||"Contrary to prevalent rumors, Joe's Creek, the mangroves and the Guana Cay bonefish flats will all be preserved and not altered by development."
||- Advertisement from Discovery Land Company's Bakers Bay Golf and Ocean Club
Written on October 27, 2005.
Below the star-speckled surface, greenish orbs by the thousands pulse in sync. Grand cathedrals of roots rise from this metropolis of the weird. Its woody columns are inlaid in horned shells that move slow, like a golf cart in search of a lost ball. Fishes of many forms pass beneath these spires. As your keen eye wanders upward these spires, you will perhaps find an ivory butterfly form - an encyclia orchid - dangling like an angel, and even higher a green bird with a painted face - a green heron, whose wading demeanor is almost regal.
But all of these things, you will find only in a very subtle context. For this place, draped in layers of green, is so subtle a place that for most of history it was considered the dredges of the world.
This place, this lovely place is an Abaco mangrove.
Mangroves constitute most of the Bahamian Abaco Islands. Fly over in a plane, most of the island is mostly submerged at high tide.
The mangroves so dominate Abaco's "land" that the island has produced a fair trade out of a type of rugged tourism called bonefishing - saltwater flyfishing concentrating on the slim and transparent fish who meander these flats.
A mangrove is a community of salt-tolerant plants and trees that live in the muddy tidal flats of our world's tropical regions. These are a complex ecological buffer zone that serve to stabilize the land as well as feed the sea the bounties of the land. Equally, the mangroves act as the nursery of the sea. Sharks bear their young here. Coral reef fishes begin their awkward lives between the roots of giant mangrove trees. Molluscs grow.
The mangrove is part of a complex triangular relationship with the seagrass community and the coral reef.
Perhaps most important, the mangroves absorb excess nutrients before they make it to the nearshore environment. For many of these environments, foremost among them the coral reef, this aborption helps buffer them against their killer - excess nutrients.
The small islet of Great Guana Cay features its own mangrove systems. The southern mangrove system has recently been ripped out by a developer on the southern end of the island, which leaves only the larger mangrove system on the northern end of the island.
Enter the Discovery Land Company and their Bakers Bay Golf and Ocean Club.
Here on the northern end of the island, the Discovery Land Company is going to rip out a gigantic swath of the last mangrove system on the island, and dredge out a gigantic marina - 180 slips. According to the Discovery Land Company's own website, some slips will be for sea-cruisers up to 200 feet long.
The consequences of this marina are far-reaching for the conch-fishing grounds, the bonefishers, the coral reef, the island's bird foraging habitat and the terrestrial ecosystem itself. Once the mangrove goes, so will the island's ecology. So how is it possible that the developer has said, "Contrary to prevalent rumors...the mangroves...will all be preserved and not altered by development."
Lory Kenyon. A view of Joe's Creek, the bonefish flats and the mangroves
Perhaps what they mean is that they will save trees of one of the mangrove species. A little tricky language can take you a long way. But a mangrove is a community, and the developer's plans entail ripping out the mangrove system seen in the photograph above.
At the center of this strange debate stands a battered marine ecologist who leads the paid consultant team of the Bakers Bay Golf and Ocean Club, and has created an EIA that more or less 'forgets' some of the most important aspects of impact. This 'sugar-coating on a poison pill' has been lambasted as an illogical document. Instead of examining the important components of marina flush-rates and gray water, the EIA largely concentrates on second-level environmental issues like litter (which the developer will clean up!) and orchid-thieves (which the development will stop!)
But government's rarely read EIA's anyways. And Prime Minister Christie sees international outrage over his support of such projects as the Bakers Bay Marina and the Bimini Golf Course as simply a tiresome obstacle to overcome. He has no inclination that perhaps the science community of the world is...correct.
The marina will require ripping out the island's last mangroves and poisoning the island's flyfishing and bonefishing flats, as well as contributing to threatening the very ecosystem the islanders depend on for their livings. The marina will help to poison a fragile coral reef, one of the last intact in the world.
Dr. Michael Risk writes, "Throughout the EIA, mention is made of legislative guidelines and policies in place in the State of Florida. This seems in keeping with the attitude taken by many foreigners coming to Bahamas, that it is not a sovereign nation but an extension of Florida. In this, and in all developments, it is necessary to compare what is proposed with what is actually done. If Florida has such effective laws and guidelines, then the environmental situation in that State should act as a model for all similar jurisdictions. It is instructive indeed to compare the proposed situation in Florida with what really happens. If similar developments in Florida have had deleterious effects, despite those laws, then it might be expected that the same thing would happen on Guana, no matter what paper guidelines were in place. The best comparison would be with the Florida Keys, because of their geomorphic similarity to Bahamas."
Photo Courtesy Lory Kenyon
In a telephone interview, Dr. Risk explains that the Guana Cay marina, as a percentage of total area on the island compared to marinas in Florida or the Florida Keys, is compounded to such a high level, that one can only rationally assume the worst.
In his response to the developer's EIA, he writes, "Marinas in the Keys, despite EPA regulations on flushing rates, are generally biological dead zones, with fuel spills, toxic chemicals, and anoxic sediments. In addition, virtually all of the virulent human viral and bacterial pathogens may be found in the waters of marinas in the Keys: Hepatitis A&B, cholera, tetanus, the lot..."
Kathleen Sullivan Sealey, paid consultant to the developer, told me in an email interview that, "Bakers Bay Club will be the first Blue Flag Marina in the Bahamas...look up the criteria for
this programme out of the European Union Global Environmental Programme website."
Actually, a Guana Cay homeowner did contact the program. A representative of the blue flag program writes her, "In the International Blue Flag Coordination we are not aware of a planned marina in Guana Cay wishing to apply for Blue Flag status. I will therefore ask the Caribbean and Bahamian Blue Flag co-ordinators to investigate the issue and return to me with a reply. I will keep you informed."
Then Discovery Land Company's consultant says, "then you should ask the Bahamian owners of Boat Harbour or marinas in Marsh Harbour why they are not striving for the same standards?"
Photo of Great Guana Cay's settlemet courtesy Norvell Slezycki
There are four answers to her comment about the marina in Marsh Harbour. One, it has existed for hundreds of years and is the main port of the Abacos. Two, it is not adjacent to one of the last healthy coral reefs in the world, and three, all marinas should strive towards higher environmental standards. However, the main commercial harbour for the Abaco Islands cannot be compared to an unbuilt harbour on a tiny island adjacent to a coral reef. Lastly, Marsh Harbour was always a natural harbour, which means that the flush rate works very well. In Guana Cay, the harbour will have to be dug out of the island.
In the last nine months, tsunamis and hurricanes have wrecked horrific economic, environmental and financial damage around the world. Whether in India or Louisiana or Central America, scientists are explaining that much of the damage could have been avoided if these coastal regions had protected their coastal buffer zones.
In nearby Bimini, locals unsuccessfully fought a developer whose golf course cleared out the mangroves of over half their island. At high tide, this part of the island now sits underwater.
A single hurricane. A single direct hit. And much of Bimini's land-integrity could vanish, much the same way that Louisiana's coastline degredation has led to the state's southern half actually sinking. (read more about Louisiana sinking here) The devastation at Bimini has been so severe, that even Discovery Land Company admits it.
Which of these two mangrove systems is more important is difficult to measure. In fact, the two mangrove systems are important in different ways.
Joe's Creek underwater, courtesy Jane McClanahan.
Mangroves, like coastal salt marshes, are the intermediary zone between the land and sea. These plant communities literally thrive on the precipice. For Bimini, the mangroves literally hold up the structure of the island itself. For Guana Cay, the mangrove absorbs the nutrients from the shore.
Because of that, they have developed the ability to survive the harshest, including from the weather. In order to continue to exploit the thin nutrient-rich band between the land and sea, mangrove ecosystems need to be able to keep the land...from sinking.
In an article for Bahamascommunity.com, the author writes, "Dr. Sealey explained that the marina will be situated outside of the wetlands but anywhere that it does touch will be a buffered zone. The wetlands will be protected as far as possible with boardwalks around them in places."
But the statement seems to contradict other statements that the developer made, suggesting that no wetlands will be affected. In reality, the marina plans take out almost the entire wetland system, mangrove or not.
Sealey is quoted in the article, "The wetlands are perhaps my biggest concern in The Bahamas. Everyone wants to fill in these ephemeral ponds' and dredge them for marinas...Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world. They are nurseries for species inherent to The Bahamas, and they are where the ocean's food chain originates."
But why would Sealey say one thing while the developer says another?
||In this illustration based on the developer's own EIA, the areas outlined in green are inland mangroves and the areas outlined in yellow are coastal mangroves.
It should be noted that a mangrove river, "Joes Creek" flows through this area and ends up in the sand bonefishing flats to the lower right.
|In this illustration, we depict the proposed marina per the developer's own plans.
How is it possible that the developer is able to state in paid advertisements to the local media that: "Contrary to prevalent rumors, Joe's Creek, the mangroves and the Guana Cay bonefish flats will all be preserved and not altered by development."
Later, the developer changed the wording of this on their saveguanacay.com website, to state, "The mangrove wetland known as Joe's Creek, and the Great Guana Cay bonefish flats, will not be altered by the Bakers Bay Club development."
A inland estuaries expert, who resides part time on the island, is surprised by the developer's plans to build such a large marina. Jim Alderman writes,
"Gray water in most cases is water that has gone through some stage of wastewater treatment; that which comes from water not treated and with minimal human contact. Laundry water is also called gray water."
It is my understanding that Discovery is going to put their effluent (sink, wash, bath and sewage) through a primary and secondary sewage treatment and then use that effluent for irrigation. Basically, the primary treatment is removal and separation of solids and secondary treatment involves some sort of biologic process (there are many) and aeration. In total, the treatment plant there is a tertiary treatment that involves disinfectants.
Land application of wastewater, no matter what treatment phase, still contains nitrogen and phosphorous, the N and the P that is on fertilizer bags; the K is potassium, hence the 10-10-10 or N-P-K use by everyone to fertilize lawns, etcetera."
It is not impossible to remove the N and P but it is extremely expensive.
Some of the N and P will be taken up by the plants but not nearly enough. That which is not used will get into the ground water and travel laterally and seep into the ocean and the sea.
I calculated the number of homes, condos, and hotel room, that showed how much N and P are produced per person per day times 365 allowing for total occupancy...I got the initial per person figures from our state DNR. The bottom line is that gray water contains nitrogen and phosphors and some gets used and some gets into the water column and the in the water column and can cause algal growth on reefs."
So the marina will be as dangerous to the coral reef as the dredging.
It is interesting to note that the developer is not attempting to fight the scientific contention that it will destroy the reef and mangroves.
But what the EIA fails to mention is that the marina, which cuts a hole into the island and ends up nearly abutting the beach on the Atlantic side of the island, will cut the island in half, ridding it of the mangrove ecosystem that protects the island against hurricanes.
One direct hit of a hurricane, and flooding will occur in the area adjacent to the marina. I have been dead center in an Abaco hurricane and seen the Atlantic waters rise by up to seven feet. The narrow spit of land between the Bakers Bay development and the rest of the island can literally be flooding by hurricane-driven water.
The hurricane could easily cut the island in half if the marina is built. The net effect on the island would be continued yearly degradation. The coral reef, now open to the marina's foul water and the flooding receding back into the reef, will again be destroyed.
Perhaps to them, none of that matters. Bahamian cronyism will take care of that.
December 19, 2005.
Aerial photographs depicting the progress on Bakers Bay Golf and Ocean Club indicate that large portions of the mangroves have already been torn out. It is unlikely that Guana Cay's mangroves will ever entirely recover after the developer has been removed from the Bahamas.