A few days ago, I was with my family on mainland Abaco, driving to Crown Point, the northernmost town in the Abacos. We stopped in Coopers Town, which happens to be the hometown of the Prime Minister.
Coopers Town is a lovely place of about 900; it is small, it is colorful, it is clean and it hangs along a beachless stretch of the Abaco sea. We stopped the car when I saw something strange.
I approached it as unassuming as possible. A loggerhead sea turtle, quite dead, its shell was removed. Killing sea turtles is legal in the Bahamas (all but the Hawksbill), even though sea turtles are protected nearly universally throughout the rest of the world. In fact, not only is it legal, on mainland Abaco, evidence of sea turtle slaughter is everywhere. In Sandy Point and Marsh Harbour, we were offered sea turtle soup. In Treasure Cay, a man was displaying a green turtle shell for three hundred dollars. In Coopers Town, their carcasses lay out in the open.
The legality is, of course, absurd. Sea turtles are among a handful of the world's so-called flagship species - charismatic icons of endangered nature. The sea turtles undoubtedly sit at an exclusive table among giant pandas, gorillas and tigers. One species, the Kemp's Ridley is estimated at 1,500 individuals. The leatherback turtle is known to be one of Earth's most mysterious giants. There are approximately 70,000 loggerheads left in the world.
A man approaches us, asks us about our interest in the turtle. We say, 'You the fisherman that caught this?"
He is completely baked, although it is not ten O'Clock in the morning. He says, "No, mon. It is not me who is da fishaman dis fish." Without its shell, this sea turtle looks pathetic, but it is still gigantic. This one weighs about five hundred pounds.
I take a photograph of the dead animal, and we leave. But the man realizes his own mistake, after all, how often do visitors grace Coopers Town? And so, he says, "I am arranging for da sale to you dis fish."
Today, I am continuing north along the Bakers Bay Golf & Ocean Club construction property, in a boat of locals who hope to derail the project.
The small boat passes through the silt zone, and like magic, into the clear, turquoise water of Bakers Bay.
If you measure the Bahamas not just by its land, but by its shallow waters, you have a country the size of California. And if you fly over these shallow waters in an aeroplane, you will find a palette of turquoises, blues, aquas like nowhere else on Earth. In this giant country of water, spectacular geography is everywhere, but certain conditions make for color tones so rich, the water seems to make its own light.
Bakers Bay is a turtle grass meadow - shallow water and white sand covered with small, grassy aquatic plants. For a football-field's length, you can see starfish dotting the bottom.
"Look there," a crew member says, pointing to the beach.
It's low tide, but the tire tracks disappear from the beach into the water. That means four-wheelers have been here maybe an hour or two ago. When the tracks re-emerge from the water line, they form a loop-de-loop. Bakers Bay uses four-wheelers to haul prospective clients to view home sites along the beach. I can imagine the client saying, 'Oh My!' when the salesman plays a little rough on the four-wheeler and takes them for that loop-de-loop spin.
Driving on the beach on Great Guana Cay is illegal. There are many reasons for this, but one reason is particularly important to this story. All seven species of sea turtle in the world are endangered or threatened. Three of those species nest on Great Guana Cay's beaches, and two more less occasionally visit these waters.
For three years, people have been sending me photographs of the four-wheeler and golf cart tracks on both beaches - the three miles of Atlantic beaches and three miles of Sea of Abaco beaches that comprise the outer boundaries of the Bakers Bay megadevelopment.
But now I am seeing it for myself.
Perhaps the primary factor in the decline of green turtles, hawksbill turtles and loggerhead turtles is unsustainable coastal development. Construction activity, water silting, reckless four-wheeler driving - Bakers Bay combs the northern Guana beaches clean of seaweed - another key mistake, if you're concerned about sea turtles.
There are no police on Great Guana Cay. There has never been a need. Before Bakers Bay, there was almost no crime. There is 100% employment. So, when the mainland police get calls from Great Guana Cay residents that Bakers Bay are driving on the beach again, there is really nothing they can, or want, to do. Bakers Bay can do whatever they want.
Since construction began at Bakers Bay, the sea turtle nestings have declined by over ninety percent. This is not surprising. But does six miles of beach in the West Indies matter to the fate of a sea turtle species? When you measure up the remaining undeveloped nesting beaches from the entire West Indies, you realize it's imperitive.
Caribbean nations need to prosper; development is a good thing. But we live in a brave new world, where the old rules of development no longer apply - development in environmental hot-zones must abide by a light footprint and the strictest sustainability plan.