Blake Dowling uncovers the troubling impact of tourism development on North Bimini in the Bahamas.
Just 50 miles from Miami is the closest Bahamian Island, Bimini. It is a top-10 destination for me and has been for 20 years. Bimini consists of three islands, and it is paradise worth visiting.
The main island is seven miles long, features three settlements — Alice Town, Bailey Town and Porgy Bay.
The history of the island is straight outta Miami Vice, speedboats at dawn shipping powdered goods to the mainland in the 80s, and going back to prohibition a nice safe place to get a glass of rum when it was unavailable stateside.
Back in 1996 I made my first of many visits to the island, and as I stepped off the seaplane into my friend Trimmer’s back yard, I was down with it. Local color, island charm, amazing views, laid-back lifestyle, the island had every travel writer’s adjective taken care of.
When the majority of my college friends began receiving their degrees, they headed off to Atlanta, Chicago and similar cities in search of a high-paying gig. Trimmer went the other way. He sold his truck and set up shop on the island renting and leading kayak tours through the beautiful ecosystems surrounding the island.
I was lucky enough to join him, his brothers and parents on the island over a dozen times over the years. They maintain a second home there. The visits included epic spring breaks all the way up to weddings just a few years ago.
Recently I was preparing to write a piece on how technology helped shape the island in some way, but my early research points to, what in my opinion constitutes, gross abuse of the island by the central government and certain foreign corporations.
Plans were drawn up by a developer for a resort on the end of North Bimini island called Bimini Bay. When complete it was to accommodate 10,000 people on an island whose total population numbers only 2,000. Land was cleared, mangroves uprooted, seabed was dredged in a section that had been previously deemed “preserve”.
The name was changed to Resorts World Bimini (“RWB”). Against the advice of locals and environmental impact assessments and with the full support of the government in Nassau, RWB dredged a significant area of seabed and built a 1,000 foot pier to service a cruise ship that was supposed to ferry thousands of tourists each day from Miami.
I have been informed by certain locals that promises were made to the local community about economic growth, and that concerns for Mother Nature were ignored. Two years later, the daily ship service has been abandoned.
One of the main draws to Bimini is its ecosystem, which provides lobster, conch, mangroves, reefs and fishing. Swim with dolphins, kayak through the mangroves, fresh conch salad on the beach, spear lobster…yes to all that. The next phase of development plan would put a golf course in the middle of what is called the North Bimini Marine Reserve (“NBMR”). In my opinion, this type of development eliminates the opportunity to enjoy a lot of the aforementioned activities.
This land was declared a protected area in 2008 but the Bahamian government never enacted a law that would ban such developments. The west side of North Bimini was rocked by development. But if the east side can be salvaged by blocking the golf course, the environment should not be harmed any further. Maybe the government will sign the NBMR into law and everyone can move on.
I certainly will not give up on Bimini. A massive storm wrecked a big resort and casino built on Bimini back in the 1920s. My friend’s home is built on top of those ruins. So we will see what Mother Nature has in store.
On my next visit, I plan to set up shop at Big Johns (hotel, bar, marina), which maintains some of the charm I fell in love with in 1996. As the Calypsonians sang “Once you come here, you’ll want to stay here, down in Bimini by the Sea.” Indeed.
Blake Dowling is chief business development officer at Aegis Business Technologies. His columns are published by several organizations. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.aegisbiztech.com.
This is a shortened version of Blake’s column in ‘Context Florida’, January 27, 2016, published with his permission.