The return of ‘Hog Island’ and the fire sale of our future
This is an open letter to the Right Honorable Prime Minister Philip Davis, the members of his Cabinet, all current MPs and aspiring politicians in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
For generations, the lighthouse at the western end of what is now known as Paradise Island has stood as a beacon of safety to sailors, and also as a symbol of the traditions and way of life that made us who we are.
In my youth, almost 70 years ago now, I would often go fishing with my uncle just off those rocks, and the abundance of grouper, snapper and lobster – the whole area teeming with life – was just a marvel to see. Even as the rest of the island began to be developed, that area remained untouched, a bastion of respect and reverence for nature which no asphalt steamroller ever violated.
Back then, it was called Hog Island, apparently because of the large population of wild hogs that lived there.
Today, with the announcement that the government has approved a development to bring thousands of tourists a day to the pristine beach overlooked by that noble lighthouse, it is once again becoming “hog island”, as international business eyes big profits and local politicians rub their hands at the prospect of cheaply won votes.
What will be the effect on that iconic coastline of the masses of garbage and human waste inevitably produced as a result of this development? What will be the effect on the once abundant reef that I knew so well in my youth, which is already struggling because of human impact?
Will the developer’s plan be effective in mitigating these dangers? The government cannot possibly know the answer, because it went ahead and announced the approval, despite the fact that the environmental impact evaluation is yet to be completed.
Perhaps, worst of all, what does it mean for our sense of identity as a nation, that this once powerful symbol of our history and traditions, our seafaring roots and deep connection with nature, will be made off limits to Bahamians, hogged up by commercial and political interests and remade into a fabricated spectacle for the amusement of hordes of cruise day visitors?
Sadly, that lighthouse, the lonely silhouette of which, seen against an evening sky has long epitomized the iconic harbor of Nassau, has now become a symbol of a cynical, shameful trend played out in recent decades across the length and breadth of this beautiful archipelago.
I am old enough to remember when regular Bahamians in the hundreds and thousands could make a noble living off the water, could experience the freedom of the open sea, and could bask and relax in the beauty of our incomparable coastlines.
But slowly, this freedom and this birthright has been clawed away from us, sold to the highest (and sometimes the lowest) foreign bidder by successive governments that placed their own short-term political interests, and perhaps even personal profits, ahead of what is best for the public.
The incomparable national treasures that have fallen to this trend are too numerous to count. On some islands, New Providence in particular, there is scarcely any access at all to the coast for regular Bahamians.
The population of Bimini has likewise been corralled into less desirable parts of the island while watching their precious mangrove ecosystem be wiped out by bad development; as have the people of Guana Cay, Abaco, whose once majestic barrier reef has suffered near total destruction. Other islands appear to be headed in the same direction.
The shortsightedness of our various governments is largely to blame for this. There is no reason to chide international developers or wealthy second-home owners – our interests were never their responsibility. However, the finger must also be pointed at us, the people of The Bahamas. It is on our watch that our birthright has been auctioned in a decades-long fire sale, right from under our noses.
I am not saying that tourism projects are bad; indeed they are a crucial tool of national development. But all development is not good development.
There must be a balance, and some things must absolutely be sacred. If not, what will be sold off is not just parcels of land, but our very identity as a people and, most importantly, the natural heritage that we are tasked with holding in trust for the benefit of future generations.
If we continue along this current trend, what will reality be like for our children and grandchildren? Will they be corralled into the sparse centers of these islands, cut off from contact with their history and living out their days in service to the wealthy individuals and international interests that reap all the benefits of our wondrous, bounteous coastal and marine resources? Or will over-development and environmental abuse kill off that very abundance itself, and leave all of us adrift in the same sinking boat, with no watchtower, no beacon, no ray of light to guide us?
— Joseph Darville
Chairman, Save The Bays