The Bahamas have long been one of the jewels of the Caribbean. A unique culture, spectacular coral reefs, abundant sharks and sea turtles, and dazzling beaches attract visitors from all over the world. Unfortunately, nothing is forever. The laid back atmosphere and rich biodiversity of the Bahamas may be about to go the way of the dinosaurs. And, as is often the case, local residents have little say in the matter.

The Discovery Land Company, a California-based development corporation, wants to build a golf course on Guana Cay. Discovery appears to pride itself on being a good steward of the land, and embracing the local culture. According to CEO Michael Meldman, "Anyone can build houses, roads and golf courses. All that takes is money. You cannot, however, recreate the natural beauty of the environment with any amount of money. The value is always in the land."

It is difficult to reconcile these words with the fact that Guana Cay residents strongly oppose the development, or that scientists are concerned that building a golf course on the edge of a coral reef would be a disaster. Too often, people get caught up in discussions about industry best practices or mitigation schemes, and lose sight of the fact that some types of development are just not appropriate for all locations. It may be a modern golf course, and it may even be a model golf course - but the reality is that no matter how nicely Discovery dresses this up, it is going to damage the reef and change the character of the island.

What makes this even more tragic is that the Guana Cay development is just one of a thousand similar mistakes taking place all over the Caribbean. Again and again, greed and power politics have trumped the wishes of the majority of people who recognize that unchecked development is jeopardizing the health of coral reef ecosystems and the communities that depend on them. Globally, one-third of the world’s reefs have already been severely damaged and at least half of them are expected to be gone by 2035. In the Florida Keys, 80% of the living coral has been lost in the last 40 years.

Even slight increases in nutrient levels from sewage or fertilizer runoff can feed algae growth and choke corals, a problem that has been heightened by overfishing of parrotfish and other species that graze on algae. Pesticides have been linked to coral disease. Removal of coastal vegetation combined with the enormous amount of fresh water required to sustain a golf course can change the salinity in nearshore waters. And then there's the problems with dredging, not to mention the waste, erosion, noise, and oil and gas spillage associated with bringing thousands of people and their boats each year to one small area.

Local residents have taken their fight to the Supreme Court, but so far things are not going well. They hope to hear the results of their appeal in the next month or two. In the meantime, construction has already begun. To get the whole story - and to get involved - visit www.saveguanacayreef.com or www.notesfromtheroad.com/WestIndies/bakers_bay_intro.htm.

For another example of how unsustainable development is killing the Bahamas, visit
www.miami.edu/sharklab/news.html.