Bahamians and the environment

Many Bahamians are not well informed or interested in conservation matters.

This notwithstanding a history of creating national parks and protected marine areas, protecting breeding grounds for birdlife including the national bird, the flamingo, the white crown pigeon and other vulnerable resident and migratory birds dating as far back as the 1950s, and more recent efforts to protect native trees, the physical landscape and marine life.

This is especially evident in the undifferentiating use and abuse of the natural environment in pursuit of economic development: the indiscriminate felling of large trees, cutting of hills and the backfilling of wetlands; poor and sometimes unsustainable fisheries and agricultural practices and inadequate planning of the built environment including extensive development along vulnerable coast lines.

That residents of our low-lying islands do not see a correlation between vulnerability to catastrophic flooding and the stubborn practice of cutting hills and creating infrastructure, business and housing developments in low-lying and wetlands areas and other areas vulnerable to sea surges, is mind-boggling.

Similarly, as increased numbers of Bahamians and others rightly complain about unfriendly environmental practices in the tourism sector, most particularly in the cruise sector, there is often not a similar understanding of or offense taken to even greater threats presented to the environment in other areas of the Bahamian economy — large industrial shipping, aragonite mining, oil exploration or industrial and manufacturing processes whose waste by-product have fueled environmental degradation internationally and will do the same here.

Fortunately, in more recent times a growing segment of our population has become better educated and sensitized to the importance of environmental stewardship.

This is reflected in the growth in the number of environmentally concerned groups and the increase in the number of individuals supporting their initiatives expanding beyond those of the premier Bahamian conservation non-governmental organization (NGO), the Bahamas National Trust (BNT). These groups include a wide range of issue and island-specific local organizations like ReEarth, Friends of the Environment, Andros Conservation Trust, Bahamas Reef Environmental Education Foundation (BREEF), Save the Bays and One Eleuthera and associations of fishermen, divers and others whose livelihoods depend on a healthy environment.

The government also has expanded its financial support to the BNT and created the Bahamas Environment Science and Technology Commission (BEST) which was recently absorbed into a new Ministry for the Environment. Further, it has strengthened legislation to enhance and protect the natural environment generally and specifically endangered and vulnerable species of trees, animals and marine life and instituted environmental impact assessment (EIA) protocols — all meant to enhance environmentally sensitive development.

Still, too many Bahamians believe that the observance of environmental standards is something to be imposed on foreign investors and major developers and not on the plans and actions of Bahamians.

Some maintain that any activity by Bahamians trying to “make an honest living” should be exempt from requirements to observe rules and regulations. Hence, some continue to resist requirements to adhere to safe planning and building standards.

Some ignore fishing regulations including those relating to closed fisheries periods. Too many do not give even lip service to initiatives to reduce waste by recycling, even as others unsafely discard oils, acids and other harmful substances into the ground

It remains critically important that more Bahamians accept that notwithstanding the minor role small island states like The Bahamas play in degradation of the world’s environment, we are amongst the first to suffer the dire consequences of such degradation which is expressed in more frequent and extreme storms and sea-level rise.

Memories of Hurricane Dorian’s destruction of lives and property, damage to marine life and contribution to coastal erosion just one year ago, should serve as more than ample warning. 

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