The Bahamian islands of Bimini are famed for their pristine beaches and rich marine life, making them a popular holiday destination.
In 2005, Bimini’s natural habitats and the livelihoods of local residents came under threat from the development of a mega-resort on North Bimini island – the Bimini Bay Resort and Marina. The project, overseen by Capo Group, involved transforming the entire northern tip of the island from a mangroved wildlife haven and fishing resource for local people, into a giant yacht marina and luxury villas.
Impacts of the development included:
- The destruction of fertile marine breeding grounds leading to a decrease in conch and fish numbers, impacting on livelihoods
- Water was reportedly diverted away from residents to the resort development
- Capo Group reneged on its promise to provide jobs for locals, drafting in cheaper labour from Mexico instead.
- Working condition for the Mexican labourers were reportedly extremely poor
- ‘Phase II’ of the resort development was to entail expansion of the condos and a golf course. This would require further mangroves to be destroyed and cause pesticides to leach into the fragile marine environment.
Tourism Concern joined in the opposition to the plans from local and international campaign groups. Demonstrations were held locally and international letter writing campaigns targeting the Bahamian government were launched, to which many Tourism Concern supporters added their voice. Pressure was placed on Capo Group and Conrad Hilton, part of the Hilton Hotels group, which was due to take over the management of the resort and Tourism Concern pursued the issue with Hilton UK.
As result of these joint campaign efforts, in 2009 the Bahamian government announced the establishment of the Bimini Marine Protected Area (MPA). The MPA was to place limits on human activity in North Bimini, protecting the mangroves which are vital to the island’s ecosystem, local fisheries and coastal erosion. The plan should support local livelihoods by allowing some traditional fishing within the area.
Furthermore, the original project was rescaled to half its size, saving fifty per cent of the remaining mangroves, the golf course was to be dropped, environmental mitigation measures implemented and the eastern side of the North Sound (peninsula) protected.
Dismayingly, the battles of ten years ago are being revisited on Bimini, with the islands’ precious marine ecosystem facing even more serious environmental damage. A new developer has continued resort construction, which while providing some employment has questionable long term benefits for the local population which is enormously outnumbered by the incessant influx of tourists. The MPA and environmental mitigation measures have yet to be implemented, and with hindsights it’s apparent the Bahamian government didn’t even shelve its plans, let alone halt its championing of large scale tourism development on Bimini.
Since 2009 the original developers have sold their stake on to Malaysian casino firm the Genting Group, which has renamed the project ‘Resorts World Bimini’ – described by them in this 2015 press release:
‘Surrounded by white sand beaches and crystal clear turquoise waters Resorts World Bimini is a 750 acre property featuring a variety of accommodations including condos, beachfront villas, a 300 room Hilton hotel, the largest marina in The Bahamas with 280 slips, six bars and restaurants, two pools and a world class casino. The resort features its own dedicated cruise ship, Bimini SuperFast, a 32,000-ton vessel that transports passengers back and forth between Bimini and Port Miami three days a week.’
The hotel mentioned is part of the Phase 2 construction. It is operated by Hilton Hotels and Resorts, one of the twelve Hilton Worldwide brands. Evidently the Hilton brand is still happy to be associated with a development despite local discontent.
The Bahamian government openly backed Genting’s plans to build a multi-million dollar new pier for a casino firm’s cruise ship link to Miami. It gave economic reasons for this, as over 300 jobs had been promised by Genting. But less than two years on, the service has already been quietly abandoned, with air links cited as more convenient for resort clients. Quite what will happen to the redundant pier is yet to emerge.
And meanwhile numerous fears have been raised over the scale of damage to the pristine coral reefs nearby. President of the Bahamas Diving Association Neil Watson voiced his dismay at the spread of silt from preparatory dredging operations: “You can build a hotel or shopping centre but you can’t build clear water or a beautiful reefs…”
The President of the Bahamas National Trust also harboured concerns that the runoff from the proposed golf course – now again on the table – would destroy a protected area of mangrove that acts as a nursery to the fish, conch and lobster that make the place a destination. He put the whole issue in a nutshell in a news interview after visiting the islands:“We are always aware of the importance of providing jobs but you cannot provide jobs while risking the very thing that makes Bimini so attractive.”
You can lend your support to the vigorous local campaigning network by going to the Facebook page for the Bimini Blue Coalition:
This is an excellent article on the situation by Florida based columnist Blake Dowling.
Further background links