There are some realities that small developing island states like The Bahamas must accept and respond to if we are to protect our way of life and that of future generations.
Amongst these realities are environmental protection, climate change and sea level rise.
Sometimes environmental protection is seen as the past time of the wealthy or of academics removed from the day to day life of ordinary folk.
And even when recognized as important for the future of the planet many see environmental challenges as the result of circumstances so large as to be beyond the ability of small states to impact them.
The Bahamas must not be lulled into these mindsets. The protection and conservation of our environment is our business; we must attend to it systematically and methodically.
Bahamians can be proud that historically our country has been in the forefront of conservation and protection of biodiversity. The first national land and sea park was created in Exuma in 1959. Our national bird, the flamingo, was given protected status that same year. Over the past 60 years the national park system of The Bahamas has more than doubled in size and today encompasses land and sea parks in Abaco, Andros, Grand Bahama, Inagua, San Salvador and Crooked Island.
During the last 60 years, a myriad of fauna and marine life have been granted protected status. Beginning in 2008, The Bahamas has protected new expanses of wetlands and seas with a view to achieving our national commitment to protect 20 percent of our near shore and marine environment by 2020.
In the mid 1990s, The Bahamas began to require environmental impact assessments for large, mostly international development projects and we became active in international efforts to support good environmental stewardship. By 2010, a Forestry Act and a Planning and Subdivisions Act were enacted giving additional strength to several zoning orders issued during the 1990s.
These commitments were made to protect sustainable livelihoods for our population particularly in fisheries, agriculture and tourism which all significantly impact the environment.
But still many Bahamians remain oblivious to their responsibility to become environmentally aware.
To date, only lip service has been paid to the need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels to power our vehicles and generate our electricity. While a small number of individual families has installed solar water heaters, an even smaller number has moved to adopt solar energy as an alternative to fossil fuel generated electricity from the public utility provider. And the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) and Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) appear unable to move beyond reinforcing bunker C powered electricity generation.
We are small but we are contributing to raising global temperatures. And those temperatures are contributing to more and stronger summer hurricanes which at worse threaten life and limb and at a minimum damage and destroy public and private infrastructure including roads, airports, docks, buildings – government, commercial and residential — damage agricultural and fisheries enterprises and cause the loss of countless hours of productive work . And, the cost of perennial repair and replacement of public infrastructure eats into government’s budget annually.
It is increasingly important for Bahamians to become more informed on the inter-connectedness between protecting our environment and protecting our livelihood for the future. For example, not only will polluted seas do away with a sustainable fisheries sector; it will destroy a tourism sector built upon the glories of sun, sand and sea. Our seas are polluted not only by the illegal dumping of cargo ships and the tourism fueled yacht and cruise ship industry but also by run-off of fertilizers into wetlands, creeks and the sea.
And our water table is threatened not only with infiltration from sea level rise but from the penetration of improperly disposed oils and lubricants and leachate from poorly managed dump sites with implications for agriculture and indeed for human sustenance.