On July 15, 2019, five leading Bahamian environmental groups — the Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation, Save the Bays, ReEarth, EARTHCARE, and Waterkeepers Bahamas — later joined by the international Waterkeeper Alliance organization, launched the “Stop Disney – Last Chance for Lighthouse Point” campaign. By the end of August, more than 100,000 supporters had signed a petition to urge Disney to abandon its plans for a massive cruise ship port at Lighthouse Point (LHP), located on the southernmost tip of the island of Eleuthera in The Bahamas.
When Hurricane Dorian struck on September 1st, the groups paused the campaign and refocused on relief and recovery efforts. Three of the partners live on Grand Bahama and are very engaged on the frontlines, conducting water quality testing to determine the threat posed by a five-million-gallon spill at the Equinor oil depot into critical freshwater sources. The campaign has asked its supporters to contribute to relief efforts.
Today, the campaign partners announced that they will now resume their advocacy on behalf of Lighthouse Point, particularly in light of Hurricane Dorian and the climate change crisis. The campaign is eager to see Disney work with Bahamian groups on a sustainable alternative for Lighthouse Point and locate its cruise ship port elsewhere.
Hurricane Dorian could be a turning point. People in The Bahamas and around the world are seeing storms becoming more powerful and frequent and are understanding their connection to a warming ocean. Young people around the world are demanding that action be taken now to deal with the changing climate and human impact on the environment, particularly in environmentally-sensitive areas.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) serve as a powerful tool to combat climate change and deal with its impacts. Recent international research indicates that 30% of oceans must be assigned this kind of protected status in order to effectively protect the oceans, environment, and economy. In 2008, The Bahamas officially committed to the Caribbean Challenge Initiative to conserve 20% of its marine and coastal resources by 2020.
A week before Hurricane Dorian, Disney announced plans to develop a cruise ship port at LHP. What they failed to mention is that the 18,000 acres of ocean surrounding LHP were formally proposed as a top priority MPA as part of the Caribbean Challenge Initiative. The site also serves as a culturally and ecologically important area containing endangered species, coral reefs, sharks, fish, and other valuable marine life. Instead of supporting MPAs, Disney is proposing a project that would destroy a proposed MPA around Lighthouse Point.
Despite LHP’s unique beauty and value in the fight against climate change, and despite our efforts, Disney has not yet moved away from its current plans that threaten this fragile environment. The foot traffic alone, from more than one million visitors a year, will certainly cause irreversible damage to coral reefs and marine life, not to mention the inevitable harm to the area’s natural resources from the construction and operation of the massive pier and port.
Even with the campaign paused, the number of Stop Disney petition signatories has steadily increased and now is close to 110,000. The renewed “Last Chance” campaign will work with this growing community of supporters to ensure that the campaign’s even more urgent message reaches out to millions more.
Samantha Duncombe, Executive Director, ReEarth, added:
“In the wake of Hurricane Dorian’s devastating impacts, protecting Lighthouse Point is more pressing than ever. Now is the time for all of us, including Disney, to take bold action against climate change. This must include protecting — not destroying — Marine Protected Areas that are essential to the resiliency of the oceans already under incredible pressures. After Dorian, business as usual is no longer acceptable.”
Gail Woon, Executive Director, EARTHCARE, added:
“Living through Climate-Changed Hurricane Dorian and its aftermath, Disney’s idea of building yet another private playground on pristine and beautiful natural areas such as Lighthouse Point in Eleuthera is abhorrent. Marine Protected Areas are far more important to The Bahamas in light of the now evident Climate Crisis. The Bahamas has suffered immeasurable losses in human life, environmental damage, such as the Equinor Oil Spill, and more. Now more than ever we need to preserve the assets that we have that provide a buffer for us from the Climate Crisis. Lighthouse Point is such an asset!”
Phoebe Shaw, Campaign Director, Last Chance for Lighthouse Point, added:
“Last month, Greta Thunberg’s moving speech at the UN reflected the fear, frustration and anger of millions of young people whose future is being threatened by corporations and governments that are failing to act. As Greta said, “there is no middle ground when it comes to the climate and ecological emergency.”
“We challenge Disney to reevaluate Lighthouse Point in light of Hurricane Dorian and the need to deal with the reality of climate change,” said Shaw. “Lighthouse Point should be a beacon of hope for The Bahamas, our oceans, and our future.”
Joseph Darville, Executive Director, Save the Bays, added:
“I have lived and worked on Grand Bahama for 42 years and the level of devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian is unmatched. It is more important than ever to protect important natural areas like Lighthouse Point as we work to make The Bahamas more resilient for the future.”
Marc Yaggi, Executive Director, Waterkeeper Alliance, added:
“We share our partners’ priority of focusing on relief efforts and are supporting their critical work testing water quality in response to the oil spills caused by Hurricane Dorian,” said Waterkeeper Alliance executive director Marc Yaggi. “As we work to rebuild, we must contemplate the new and serious questions raised by this natural disaster. Protecting important natural areas is a critical part of resilience to climate change and increasingly frequent and intense storms. Business as usual will not protect us, and Disney must seriously reconsider the types of investments they are making to ensure a sustainable future for The Bahamas.”
*Photo by Shane Gross, @shanegrossphoto