regular tours of the 101-step structure.
A National Geographic website observes: “Extraordinary efforts are undertaken by the locals to secure the parts for the kerosene-burning apparatus of the light, most of which are no longer manufactured.”
It was not always thus. Those in the then-wrecking trade vehemently opposed the lighthouse, which would have interfered with their business. Some went so far as to sink a barge used to transport material for the construction of the lighthouse.
Alas, the lighthouse was eventually built and went into operation in 1863. Today, it is a source and symbol of pride for Hope Town residents, an iconic image for Abaconians, including the descendants of those once employed in the wrecking trade.
What was once seen as a threat to one industry is now a beacon for domestic and international visitors. Such is the nature of Bahamian enterprise in our God-fearing land.
The friend, who retreats annually to Elbow Cay, woke up early one morning to walk the wide and long beach near a peninsula on the cay. It was another brilliant day of exceptional beauty in The Bahamas.
He felt the rising yet soothing warmth of the sun. The avian life sang the chorus of a new day. He enjoyed the interplay and innumerable ever-changing shades of blue and green depending on the light.
Then an encounter with a single piece of plastic trash, then another. Then the deluge. Not of water but of a beach overrun and strewn with single-use plastics such as cups and shopping bags to industrial-sized bags which might have once contained fertilizer.
Most of the debris seemed to have come from the armada of ships trans-shipping goods through The Bahamas, though some may have been locally dumped or washed ashore by the tides circulating the tons of plastic choking our oceans.
He valiantly attempted to clean up the beach but there was too much debris for a single individual to tackle.
Scores of mega vessels annually traverse our far-flung archipelago, which encompasses an area of over 100,000 square miles and extends over 500 miles from north to south. Despite our small population of fewer than 400,000, The Bahamas is a big ocean nation.
Plastics are amphibious. They live as comfortably in the sea as they do on land. Like many diseases, they do not discriminate as to whom they will harm, threatening both marine and land animals. And humans.
Though studies are ongoing as to the effect on humans of eating fish contaminated by plastic, there remains no debate that scores of us on the planet are now eating such contaminated fish.
The plastics in fish include plastic microbeads used in a variety of products such as toothpaste, cosmetics, body washes and other personal care products.
These microbeads often end up remaining in the stomachs of fish and may be proving toxic to fish. How might this affect humans, especially the citizens and residents of a country such as ours, where fish is a staple?
Plastics have invaded our beautiful Bahamaland. With rising sea levels, the result of a heating climate and climate crisis, these invading plastics will be pushed up even farther on our coastlines and shores, and perhaps in time, on our doorsteps.
The late Timothy Gibson, the composer of our national anthem, was born at Savannah Sound, Eleuthera, in 1903.
“Sound”, as the residents of the settlement call it with a lyrical accent, rests between Palmetto Point and Tarpum Bay. It was originally known as Windermere and is connected by a bridge to Windermere Island, which enjoys a five-mile-long beach and protective reef that teems with marine life.
Savannah Sound took its later name from the savannah or the flat grassy area of the settlement and the sound on which generations of residents and visitors have walked out onto when the tides recede.
The sound is a piece of heaven until the squadrons of no-see-ums mercilessly attack leaving many of their victims defenseless and scratching for days.
This is where Timothy Gibson grew up until he moved to Arthur’s Town, Cat Island, as a near teenager in order to work alongside his brother C. I. Gibson, both of whom have had schools named in their honor. Savannah Sound has produced a number of outstanding musicians and teachers.
The ever-ebullient nonagenarian Doris Smith, nee Taylor, a relative of the Gibson brothers and the mother of former Supreme Court Justice Claire Hepburn, happily recalls performing in a number of Timothy Gibson’s productions, including starring as Princess Zara.
Over the years, Gibson worked as an educator at Buckley’s, Scrub Hill, Long Island, and Georgetown, Exuma. He adjudicated musical exams throughout the Family Islands.
Gibson’s musical compositions suggest that the natural beauty of The Bahamas was as much a part of his soul as was his music.
From his composition of Beautiful Bahamaland to the national anthem, the entire Bahamas, with its extraordinary diversity of cultural and natural heritage, is the wellsprings and the birthplace of the national anthem.
‘March On, Bahamaland’ contains a rich mixed metaphor which suggests the perils and opportunities of a sovereign, independent country.
“Steady sunward tho’ the weather hide the wide and treacherous shoal.
Lift up your head to the rising sun, Bahamaland …”
The beautiful Bahamaland, memorialized by individuals like Gibson and beloved by generations past who were closer to the land and the sea, is now under existential threat by mass pollution and the climate crisis threatening the global commons and our low-lying archipelago.
Yet, many Bahamians seem unaware of the magnitude of these threats, the effects of which we are already experiencing and which are gathering speed.
Next week: More on the environmental threats to The Bahamas.