[Opinion column written by Rachael Gosling, originally published on Bernews on 20-Dec-2014]
This letter is an open letter to the Minister of the Environment, the Government and the People of Bermuda.

Dear Minister,

It appears to me that this Government is determined to walk down the path of accommodating the post-Panamax Mega cruise ships here in Bermuda, just like the last Government was planning to do.

I believe that this plan is an enormous mistake and we have only this one opportunity to prevent that from happening. If we do not grasp this moment we will allow irrevocable damage to be done to our environment which I am certain we will regret forever.

There have been numerous articles written about other small islands and jurisdictions and the importance of an integrated management plan for tourism that does not allow massive environmental destruction for possible short-term economic gain.

This gain is based only on the head tax to be collected, the benefits to the local tour operators and businesses has been shown to be very limited from the mega-ships passengers. I quote here an example we would do well to emulate;

"The fact that Belize is attracting the high-yield, upscale tourist means it does not need to resort to attracting mass tourists, who tend to spend less, are less culturally sensitive and who typically require large, homogenous types of hotel products that place stress on the natural environment, and which often see much of the wealth escaping back to non-resident owners. The type of tourism that Belize has chosen unwaveringly to pursue through its protection of the environment and the adoption of "ecotourism" is a tremendous strength in and of itself." [1]

I list some of the other articles about this issue below and would be happy to supply copies to interested parties.

Our reefs are among the last remaining, relatively pristine, coral reefs in the Atlantic. The once glorious reefs of the Caribbean are now a tragic graveyard of coral skeletons, brown, algae-covered rocks and very few fish. This tragedy has occurred over the last 25-30 years, this was largely preventable but it is not easily reversible, there is no 'undo'. We must cherish and protect our marine environment, not just for ourselves but for the planet, our beautiful blue planet. That blue that is seen from space is our oceans and we must protect them or perish alongside them.

Dr. Samia Sarkis, a Senior Scientist at Conservation Services has done excellent work on the impact of Cruise ships on Bermuda's environment. She also co-wrote an article now in press [7] which is a detailed accounting of the value of Bermuda's reefs to our economy which adds up to over 722 million dollars per year. Dr. Sarkis has also developed a new foundation expressly for the purpose of protecting our reefs, crisis response and research. We should all support this new initiative. Please see www.livingreefs.org

I was delighted to see the article in the Royal Gazette a while ago, which explained some of the issues and supported the points I am making about the importance of our reefs to our economy, to the health of Bermuda and of the planet.

We must not widen or dredge either North or South channel, Town Cut, Two Rock Passage or make any other irredeemable change to North Lagoon just to bring in cruise ships which are carrying more passengers and crew than we can manage – 6000+ people trying to get somewhere from Dockyard? What a nightmare scenario for everyone.

I am sure we all agree that any necessary navigational work that has to be undertaken for safety reasons and to bring the channels within International Maritime Standards must be done. However, that work is a small matter of beacons and lights for the channels and must not be used to mask a huge widening and dredging operation that is just designed around the monster ships.

I applaud the Government for seeking to bring back the small, high-end, boutique cruise ships that can come alongside in Hamilton and St.George, they must pursue this program relentlessly. Talk to the National Geographic and Scientific American cruise organisers, to Seabourn, Azamara, Windstar and Oceania – all of the high-end smaller ships. These are the types of tourists whom we need here.

We should expend all our energy, diplomacy and money on those options and on our airline visitors. We should also ensure that when these ships visit, our stores are open so that the visitors can browse and shop. I have been stopped before by beautifully dressed passengers off The World cruise ship asking me "Honey, aren't there any stores open?" What a lost opportunity for Front St. and Bermuda.

We need to politely but firmly tell the cruise lines that we will not be able to accommodate any larger ships than those that already come here. We must seek other alternatives; work with the hotels and airlines to bring back the airline passengers.

Let's encourage the private yacht business. I believe we have brought back the 3 month entry visa, make a 3 month extension easy to obtain, encourage long stays by visiting yachts as well as family and friends who are all a simple plus to our economy.

Allow the development of an upscale marina in St. George with proper waste disposal, power, water and good internet access to encourage the private yacht business and bring solid revival to the Old Town.

Instead of spending $40 million, or whatever it will finally cost, on dredging channels and blasting through massive, ancient stands of coral and essentially ruining huge swaths of the North Lagoon; spend that enormous amount of money on bringing those airline and yacht visitors back.

Another thing we can all do to help is to shop at home! We need to help our own economy, help ourselves, keep our hard earned dollars right here in Bermuda.

We must not let this Mega ship plan happen. I urge all Bermudians to call or email the Minister, the Premier and your Member of Parliament, whichever party he or she belongs to and tell them "we will not vote for you or your party again if you carry this plan forward". Make them understand that you mean it.

We need Government to embrace the Blue Halo initiative and also the Marine Protected Area proposed by the Sargasso Sea Alliance and show the rest of the world the deeds of which we, here in tiny Bermuda, are capable. To show them that we can, and will, do more for our oceans and our planet than any other country has done to date.

Bermuda don't let this opportunity be wasted.

- Rachael Gosling

References

1] Cruise ship tourism in Belize: The implications of developing cruise ship tourism in an ecotourism destination. Amy Diedrich – Ocean and Coastal Management 53 [2010] 234-244
2] Report on the Potential Impacts of Cruise Ships on Bermuda's Environment, Apr.1999 – Dr. S. Sarkis – for the Bermuda National Trust
3] Cruise Ships and Sustainability in Bermuda: A Preliminary Evaluation, May 2006 – Industrial Economics, Inc – Cambridge, MA, USA; Dr. A. Price University of Warwick, UK – for the Bermuda National Trust
4] Responsible Cruise Tourism: Issues of Cruise Tourism and Sustainability – Dr. Ross.A. Klein, Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, 18 [2011] 107-116
5] Environmentally sustainable cruise tourism: a reality check. David Johnson – Marine Policy 26 [2002] 261-270
6] Chemical contamination of a coral reef by the grounding of a cruise ship in Bermuda. Dr. Ross J Jones – Marine Pollution Bulletin 54 [2007] 905-911
7] van Beukering, P., et al., Bermuda's balancing act: The economic dependence of cruise and air tourism on healthy coral reefs. Ecosystem Services [2014], http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2014.06.009i

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