You have just seen for yourself a video of what is going on in Bell Island and the video shows you just where it is; right in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. That video was taken three weeks ago. So you can imagine how much more destruction has taken place since then.
The impact on the environment in and around Bell Island is severe: 13 acres or 600,000 square feet of sea bed has been destroyed. Conch, fish, lobster and turtle habitats and coral beds have all been destroyed. A pond where the protected Bahama duck and countless other wildlife thrived has been so heavily impacted that they are no longer there. Hills have also been excavated. What I witnessed was both devastating and depressing. The Exuma Land and Sea Park was established in 1958 and comprises 176 square miles of land and sea. In 1959 The Bahamas National Trust was created by statute and in 1964 the Exuma Land and Sea Park was vested in the national Trust by the Crown.
Conch Cut marks the south eastern border of the park. Access to bell Island is gained via Conch cut. Dredging is now going on in Conch Cut to facilitate the entrance to an inland marina on Bell Island. I want to draw your attention to something here it is called Conch Cut for a reason. There are thousands of conchs which call this area their home. This area is their home, this is where they live. Now they are being kicked out.
Many of the requirements of the Environmental Impact Assesment (EIA) and the Environmental Management Plan (EMP) have been violated. For example, the silt curtains there are inadequate. Dredging continues with broken, destroyed and in some areas, there are no curtains at all. Silt can be seen spilling onto the nearby coral and other vegetation lining the seabed. and there appears not to be a full-time on-site environmental manager. Yet neither the government nor the National Trust is taking any action to correct it. In addition to the vast environmental degradation, the toll the development is taking on Bahamians especially those of the Exuma Cays is unacceptable.
Many Bahamian entrepreneurs rely on the Park for their income. They are tour guides and boat captains whose guests come year after year to see the untouched beauty of this unique part of the Exumas. They are equally distressed because they fear their grandchildren won’t have this experience.
Bahamians who need top to sell to straw vendors are chased out of the Park even though they use sustainable measures to harvest it. There are at least 38,000 unemployed people in the country. Many of them are out of work due to the FNM’s mismanagement of the economy like the large numbers of business owners whose establishments in New Providence had to be closed due to roadworks. Now the Free National Movement government’s policies are threatening the future of Bahamians in the Family Islands.
The Progressive Liberal Party has learned that a few Bahamians are working on the Bell Island project but whatever work they are doing is short-term.
The FNM has talked about the importance of ecotourism but instead of preserving treasures like Bell Island for Bahamians they are allowing foreigners to destroy it.
The Free National Movement Government and the Bahamas National Trust have turned a blind eye to what is going on at Bell Island and turned their backs on the Bahamian people, all for a few helicopter rides, one million dollars and who knows what else?
They should be embarrassed.
But why should we be surprised? The FNM and the National Trust are not putting Bahamians first. They are putting their personal interest and those of their wealthy special interest ahead of Bahamians. Proof of this is their absolute and complete silence on this matter.
The Progressive Liberal Party therefore wants the Hubert Ingraham-led Free National Movement government and its appropriate agencies to monitor, and ensure that the development is being carried out in accordance with the conditions laid out in the developer’s licence and the requirements of the BEST Commission.
The Progressive Liberal Party also notes a pattern in the actions of the Free National Movement government that has led to the destruction of the middle-class, the discouragement of entrepreneurship and the promotion of activities for special interest groups. The PLP wants the FNM to cease and desist.