Program Manager, Office of the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas
“The approach NatCap takes, mapping out scenarios and showing people, This is what you told us and this is what this would look like, has been really helpful.“
You’re responsible for leading the creation of a sustainable development plan for Andros Island. Why start there?
Andros is the largest island in The Bahamas, but it’s also one of the more sparsely populated. The third largest barrier reef in the world is off of Andros, it has a network of blue holes, and just off the coast is the “Tongue of the Ocean,” a really steep sudden drop-off into one of the deepest trenches in the world. Andros is also a really important source across The Bahamas for agriculture. And there’s a lot of nursery habitat there, so people come from all over to fish for lobster, bonefish, and sponges.
Why does Andros need a sustainable development plan now?
In The Bahamas about 60% of the population is engaged in tourism in some way, and we have often relied on large tourism projects on our other islands as a way to create jobs and economic growth. Some folks see that and want cruise ships coming into Andros. They want mega-resorts and golf courses and things like that. There are a lot of opportunities and proposals from the private sector for development on Andros. But the ecosystems there are so valuable – development must be strategic so that we’re not sacrificing benefits for Bahamians.
What’s the problem with mega-projects?
Mega-projects have their benefits, but they often mean coastal dredging, and filling in mangroves. Mangroves provide nursery habitat essential to the fisheries industry as well as protection against storm surges and flooding. We’ve also seen some of these mega-projects fail. They don’t give the benefits you anticipated they would, but you can’t get back what you gave up. The wetlands that you filled in, or the mangroves that you took out, they’re not coming back.
Why are mega-projects still so popular then?
We often think of development as happening in a vacuum. That we can have a big mega resort and our fisheries industry will still go on. That the folks that want to keep fishing can keep fishing and the folks who want to work at hotels can work in the hotels. But we’ve never made the connection that ‘Wow, if we dredge and clear out mangroves to build golf courses, you will have all kinds of run-off. There’s going to be a threat to our fisheries. And do we really want that, now that we know that that threat exists.
Why did the Office of the Prime Minister want outside partners for this project?
In developing a plan, it was really important that the people of Andros have a chance to say, “This is what we want to see,” for their island. The approach NatCap takes, mapping out scenarios and showing people, This is what you told us and this is what this would look like, has been really helpful.
People are realizing that some of the development they thought they wanted, maybe they don’t really want, when they see the consequences.
What’s next for sustainable development planning in The Bahamas? Have you made any decisions based on all this information?
We are excited to see the final results of this project and to have a master plan that can help government, the private sector and citizens make more informed and strategic investment decisions. Ultimately, we’d like to use a similar approach to create sustainable development plans for all of our major islands. Together with our Vision2040 National Development Plan, the results of these planning processes will lead to a brighter future for all Bahamians.