Update, June 2, 2008: Earthwatch has announced they are no longer involved in the Bakers Bay Club on Great Guana Cay. The following was written between 2005-2006, when Earthwatch's involvement in the Bakers Bay Club project was being used in the media to give Bakers Bay legitimacy. Earthwatch appears to be making strides on this issue.
I wouldn't imagine that the director of public affairs for Earthwatch is often questioned for being involved in anything controversial. Earthwatch, after all, is like Santa's little helper. Earthwatch, they're the good guys. But scientists and eco-bloggers around the world have been talking about Earthwatch lately, and they are saying that Earthwatch is inadvertently assisting in a cultural genocide of the inhabitants of Guana Cay.
Earthwatch supports about 140 missions in 48 different countries. Let's say you're a college student, it's summer, you want a vacation, but you also want to do good. You pay about $1800 to EarthWatch, and they send you off somewhere to help with environmental grunt-work. Maybe you go to Gabon, in Africa, and you watch after the monkeys. Maybe you go to Montana, and collect moose-droppings. Whatever you are doing, you are helping ecologists with important research that is supposed to be helping planet Earth.
Earthwatch is always the good guy. But today, Earthwatch sends kids to help Kathleen Sullivan Sealey conduct studies that the Discovery Land Company uses to sell its controversial golf course.
To the director of public affairs for Earthwatch, Sullivan Sealey is a kind-hearted conservationist who 'cares deeply about the environment.' The director seems oblivious about the ultimate use of Sullivan Sealey's research and the weight of the international outrage stemming from the project that Earthwatch sends children to (see videos of Earthwatch volunteeers at Guana Cay here and here)
I do not like golf courses, and we do not in any way support this development.
- Mary Blue Magruder, Earthwatch
I explain to the director that I have a deep respect for Sullivan Sealey's work in the Bahamas, but I also remind her that 'Kathleen is paid by the Discovery Land Company' and the end objective of her work; the reason she is employed by Discovery Land Company helps to greenlight the construction of a golf course, a large marina, a seaplane landing zone and 450 mansions in a crucially important ecological zone.
The director initially wrote me in what appeared to be words of horror. Sullivan Sealey, after all, was Earthwatch's 2003 Scientist of the Year. She wrote back, " Ouch. This is news to me, I'm sorry to say.”
She later told me on the phone, “I do not like golf courses, and we do not in any way support this development.” Later, her voice appeared to indicate defensiveness, and she said, "You and I are on the same side, we are fighting for the same things here, so I am not sure what you want.”
I told her that I don't want anything, I am just a travel writer, and I do not represent any cause other than my own writing. I told her that it is the residents of Guana Cay that want Earthwatch off their island. While they hope Earthwatch continues to offer volunteers for Kathleen's research in the Exuma's (a group of islands south of the Abacos), they hope they no longer help the greenlighting of a harmful golf course that is predicted to destroy their coral reef within 10 years.