All across the world people are being affected by climate change on a daily basis, but they don’t always know that it’s happening. Those people who are generally less aware of the issue tend to come from developing nations where climate change isn’t the most pressing issue because they are more concerned with putting food on the table. In some cases the way that the food ends up on the table is detrimental to the environment and results in increased climate change in that area.
Introduction to Eleuthera
One place where issues such as the one mentioned above manifests itself on a daily basis is the island of Eleuthera. Eleuthera is one of the hundreds of islands that make up the Bahamas. Historically, Eleuthera was considered “The Breadbasket of the Bahamas” due to the large amounts of agriculture that is produced on the island. It also went through a period in the late 1900’s where it became one of the top tourist destinations in the Caribbean. Since then, the southern half of the island has fallen into economic disarray with the loss of the agriculture and tourism that had once allowed the region to prosper. Now the most prominent way to make money is by fishing, mostly for conch, or by working in the tourism industry, both of which have major negative effects on the surrounding environment.
The Lighthouse Point Conundrum
One of the most beautiful pieces of land on the entire island is Lighthouse Point at the very southern tip of the island. This 700 acre stretch of land had been privately owned for many years until it was put up for sale in 2010. Since then there has been a heated battle between the One Eleuthera Foundation and Disney Cruise Lines over whose bid for the land and subsequent plan for its use will be approved by the Bahamian government. It is Disney who appears to have won this battle and gained governmental approval to develop the land as they wish.
One Eleuthera’s Plan
What One Eleuthera proposes to do if it were granted permission to execute its plan for Lighthouse Point is to take the entire area and convert it into a national park. In its current form Lighthouse Beach is already one of the most popular destinations on all of Eleuthera and even the Bahamas. One Eleuthera would more or less maintain the area in its current form with the potential to make the government some revenue by charging entrance fees to tourists. By following this model which guarantees 100% of jobs going to Bahamians, Eleuthera is able to conserve a critical natural and cultural landmark while creating massive opportunities for future eco-tourism.
Disney Cruise Lines’ Plan
On the other hand, Disney Cruise Lines’ plans for developing Lighthouse Point are centered on providing a new experience to its hundreds of thousands of customers. While they plan to leave the very southern tip, including the lighthouse itself and the salt ponds, as they are, the rest of the peninsula is going to be developed for the pleasure of an estimated 540,000 annual tourists. The vice president of public affairs for Disney Cruise Lines, Kim Prunty, stated that, “As many jobs as possible will go to Bahamians.” She offered no guarantee of a number although an estimate says that the figure will be around 150. With this plan comes hundreds of thousands of tourists disembarking from a boat for a couple of hours and venturing into a place rich in natural wonder and cultural significance to the natives of the Bahamas. Those people would have no way to understand what the place meant and would only be able to look at it as another stop in paradise.
While a key part of why Lighthouse Point must be protected is certainly the culture associated with the area, a much more prominent one is the ecosystems that exist there. The entire point is surrounded by an extensive network of coral reefs that are home to a large amount of marine life. There is also a coppice forest that supports lots of smaller land dwelling animals such as crabs and lizards as well as a large number of arachnids and other insects. Perhaps most importantly, “Big Pond” is one of the few hypersaline ponds in the Caribbean and, although still relatively unexplored, is thought to be home to some extremely rare organisms that can only live in those conditions. One of the reasons Disney was drawn to Lighthouse Point was that they believed that the environmental impact they would have would be less than some of the other places they looked at. When presenting their bid in front of parliament they did so without having conducted the required Environmental Impact Report and still have not completed said report. The battle for the right to develop this land moved so quickly that neither Disney nor One Eleuthera has actually completed an Environmental Impact Report so, for the time being, the only possibility is to take their word for it. Where that becomes problematic is that One Eleuthera, in a town hall meeting, made claims about Disney’s environmental impact that, if true, would be very detrimental to the area. They claimed that there would be significant amounts of dredging resulting in the loss of many coral reefs and also that Disney would be engaging in some deforestation and accidental contamination of Big Pond. Disney has stood by their statement that there would be minimal amounts of dredging and that only minuscule amounts of the forest would be destroyed in the process of developing the cruise destination.
Climate Change in Relation to Lighthouse Point
To many people now, climate change is looked at on a macro scale. It has become all about global warming, the increased regularity and severity of natural disasters, and other similar issues. We need to look at climate change impacts more closely, as these occur at smaller levels, and that then contribute to the bigger issues. In terms of coral reefs, the main component of this specific case, there is much talk about coral bleaching and the loss of corals through that process and then the larger impacts of losing those reefs, but coral reefs are destroyed in all kinds of ways that can contribute to those larger issues that are results of coral destruction. One problem that would become more relevant without the coral reefs around Lighthouse Point is that hurricanes would be able to arrive on land relatively unhindered. Coral reefs are a key source of protection for land because the water coming in from the deep sea is slowed a little and often times is forced to break earlier because of shallow water over reefs. While waves from hurricanes are often still devastating, when there are coral reefs those waves don’t reach land at full force.
Another issue with the destruction of those coral reefs is that it has the potential to cause a drastic shift in the way organisms interact with each other which then has a domino effect of possible extinction of some organisms due to either too many predators in a small space or not enough prey for those larger predators. Losing organisms means lost opportunities for jobs either in fishing or in tourism from people who want to come see those organisms in their natural habitats. When development projects all across the world are destroying ecosystems that amplifies all of the other issues significantly because there is no longer as much protection from natural disasters, animals lose access to their food and shelter and are then subjected to the harsh, polluted reality around them.
Model for the World
Above all the details about who should be in control of Lighthouse Point and who submitted what report and what exactly will happen depending on which side wins is a greater issue that goes well beyond Eleuthera. So often people in underdeveloped portions of the world see the flashy appeal that a big corporation brings with their promises of visitors, of new jobs in development, and of customers to frequent the locals’ businesses, but so often that isn’t the reality. The jobs building this site won’t stick around forever, the tourists won’t stray far from the beach, and Bahamians won’t be the ones in charge of the cruise site. There may be some short term benefits that come from allowing a large corporation to take control of the area in terms of the jobs it creates in that moment, but it also comes at a massive cost. Once a part of the environment is destroyed it doesn’t come back. When the Bahamian fishermen have to continually hunt for younger and younger conch, endangering that species, a big part of the reason why they had to do that is because the conch are losing the places to live and there is no longer sufficient support for them. Sometimes, people need to make difficult choices in situations like this where they could probably help their family and themselves live more comfortably, at least for a little while, but it might also lose them the surrounding environment and the potential for a longer life without that one immediate period of comfort.