Editor: Life is a balance between holding on and letting go. (Rumi)
Mr. Raffique Dunbar, an investor behind the recently renovated Grand View Hotel at Villa, wants to remove some rock and coral adjacent to the shoreline, import some sand to replenish the beach and to establish an off-shore breakwater to mitigate beach erosion. These activities are all aimed at improving swimming and leisure activities at the location, which will of course add to the amenities provided for his guests and, without prejudice to the previous owners, auger well for a more successful hotel. The environmental activists are up in arms because of the anticipated damage to the coral in the area (17,500 ft2) and the introduction of invasive species in the imported sand. The social and political activists are raising arguments about the new beach formation generating exclusivity for hotel guests only, as well as quoting (along with the environmentalists) a plethora of international “save the coral” agreements. Both groups are advocating permission for this coastal development activity to be denied. Really?
Environmental activists (bolstered by their new sobriquet Citizen Scientists) have posted an underwater video and pictures of the coral. What I see is very isolated examples of live coral types. The argument from the environmentalists is that the coral reef is “alive” Do we say that a desert blooms because of its oases? Let us await the Physical Planning’s investigations. In the meanwhile, there is no dispute about the very poor condition of the coral reef, but why exactly is this coral reef in its current state? I do not hear the environmentalists talking about the real cause stemming from the multiple decades of grey water run-off from the irreversible local residential, apartment and hotel development in the area. Where is the outrage on this fact, or is this investor and his foreign associate easy pickings?
Invasive species arriving in the sand is a possibility, but what has been the result of Buccament beach, Glossy Bay beach and with all the sand imported from neighboring islands for island wide construction, over the decades? Have the environmentalists followed up with actual studies to establish factual reference points, as opposed to a rhetorical response on this issue?
With regards to beach access and usage for locals, the examples of Buccament and Glossy Bay, despite the protestations and scaremongering of the activists, have failed to convince me that locals are either being denied beach access or are suffering from an inferiority complex because the sand is either white or the beach constructed for hotel guests only! In fact, I consider this argument a Freudian indication of flailing commentary.
I have not read these international agreements and local laws with “save the coral” focus, but there is always an “off ramp” clause (the G7 countries would not sign otherwise) that allows countries to seek their own national interest. I understand the significant aid made available to governments and NGOs often tied to compliance with these international agreements. We are better off however focusing our energies and limited resources on bigger issues like reducing the importation of cars, a new landfill site to replace Diamond, better farming practices and relevant quantitative environmental research, than restoration and feel-good measures on lost causes.
In all that I have said above, the relevant question that should be answered is whether the economic, social and environmental benefits of saving the reef more beneficial to SVG than the development of the beach as proposed by Mr Dunbar? This is a scientific and factual analysis (EIA and SIA) with a final decision nuanced by a balance between holding on to nature over development, an alternative scope of development if found necessary and a focus on the real causes of coral decline in the area, as opposed to opportunistic and misguided outrage over rocks and dead coral.