Tuesday, June 30, 2009

1,000,000 Trees... More or Less?

If you've read along here for a while, you have heard of the Bahamas Million Tree Campaign before. I support the planting of new trees wholeheartedly. Here's the catch though. I may be wrong, but I get the distinct impression that while we as a nation boastfully plant some new trees, we only create the illusion of actually adding a million trees to our islands' flora. In fact, I would be tempted to make a bet that despite the efforts of the Bahamas Million Tree Campaign, we still see a net loss of trees, if not throughout the islands then certainly on New Providence.

Before you remind me that New Providence is not the entire Bahamas, let me make a few points first. The vast majority of our country's population live on New Providence, and also the largest chunk of our tourists see New Providence, and get their impression of the country by looking at New Providence. Trees serve multiple purposes in this world. The goal of the Bahamas Million Tree campaign is to join a worldwide effort to reduce green house gases globally. However, trees are not just important measured on this global scale, which might allow us to argue that we could plant two on - insert name of random Family Island here - for every one we cut down in Nassau, rather, trees also help to improve the quality of our air locally, and trees are an important part of our recreational landscape.

So why do we keep cutting down trees in Nassau? The biggest culprit here is development, but I would seriously argue that development in Nassau has to stop. The island is overcrowded. It takes me 45 minutes to drive home from work; a six-mile drive. We have to barge in our water, and friends tell me that in the wettest month of the year, City Water failed to supply them with running water on numerous days now. The PM was - and I'm uncertain as to what the appropriate verb may be, probably "threatening" - that the Western end of the island will, in a few years time, be as developed as the Eastern end.

The undeveloped parts of Western New Providence are predominantly wetlands. Not only would large-scale development negate any effect the Bahamas Million Tree Campaign may have, it would also have a vastly negative impact on the island's ecosystem, and recreational opportunities. We need to see bush, swamp, beaches, etc. to keep our sanity on this rock. I don't want to live on Coruscant.

We are also cutting down trees for other reasons, and lately, there has been lively debate about the casuarina trees along Saunders Beach. Neil Sealy, a local researcher, has published his findings that casuarina trees, contrary to commonly held beliefs about trees in general, contribute to, rather than slow down, beach erosion. Undoubtedly, Sealey knows more about this than I do, however, I am a strong believer in second opinions, especially as I sometimes get the distinct feeling that a lot of Bahamian activists have singled out the casuarina as an invasive species, which it admittedly is, that we need to get rid of, because it endangers indigenous plant life. There are other invasive species of plants on this island, for instance palm trees and poincianas, yet I cannot imagine a Bahamas without them. There are also invasive species of the animal kingdom on this island, most notably humans. These humans' ancestors originated in Africa, Europe and Asia, and were so threatening to the indigenous humans that the indigenous peoples of the Bahamas are now extinct.

The controversy surrounding Saunders Beach, however, does not stop at casuarina trees. Larry Smith, a local journalist, advocates on Facebook "that the government re-route the road adjacent to Saunders Beach way [sic!] from the dune." This proposal conjures up several fears, the greatest one being that Saunders Beach, like so many others on this island, will essentially become a "private" beach with restricted or no public access, which repeats my earlier point about the recreational importance of all our island's landscapes.

Furthermore, the story of Saunders Beach, as far as I can tell, shows other signs of government's disrespect for its own people. The contract to cut down 66 casuarina trees along Saunders Beach was awarded to a foreign company, despite the fact that at least one Bahamian contractor applied for the job. If Bahamianisation is the law in the private sector, where you can only legally hire a foreigner for the job if you cannot find a qualified Bahamian to do it, then surely it ought to apply to government contracts, too. In fact, an expat working in the private sector will at least spend (part of) his salary locally, whereas a foreign landscaping firm will take all the money it gets paid for cutting down 66 trees back home with it.

This was pointed out to Larry Smith, along with the threat of the scenario that if "the road moves too far away ... Bahamian kids will have to get into a plane to see the sea." I am not sure which of the two posts Smith replied to, but he cried foul and accused the critics of playing the race card. Neither of these two criticisms mentioned or inferred race. Incidentally, these comments were made by a woman as white as Smith himself. My personal experience about people crying foul and falsely accusing others of playing the race card is that they have ulterior motives that they cannot share with the public, because it would expose them negatively.

Therefore, I suggest the following:
  1. Neil Sealey's research should be verified, preferably by scientists from within the community (e.g. COB), if they are independent enough of Sealey. If they are not, then we must bite the bullet and bring in foreign expertise, because beach erosion, air pollution, global warming and overdevelopment are all serious concerns for the quality of life on New Providence.
  2. Whatever the outcome of the study called for above, and whatever the recommendations to town and traffic planners may be, there must be no more beaches on this island that see access for the Bahamian public impeded.
  3. We must focus on planting new trees, and wherever possible stop cutting down existing trees, and that means that the government must begin to look at other development options. New Providence simply cannot take any more.

No comments:

Post a Comment