Photo of the Remarkables mountain range in Queenstown, New Zealand.

Bimini cruise dock putting reefs in peril

| 10/09/2014 | 2 Comments

(CNS Business): The traditional livelihoods of fishing, diving and snokelling on the tiny island of North Bimini in The Bahamas are under threat from the construction of a thousand-foot cruise dock built to accommodate day trip passengers from Florida. Phase one is complete but residents and environmental activists say the silt produced during the dredging still covers the surrounding, formally pristine coral reefs, which will die if they are not given time to recover.

“What were once the clearest waters in The Bahamas, world famous for their beauty and bounty, are now becoming a disgusting plume of mud and silt,” campaign group Bimini Blue Coalition said in a letter to the local media.

The dock was built to accommodate the Bimini SuperFast cruise ship, which speeds its passengers from Miami in under three hours and, if they choose not to stay at the resort which operates the ship, the 343-room Resorts World Bimini (RWB), it can return them the same day after a six hour stay on the island.

Currently the company uses tenders to get passengers to the island but from 18 September they will begin disembarking directly onto dock. RWB, owned by the Genting Group, a Malaysian company with international resorts and gaming interests, has announced that in addition to the three trips per week from Miami, it will begin three per week from Fort Lauderdale in October.

“Thirty days of dredging did as much damage to the reef as 30 years of normal wear and tear,” said Neal Watson, a Bimini diver operator who is being inducted to the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame (ISDHF) in the Cayman Islands next month.

The dredging, using a mammoth dredger ‘Niccolo Machiavelli’, one of the largest and most powerful of its kind in the world, left a fine white powder over the reef, blocking out the sunlight that it needs to survive, he said. But now, instead of giving the reef the opportunity to recover, the ship’s giant propellers will be constantly stirring up the silt, destroying the surrounding world class dive sites. In addition, any kind of wave action will stir up the sediment and degrade the reef, Watson said.

“That’s a problem that any destination is going to have to face that has reefs close to where they’re going to dredge and put in a pier,” he noted.

Environmentalists say the dock was built with no regards to the marine environment right in the middle of the island’s prize reefs. There were a number of things that could have been done to mitigate the damage, including shifting its location, according to Lindsey McCoy, CEO of action group Save the Bays. The developers didn’t even abide by their own environmental impact study, she said, and the silt screens they used just washed away.

“What’s happened in Bimini is awful,” she said, bemoaning the lack of sound environmental laws in The Bahamas. ”The long term outcome is dead reefs unless something changes.”

Bimini, a chain of three small islands just 50 miles from South Florida, is famous for big game fishing, yachting and diving, with regular sightings of hammerhead sharks and interactions with wild dolphins and attracts tourists who treasure its beauty and lack of development.

“These people are the ones who are bringing their million dollar yachts to the Bahamans and pay $2,000 for a dive vacation,” Watson pointed out. “They’re trading off the natural resource that attracts these people to this little island for a day tripper paying $100 to come over and buy a t-shirt, drink a piña colada and go home. It’s trading quality for quantity and it’s a terrible trade-off,” he said. “The very thing that has sustained Bimini they’re jeopardizing. Yachtsmen don’t want to come to this little island paradise if it’s overwhelmed with drunken tourists.”

North Bimini is about seven miles long and just 700 feet wide with a population of around 1,600. The SuperFast ship, if full, would bring in 1,500 passengers, almost doubling the population of the tiny island.

CNS Business

Mammoth dredger ‘Niccolo Machiavelli’ in North Bimini

However, Watson thinks the resort is going to fail anyway, making the destruction of the marine habitat even more tragic. The tenders for the cruise ship carry 200 people and sometimes they were just making one trip to the island, indicating that the ship was far below its capacity. What’s more, Resorts World Bimini is a beautiful hotel but is largely empty, Watson said.

TripAdvisor readers rank it below most of the little hotels on the island, even the ones that aren’t even on the beach, because that’s the kind of accommodation the people who come to the island are looking for, he maintained. Gambling is not a traditional attraction for the island and the kind of people who want to gamble aren’t interested in a 10,000 square foot casino, he said, when they have the option of huge casinos elsewhere, including the $3 billion gaming resort Baha Mar being built in Nassau.

The 343-room hotel on Bimini, which has a huge marina and a casino, is just too big for the island, Watson said, and not only is it not doing well but it’s putting a huge strain on the necessary infrastructure – the sewerage and garbage and housing, which just isn’t in place. They also have to bring in people to work there as the local workforce isn’t big enough and does not have all of the right skills.

“It’s like putting a super Walmart on Little Cayman,” he said.

Bimini Blue Coalition

Save The Bays

Bimini conservationists ‘priced out of justice’

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Category: Cruise Tourism, Stay-over tourism, Tourism, Video, Watersports

Comments (2)

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  1. Jeffrey Massetti says:

    Well I hope they enjoy all the one day drinkers and garbage that comes with it as the divers move elsewhere. Sorry for the dive operations such a Neals. They have destroyed the very reason people wanted to come to Bimini. It is a shame that money and ignorance prevail.

  2. Courtney Platt says:

    So glad to see this post as a warning to Grand Cayman regarding plans to install a cruise dock here. I pray that our legislative assembly will weigh the balance between more cheap cruise tourists vs fewer well-off overnight tourists and save our reef from further damage. Our roads are already too congested and are needed for those who live here and those who want to spend a week here. Our reefs are already in peril as it is. The harbor’s Soto’s reefs are unique for tour boat snorkeling and for glass bottom boat tours. Eden Rock and Devil’s grotto are the only shore based scuba and snorkeling sites that cruise tourists can walk to from the landing. To ruin the harbor reefs would be unconscionable (dare I say, unbelievably stupid?).

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