A group of 24 scientists are urging Disney Cruise Lines (DCL) to find a different site for its proposed cruise port at Lighthouse Point in South Eleuthera, arguing that the project will cause “irrevocable and long-term environmental harm” to The Bahamas.
But in response, a representative from the Walt Disney Company said the scientists’ claims are based on opinions, not facts.
DCL is a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company.
In March, the government signed a heads of agreement (HOA) with Disney for the development of a cruise port following months of controversy.
The development is expected to cost between $250 million and $400 million.
Environmentalists have argued that the project may destroy the ecological and cultural assets of the local environment and strip locals of access to beaches and public spaces.
In a letter dated November 8, 2019, the scientists said Disney’s intention to embark on a project of such scale in a proposed protected area contradicts its commitments to environmental protection.
The letter was released publicly by the Stop Disney – Last Chance for Lighthouse Point campaign.
It was addressed to Dr. Mark Penning, the Walt Disney Company’s vice president of animals, science and environment.
“As I said before, I appreciate and respect your concern for the environment and am also committed to protecting this special place,” Penning wrote in response yesterday.
“We take our commitments and responsibilities seriously and remain confident in our ability to move the project forward in a way that protects and sustains the environment and drives positive results for The Bahamas, and Eleuthera in particular.”
In their letter, the scientists said, “We, the undersigned scientists and experts, are writing to express our strong concerns regarding the proposal by Disney Cruise Lines to develop Lighthouse Point for the operation of a cruise port in South Eleuthera in The Bahamas.
“Lighthouse Point is a unique natural site containing valuable marine habitats, rich biodiversity and endangered coral species. The construction and operation of the port would cause irrevocable, long-term environmental, cultural and economic harm to South Eleuthera and The Bahamas.
“The current project, if allowed to proceed, would undercut the Bahamian government’s international commitment to protect the oceans and their marine resources.”
The group pointed to The Bahamas’ commitment in 2008 to the Caribbean Challenge Initiative to conserve 20 percent of its marine and coastal resources.
They added that in the wake of the devastation of Hurricane Dorian, the protection of ecologically important places like Lighthouse Point is even more important.
“We strongly urge Disney to work with Bahamian citizen groups to locate a different site for their cruise port and to further the precedent of choosing and rehabilitating an already degraded site for any new cruise port,” they wrote.
Dr. David Philipp, chair of the board of directors of the Fisheries Conservation Foundation, and of the University of Illinois; Julie Claussen, of the University of Illinois; Dr. Adelle Thomas, of the University of The Bahamas; and Dr. Diane Claridge, executive director of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation, are just four of the scientists who signed the letter.
But in response, Penning assured the group that Disney is being environmentally responsible in its plans to develop the property.
“While I appreciate and share your passion around protecting Lighthouse Point, I’m afraid several of the opinions in the letter are not based on fact, but rather on the wildly speculative and misinformed rhetoric being shared by those who oppose the project,” Penning wrote.
“As we have said from the beginning, we will only move forward with a project at Lighthouse Point if we are able to do so in a way that aligns with our company’s deep and long-standing commitment to the environment.”
He added, “When we submit our EIA (environmental impact assessment) in the near future, it will be based on extensive field work, robust data collection and analysis, direct engagement with those who have studied the site and the species observed there and an exhaustive review of available literature.”
Penning said many who have criticized the project have not engaged with the community to determine what is best for it.
“It is easy for people, many of whom have never been to South Eleuthera or engaged with the community, to dismiss a project that will create much-needed economic opportunities for local residents,” he said.
“This not only includes the quality jobs that will be created during construction and operation, but also the purchase of goods and services and the opportunities for Bahamian ownership that the project will create.
“This property was for sale for several years and the previous owners had received approval on plans that would have been far more impactful to the site. There is always a delicate balance between sustainable economic development and protecting the environment and we have accomplished that with our plans.”