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Bahamas : Andros & Eleuthera

Introduction

The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is a sovereign independent nation consisting of 29 permanently inhabited islands, 661 cays and 2,387 islets. Although not geographically located in the Caribbean, it is a member of the Caribbean Community and been designated a Small Island Developing State by the UN. Its total land area is 13,939 km2 with an estimated population of 330,000. The capital Nassau lies on the island of New Providence. The districts of the Bahamas provide a system of local government everywhere except New Providence, whose affairs are handled directly by the central government. In total, there are 32 districts, with elections held every three years. This case study will focus on Andros, the largest island, comprising 4 districts and Eleuthera, the longest island, with 5 districts.

Originally inhabited by the Lucayans, a branch of the Arawakan-speaking Taino people, the Bahamas were the site of Columbus’s first landfall in the New World in 1492. Although the Spanish never colonized the island chain, they shipped the native Lucayans to slavery in Hispaniola. The islands were mostly deserted from 1513 to 1648, until English Puritan Adventurers migrated from Bermuda in search of religious freedom. These colonists established the first permanent European settlement on an island, which they named Eleuthera – the name derives from the Greek work for freedom. They later settled New Providence, naming it Sayle’s Island after one of their leaders. To survive, the settlers resorted to salvaged goods from wrecks. The Bahamas became a haven for pirates, including the infamous Blackbeard and to restore order, the archipelago was made a British crown colony in 1718 under the royal governorship of Woodes Rogers, who, after a difficult struggle, succeeded in suppressing piracy.

The British abolished the slave trade in 1807, which led to the forced settlement on Bahamian islands of thousands of Africans liberated from slave ships by the Royal Navy. Slavery itself was finally abolished in the British Empire on August 1, 1834. Modern political development began after the Second World War. The first political parties were formed in the 1950s and the British made the islands internally self-governing in 1964. It gained independence on 10 July 1973. Based on the twin pillars of tourism and offshore finance, the Bahamian economy has prospered since the 1950s. By the terms of GDP per capita, it is the fourth richest country in the Americas (following Bermuda, the US and Canada) and the richest one in the world whose population is predominantly of African origin. However, these statistics conceal an uneven distribution of wealth and some notable economic and social development challenges in areas such as education, health care, housing, international narcotics trafficking and illegal immigration from Haiti.

Renewable Energy & Eco Housing

The Caribbean offers immense potential for new, off-grid renewable energy projects due to the plentiful solar and wind resource availability. Furthermore, with the cost of diesel highly vulnerable to future price hikes and growing environmental concerns about pollution following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as well as tackling climate change, renewable energy is well positioned to address increasing power supply problems in the region. For renewable energies to supply more than 20% of the Bahamas power needs different islands must be interconnected to enable electricity to flow between them. This was the recommendation from the National Energy Policy Committee’s second report presented to the Government in April 2011 that also urged the Bahamas focus on deploying water heaters, bio energy and near shore wind power as renewable energies in the short-term. The committee said the fixed costs associated with extending the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) distribution grid to out island communities was relatively high due to low population numbers and demand that was concentrated at peak times. Interconnectors might well be advisable even earlier, since they would allow tapping low cost potential of renewable energy for use on New Providence. Interconnectors have the additional benefit of enhancing the reliability of previously isolated island grids at lower costs.

The BEC invited proposals for renewable energy power purchase agreements and one of the six bidders short-listed was the Bahamas Renewable Energy Corporation who said its solar/wind power project would require a $60 million investment and generate 50-60 construction jobs, collectively generating 24 MW of power per day – equivalent to one of the gas turbines the Corporation currently employs. If this project gets the go ahead then it would provide 4MW of power per day for Harbour Island and Eleuthera and 10MW per day for Abaco and New Providence using a combination of wind and solar technology. At the time of writing this project appears to have stalled and ambitious plans by a developer to turn Star Island, a 35-acre cay just 10 minutes by boat from Harbour Island, into a carbon neutral resort have already fallen by the wayside.

One doesn’t have to look far for what can be achieved. In 2009 a privately owned resort island in the neighbouring Exuma district had a new hybrid renewable energy technology system supplied by Optimal Power Solutions (OPS). This unit comprises two OPS proprietary technology 300kW Hybrid Power Conditioning (HPC) inverters that can operate in parallel with the generators to meet peak loads. It features a flexible operating platform for integrating other balance of system components, in this case, solar PV, wind turbines and battery storage. These renewable components include eight 15kW wind turbines and 240kWp of photovoltaic arrays with two large capacity Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) chargers. In addition, the system utilizes three 312kVA diesel gensets and a 360v battery bank capable of providing 2.16MWh of energy storage. The AC system sources are switched through a customised AC switching cabinet that is rated at 1.5MW. In addition, OPS supplied a station control module that incorporates local and remote access to the system. 

The Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) is a facility that promotes a connection between people and the environment. Their holistic approach to island ecosystems, philosophy of collaboration and relationship building, and intrinsic bond between primary research and education helps to create models of effective resource management and sustainable development. The Institute is attached to the Cape Eleuthera Island School that set up the first grid-connected PV power system in the Bahamas. Around 250 rooftop solar panels produce 50kW of electricity and combined with a 10kW wind turbine are enough to support 80% of the campus energy needs. The BEC currently produces some 45,000 megawatt hours a year on Eleuthera that costs $8 million a year to buy the fuel to produce this electricity. The Institute believe using technology that is available right now, a solar panel farm big enough to feed that demand would occupy about one tenth of one per cent of Eleuthera’s 484 sqkm of land, for an investment of about $330. Alternatively, a smaller solar farm could be supplemented by a few giant wind turbines.

On South Andros the first project undertaken by the FlyingTeeth boutique sustainable hotel development and management team was Tiamo Resort that opened in 2001. Tiamo had the largest solar electricity generating system owned and operated by a private, tourism facility in the Caribbean and Latin America. With a daily electricity generating capacity of over 130,000 watts and a battery storage facility totaling 4,075 amp hours, Tiamo was the first full service resort with the entire operation utilizing 100% alternative energy for its electrical needs – including a commercial kitchen catering to both resort guests and restaurant business. The whole resort was also a pioneer in building design and construction methods, wastewater treatment, solid waste disposal and community conservation projects that won it numerous awards. In North Andros the Forfar Field Station is also powered by a solar PV system and small wind turbine.

In May 2011 the Ministry of the Environment’s launched their Energy Efficiency in Residential Lighting Programme on Andros. The ministry plans to distribute 270,000 compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) bulbs along with brochures about the benefits of CFLs that use 75% less energy compared to incandescent bulbs. This is the first of three energy-saving initiatives planned for 2011. In coming months, persons will be selected to receive 100 solar water heaters for their homes and 33 solar PV systems will also be offered with consumers only required to pay the installation costs. The Bahamas Eco-Forum provides up to date information on the renewable energy sector like the roadmap for reform produced in 2010 by Fichtner, the government's German energy consultants. The Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum annual conference is the biggest and most influential gathering of renewable energy stakeholders.

Waste Minimisation & Recycling

Bahamians and visitors together generate more than 264,000 tons of municipal solid waste annually, with New Providence Island contributing about 77% and Grand Bahamas 17% of this total, leaving only about 6% or 15,800 tons annually generated on the other Outer Islands. The typical mode of solid waste disposal on Andros and Eleuthera is to dump at formal sites near main settlements, burn and sporadically push aside the burned material to make room for more refuse. Almost all sites are unregulated, have debris spread over wide areas and are contaminating water supply areas. Indiscriminate dumping along roadsides is common. However, things are gradually improving with new modified sanitary landfills being constructed and most resorts operating a system of daily waste management geared toward maintaining compost bins, segregating, preparing and transporting bottles and cans for shipment to recycling plants in Nassau. Groups like Nature’s Hope for Southern Andros also involve volunteers in beach clean-ups.

On a larger scale, at least two firms have been pursuing multi-million-dollar waste-to-energy projects with the Ministry of Health, which is responsible for landfills and solid waste collection and disposal. Innviron is a Florida-based company that manages more than 40 solid waste facilities worldwide. It wants to sort and ship metals, plastics and paper for recycling overseas, compost organic waste, and capture landfill gas for energy production. Meanwhile, a local group called Bahamas Renewable Energy Resources is proposing a thermal conversion process that will virtually eliminate landfills, compost organics and convert most solid waste to a non-toxic slag that can be used in road building and block making.

The Bahamas first large-scale biodiesel production facility was opened in February 2011 by Bahamas Waste Ltd.  It will allow for up to one million gallons of waste cooking oil collected from restaurants in Nassau such as McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and Wendy’s as well as cruise ships to be processed and converted into biodiesel each year. Currently four Bahamas Waste trucks are using a 50:50 blend of biodiesel to petroleum diesel but the company hopes to eventually run its entire fleet of 50 vehicles off 100% biodiesel as production increases.

Water Management & Security

Within the Bahamas, the most important aquifers occur within 30 cm of the topsoil. Of all Bahamas aquifers, Andros represents the largest source of freshwater and wetland habitat. It also supports some of the most pristine forest (pine and coppice) in the northern island chain. Andros is the largest source (70%) of groundwater in The Bahamas and is critical to the maintenance of potable water quality on the main island of New Providence which barges water across from Andros on an almost daily basis. The main threats to the water regime and related biodiversity include pollution of the aquifer (agriculture, sewage, unsanctioned domestic use, puncture as a result of development), encroachment, destruction of sensitive habitats, dredging, and overfishing. The important groundwater resources of Andros therefore needed protection through zoning, land-use management and effective policy development and implementation. In pursuit of this objective, the government through the Bahamas Environment, Science and Technology (BEST) Commission implemented the objectives of a Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded five year project Integrating Watershed and Coastal Areas Management in Caribbean Small Island Developing States using Andros as a demonstration site. The main purpose was the development of a novel Land and Sea Use Plan for Water Recharge Protection and Management in Andros by executing various activities between 2005-2010 with a great deal of community participation. 

Brackish water in North and Central Eleuthera has been a major problem for the island’s local hotels and tourism attractions. In 2011 the Bahamas Government responded to constituent complaints by announcing construction of a new $600,000 water storage facility equipped with a desalination reverse osmosis plant powered by renewable energy. The new plant could yield 400,000 gallons a day, but will only provide 150,000 gallons a day so as not to overload its machinery. It will also house two 250,000 gallons storage tanks to adequately supply the Rock Sound and Tarpum Bay settlements.

Extensive Agriculture & Organic Food Production

Ninety percent of the agricultural land in the Bahamas is government-owned and falls under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries. The government has instituted a policy to utilize these lands to aid in the growth of the economy and foster less dependence on the tourism sector. Under this policy, the government has earmarked 36,148 prime acres of Crown Land for agricultural use, which is allocated as follows: 13,869 acres in Andros, 11,737 acres in The Abacos and 10,542 acres in Grand Bahama Island. Traditional agriculture on Andros exists in two forms. First is the garden plot located in close proximity to the home. Second, are the farms, usually in more remote locations reached by a set of paths or roads leading away from a community. The crops grown at the two sites do not differ significantly in regards to species but the farms are used for producing large quantities of food while the garden plots serve only to meet daily needs of the family. Typically the land is cleared using slash and burn techniques. The home garden may be maintained for years but the farm plots are used for an average of five years before they are abandoned and a new area cleared and burned.

Although shifting agriculture still dominates most islands in the Bahamas, modern practices have been introduced in several areas. On North Andros the centre of such activity is the Bahamas Agricultural & Industrial Corporation agro-industrial park. Here farmers were assigned plots and grow crops like eggplant and tomatoes utilising drip irrigation and fertigation systems. Two modern 4,200 square feet greenhouses have been erected and one has started production with cabbages, tomatoes, sweet peppers, spinach and Asian greens. The other is slated for fruit tree propagation. Farmers have been given access to Boer goat and Dorper sheep breeds and acres of good pasture have been prepared for their livestock to graze on.

In the 19th and early 20th century, agriculture prospered on Eleuthera because of a favorable climate and red lateritic soils that allowed large-scale production of crops such as pineapple, vegetables, and grains. In fact, the island was a major supplier of pineapple to the United States until Hawaii became a U.S. territory in 1900. Unfortunately, changes in market demand, in combination with intensive growing practices reducing the land’s ability to sustain agriculture at a commercial scale, eventually relegated agriculture to small-scale operations that only support local demands and subsistence living. However, the Cape Eleuthera Institute has recently pioneered the introduction of permaculture and aquaponics to the island. Unlike hydroponics alone, aquaponics utilizes fish to provide nutrients necessary for plant growth, and in taking up the nutrients, the plants help clean the water used for growing the fish. The goal of the project is to determine the feasibility of aquaponics as a low-cost food production system for the region.

The Institute’s model system currently utilizes water from rainwater catchments to ensure cost-effectiveness and environmental friendliness. Nile tilapia are raised in inexpensive tanks and grown under ambient temperature and light conditions to help minimize operating costs. A gravity flow system also helps to reduce costs by passively moving nutrient-rich water from the fish tanks, through a clarifying tank, biofilter, and ultimately into shallow growbeds. Plants currently under cultivation include herbs such as basil and lettuce greens such as Jerrico green romaine, Rubane red romaine, Sorrel, Caliloo, Webb's Wonderful crisphead lettuce, and Green Oakleaf looseleaf lettuce. After flowing through the growbeds, the water enters a collection sump where the systems only pump actively moves the water back into the fish tanks. The Institute’s current focus is looking for locally available sources of potassium, phosphorous, and iron to supplement the nutrients in the system. Future research endeavors include looking into local sources of fish feed that can be grown or harvested on the island, finding a replacement for the Rockwool rooting medium that is more environmentally friendly, and experimenting with other plants that can be grown in the microclimate of their system.

Transport

There are four airports serving Andros and three for Eleuthera. Frequent domestic and international service is available via scheduled and charter airlines. Sea transport is provided by Bahamas Ferry Services and several mail boats to a number of settlements/towns on a weekly (or more frequent) basis. Further information on all these options and how to get around both islands can be obtained from the Bahamas Tourist Office.

Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing

With the world’s third largest barrier reef and other natural attractions, it is not surprising that Andros has several long established eco retreats like Small Hope Bay Lodge that attract scuba divers, nature lovers and fishermen.  The island is also famous for its meaty crabs and the abundant coconut palms that grow in the south of the island. Fittingly islanders pay homage to both these food sources annually with two festivals. First up in June is Crab Fest and barely a month later the coconut festival when local artists and craftsmen exhibit creations made from palm fronds, coconut husks and shells, with fresh coconut dishes sold by street vendors all set against the backdrop of authentic Bahamian music. The Androsia factory also manufactures a local type of batik fabric.

Eleuthera is an island of contrasts with magnificent pink-white beaches, sheltered coves, breathtaking bluffs and cliffs and fine harbours. Project Eleuthera is a useful compendium of research and photographic documentation of historical sites and natural wonders. Like Andros, Eleuthera is immensely proud of its local food crop, pineapple, and holds a festival in June each year in praise of it. Junkanoo is a traditional African street parade of music, dance and art that can be traced back to the 17th century when slaves were given three days holiday per year. It takes place throughout the year at different locations with one of the largest held in Eleuthera during the summer. Regattas are also important social events in many island settlements. They usually feature one or more days of sailing with Bahamian wooden sloops, as well as an onshore festival.

Biodiversity & Protected Areas

Bahamians affectionately call Andros “The Big Yard”. A coral limestone formation, the island is dominated by thick impenetrable bush, sliced in pieces by inland waterways, and edged by mangrove swamp. To the north are hardwood and pine forests - including Andros Pine, Mahogany (Madeira), Horseflesh, and Lignum Vitae; along the east coast are the fishing and diving grounds of the Andros Barrier Reef. On the West Coast are the pristine fishing flats of the Great Bahama Bank. The island supports a number of habitat types (mangrove, seagrass, sand banks), which act as nursery areas for the Grand Bahama Bank and well beyond Bahamian territorial waters. It is recognised as being the most extensive area of wetlands in the Caribbean. The Andros Barrier Reef, the third largest in the world and the second largest and most unexplored in the western hemisphere, stretches 140 miles along the east coast of the island and rims the Tongue of the Ocean, with its 6,000-foot drop-off. Additionally Andros abounds in Blue Holes (underwater cave systems), which have been the scene of some of the deepest underwater cave explorations in the world.

There are more than 40 known species of wild orchids on Andros and the varied habitats provide sanctuary for the rare Bahamian Boa and Atala hairstreak butterfly. The island has most of the resident Bahamian birds and also is an excellent location for observing migrants. There are three endemic species of birds. They are the Bahamas Woodstar Humming Bird, the Bahamas yellow throat warbler and the Bahamas swallow. The West Indian Whistling duck and the white cheeked Pintail are ducks which are considered endangered. They can both be found on Andros, as well as the Caribbean Flamingo which nest and feed in the creeks. Hawksbill, loggerhead and green turtles are primarily found in the Northwest. The Andros rock iguana, the only iguana in The Bahamas not confined to small cays, can be found in the interior pine and evergreen broadleaf areas.

Eleuthera has numerous coastal flats and patch reefs that serve as critical transitional habitats for many commercially important species, including the Nassau grouper, queen conch and Caribbean spiny lobster. North America’s rarest songbird, the Kirtland’s warbler, winters in the Bahamas and one of the few places where this notoriously elusive bird has been sighted is on Eleuthera where there is a ringing station. In 2011 the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds held a summit workshop in the Bahamas to plan and design a Caribbean seabird conservation project intended to help restore seabird populations affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The Bahamas National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan is rather dated but a new protected areas and biodiversity database available. Further general information about Bahamas wildlife can be found on this site and the Bahamas Biocomplexity ProjectBahamas Caves Research Foundation, Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation and Bahamas Reef Environmental Education Foundation have all contributed greatly to the understanding of marine biodiversity in particular.

Although the small Andros population and vast untouched areas have afforded some of the island’s land and marine wildlife some degree of protection, over the last few decades scientists, divers, fishermen and crabbers have observed deterioration in the health and richness of both habitat and key individual ocean species. This decline not only threatens the island’s plants, animals and natural beauty, but also the island’s economy. A report produced in 2010 for The Nature Conservancy suggests the overall extractive (such as fishing and crabbing) and non-extractive (recreational, tourism) use of Androsian natural resources generates $142 million annually in direct gross economic activity, and an additional $35 million in associated spending, which accounts for at least 60% of all economic activity on the island. Nature provides income and employment in some way for around 80% of Androsians, of which there were around 8,000 in the most recent census, providing the basis for 1,645 full-time jobs and numerous part-time jobs. Within this, $70 million a year is estimated to be generated from commercial fishing (including crabbing and sponging), providing food and income for many households. Nature-based tourism activities (including accommodation, bonefishing and diving) constitute $43.6 million in revenues for Andros each year.

The Bahamas National Trust is mandated with the development and management of the national park system of the country. Andros currently has five national parks that were declared by the government in 2002. They encompass the highest concentration of blue holes, land crab habitats, two portions of the Andros Barrier Reef, pine forest, a portion of the extensive Andros freshwater lens, and large areas of the North Bight mangrove/inertial wetlands that are important fish nurseries. In 2009 the government announced the Westside National Park would be expanded. This area of pristine coastal wetlands protects the Bahamas most productive nursery area for conch and fish stocks.

The Andros Conservancy & Trust was initially formed in 1997 by a group of concerned local government representatives, bonefishing guides, and resort owners who felt the need for greater local and national commitment to preserve Andros’ vulnerable natural resources. Over the years their major accomplishments have included helping achieve protection status for grouper spawning aggregations, assisting in establishing the 286,080 acres Central Andros national park system and implementing conservation projects within it.

There are no parks on Eleuthera but the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve was opened in March 2011. Located in Governor’s Harbour, this 25 acre eco sanctuary  - the first of its kind in the Caribbean – will provide a rare opportunity for visitors to learn the history and uses of native plants on the island. South Eleuthera is also one of five areas earmarked to form a network of marine reserves.

Since its announcement in 2008, the Bahamas has provided key leadership and support for the Caribbean Challenge that is being coordinated by The Nature Conservancy through the Global Island Partnership (GLISPA.) The goal of the Challenge – currently endorsed by five sovereign Caribbean nations – is to not only permanently establish a network of 21 million acres of marine parks across the territorial waters of at least 10 countries, but also to ensure that once established, the protected areas also receive sufficient, permanent funding through sustainable financing tools. The Conservancy has pledged $21 million in private funding to help leverage another $20 million in public financial commitments. In addition, UNEP-CEP is coordinating a project to support the development of a biologically representative, functional network of marine protected areas, capable of adapting to climate change in coherence with the SPAW Protocol objectives and those of the GLISPA initiative and to assist the countries in meeting the Caribbean Challenge objective.

Integrated Development Planning

The Cape Eleuthera Resort and Yacht Club has existed in one form or another for over 40 years, and bills itself today as the largest marina in the Outer islands. The DeVos family of Michigan, founders of the multi-billion-dollar Amway Corporation, who own the resort handed over 18 acres to establish the Cape Eleuthera Island School, which first opened its doors in 1999 and takes students away from traditional high school curriculum and invites them to confront authentic challenges. Classes are designed to allow first-hand engagement with the people and environment of the Bahamas. English, maths, environmental art, history, applied scientific research, human ecology, and marine ecology are offered; each course focuses on the application of knowledge to real-world problems. Scuba diving, island exploration, and two kayaking expeditions complement daily morning exercise and campus work that encourages each student to develop leadership and teamwork skills.

The Island School is powered mostly by solar panels and a wind turbine, has its own bio-wastewater treatment plant and grows its own food. Office buildings and staff housing are located in curved and vaulted roofed concrete structures. These structures are built to withstand storms and hurricanes, to facilitate rainwater collection and to maximise air cooling. Timber frames and furniture are made from Casurina, an abundant and non-native, invasive tree species from Australia, which grows throughout the Bahamas. When staff started collecting waste cooking oil from cruise ships to produce biodiesel that now supplies fuel for all the school’s vehicles and farm machinery, it was so successful that their for-profit subsidiary Cape Systems Ltd was sought as consultants to help set up the commercial-scale project operated by Bahamas Waste – see above.

In 2007 Cape Systems produced a document Freedom 2030: Sustainable Eleuthera – The Model for the Caribbean that had a vision to make the island a model of sustainability in terms of clean renewable energy, quality local food production and waste recycling. Conferences were held in 2008 and 2010 in order to help make this vision a reality.

Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation Measures

According to a report published by the World Bank, the Bahamas is among the top three most vulnerable Caribbean countries when it comes to climate change and their government has prepared a national policy for adaptation. Caribsave is a partnership between the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre and the University of Oxford, which addresses the impacts and challenges surrounding climate change, tourism, the environment, economic development and the community livelihoods across the Caribbean. Eleuthera was used as the Bahamian case study where recent and future changes in climate on the island were explored using a combination of observations and climate model projections. Their final report concluded with an action plan to enhance adaptive capacity whilst acknowledging that it is determined by complex inter-relationships of a number of factors at different scales and is multidimensional in nature.