A Personal Plea to Help Save the Oceans of The Bahamas Before it is Too Late

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June 09, 2020

I write this as a Bahamian with the deep conviction that “once you know something is wrong, you have an obligation to try to at least do something about it, even if that something is small.” What I know is wrong is how we all in some way abuse and how we allow others to openly abuse our greatest natural resource, our oceans.

I propose that as a matter of the greatest urgency we examine and restructure the way our waters are used, how that usage can be regulated, monetized and most importantly, preserved. Overall, preservation must be the priority. The following suggestions have economic and employment implications. They also give us the opportunity to move the knee off our ocean. Like any living organism, the ocean needs to breathe.

The following points may be considered individually but when taken in combination with one another create a platform for and a commitment to the salvation of our seas.

Underlying all are two commonalities. One, we must stop letting others reap immense financial rewards while we receive mere crumbs from what happens in our waters ranging from large hauls of fish, for which Bahamians get nothing, to the charter, and the sale of superyachts by foreign yacht brokers and excursions in which not a single Bahamian is paid while others from abroad without a work permit work in our waters earning six-figure salaries. 

The ultimate goal is to protect what our future generations have the right to enjoy this natural resource, but at the same time to take responsibility through proper education and legislation to understand the ocean’s value and what Bahamians can and must do to ensure their future and the future of our ocean.

What happens in the 100,000 square miles of open ocean in the most beautiful waters in the world must stop and it is up to all of us to make that happen.

It begins with a conversation and can easily be brought to fruition with legislation and cooperation. But first we have to care to the point at saying no more. We will all pay if not done.

1. Commercial vessels and tankers: At more than 500 miles in length, The Bahamas is ideally situated as a transshipment avenue for large commercial vessels and tankers that traverse the shipping lanes going between South America, Latin America and North America. The companies that operate such vessels base their business models on costs to operate, inclusive of shipping lane fees, weather conditions and timing. The Bahamas earns very little (we are not a data driven country) for our shipping lanes. The nation should be maximizing its position vis-à-vis major markets by charging fees at competing industry rates. The Bahamas has the ability to operate from a level of strength.

2. Yacht sales: It is best that I tell this as a story, so you can grasp what’s happening in our country, and how much we are being taken advantage of. We will never know how many deals have been made in Bahamian waters, nor how much money we might have made had the yacht brokerage industry been regulated. We will never know how many high-paying jobs Bahamians could have filled on charter boats or on those sailed into Bahamian waters to show off the life of luxury aboard a yacht, before being sold or leased. But we do know that many of the world’s most extreme yachts are ‘bought’ in The Bahamas where they are being shown by foreign brokers who earn a commission while The Bahamas serves as the backdrop and we earn the cost of a $300 annual cruise permit.

Here is an example: A yacht is listed for sale by a yacht broker in Florida. Broker fees are typicality 10%. The asking price for the yacht is $220 million. A request to tour and experience the yacht goes like this:

- Yacht leaves Palm Beach, heading for The Bahamas where it will pay a $300 fee for an annual cruising permit. Aboard is a crew of say 30, none of whom have a permit to work in The Bahamas, nor does the yacht broker.

- Yacht is fully stocked with fuel, food beverage, and toys before it leaves its Florida port. In other words, no need to spend money in the Bahamas unless guests insist on going ashore to experience one evening, perhaps, of local culture, leaving a paltry few dollars.

- Yacht anchors say off Albany. It does not pay any dockage. Buyer and broker fly into the Bahamas (remember, broker has no work permit) and they head out to the Exumas for three to five days or more to show off the yacht on an unforgettable cruise with the gin clear turquoise waters, toys taking them to soft, white sand beaches, fine cuisine complete with a change of floral arrangements in the dining salon for every meal – and still no money spent in The Bahamas or jobs for Bahamians. Meanwhile, the carbon footprint of fuel, noise, possibly raw sewage, takes its toll creating further strain on the shallow waters of the Exuma cays already taxed by being designated as the easily accessible favourite watery highway for yacht sales and charters closest to the United States of America.

Some are careful, but all too often a yacht anchors off a cay, damaging the sea bed and paying zero dollars for mooring.

Toys like jets skis, small craft zip around shoals, polluting and scaring marine life. In some cases, they burrow through mangroves as far as they can get, showing off the habitats and nurseries of baby conch and fish to guests who may have no idea the damage they have just caused.

Unlimited fish catch limits, no fishing license required, all result in taking whatever they want out of the ocean. Any size, any amount, and no one to police them.

Yacht returns to Palm Beach and is sold for $200 million.

Broker makes 10% commission, the equivalent of $20 million.

The U.S. Government gets 6% sales tax.

The Bahamas gets $300!

The Bahamas has an obligation to the people to stop this from happening. Yacht charters:

Similar to the benefits that accrue to foreign rather than Bahamian brokers, crew, suppliers and stevedores and general service providers, charter boats pay a nominal 4% fee, lower than the total of the bed and head tax that a hotel with millions of dollars of investment in the ground would pay. And there seems to be little in the way of enforcement for accuracy.

In addition to the luxury yachts and megayachts that charter for $100,000 and up a week plus food and liquor and other expenses, there are more than 100 sailboats, many of them formerly operating out of Abaco prior to Dorian and now based in Nassau. These boats are foreign-owned using Bahamian waters to earn their revenue and what do we get? A few jobs at marinas and a whole lot of crumbs. That is not to say that there have not been good people who first discovered The Bahamas by private sailboat, fell in love with the country because of its waters and our people and returned later as serious investors. But the industry as a whole benefits those who are not Bahamian far more than it benefits Bahamians and it takes a huge toll on our waters. In Georgetown, Exuma’s picturesque Elizabeth Harbour, once teeming with fish including giant Nassau grouper, today you cannot find so much as a live conch.

The following ideas are submitted for consideration. If we are going to save our seas, we must find solutions to the abuse, the lack of regulation, the inadequacy of fees, the disregard for violations of work permit rules or the need to establish such rules and the lack of systems to monitor what happens in our waters. The monetization will increase respect for Bahamian waters and provide funds for regulating what goes on above and below the sea.

Improve fee structure: Create expanded, equitable fee structure for cruising, inclusive of work permits: Cruise permit fees must be higher, affixed to specific timelines and assessed for mileage charges. Anyone who enters The Bahamas to work on a vessel in Bahamian waters must have a valid temporary work permit.

Yachts may request group or bulk work permits for crew with all paperwork and documentation submitted and fee paid prior to entering Bahamian waters.

Regulate yacht sales: Establish a legislated yacht broker sales licensing act bringing the highly lucrative business conducted under our noses with no benefits to Bahamians in line with all other professional bodies in the Bahamas. One can use the Bahamas real estate salesmen act as a guide. Zero tolerance enforcement resulting in imprisonment, confiscation of yacht and or heavy fines imposed for any sale or sales process taking place in the Bahamas without following proper regulation. Most yachts are listed online and a process of paper work, signing off saying not selling, reviewing sales records in the USA, and noted if yacht has recently been in the Bahamas, and talking to crew and captains to know we mean business.

Charge VAT on all sales, legal fees and commissions.

Demand safe anchoring to preserve coral reefs: A single anchor thrown carelessly or left to drag can destroy a coral that took hundreds or thousands of years to form. A buoy tie-up system needs to be created with a zero tolerance throw-anchor policy. This buoy system must be used throughout the Bahamas by all commercial vessels – that is any vessel through which revenue is earned whether for fishing, charter or other excursion – and for all personal recreational vessels over 25’ LOA. Creating and monitoring buoys can provide a source of revenue for an NGO or can be an entrepreneurial opportunity for persons in various islands.

Stop foreign fishing depleting Bahamian waters: The entire subject of who is allowed to fish in Bahamian waters, the limit on the catch and the cost of fishing permits must be addressed as a matter of extreme urgency. Stocks are being depleted faster than they can be replenished. What remains requires fishermen to go further and further from shore and deeper and deeper in their search. Today, a foreign boat can pay $20 for a fishing permit per trip or $150 a year for unlimited trips -- $20! If they carry more than six reels as the typical charter fishing boat does, the fee escalates up to $10,000 – and who does that impact, Bahamians! Properly-priced fishing permits must be instituted, sold and policed.

We must get serious about catch limits, catch and release, size limits, the amount and type of fishing equipment and we must implement strict policing practices.

For every visiting vessel, an inspector should accompany Customs and Immigration to report the number of freezers or other possible storage compartments on deck or dock, list inventory (screen shot on cell phone) to record what seafood is being brought into the country. Any time the vessel is stopped, thereafter, its freezers can be inspected to ensure that it is not fishing for commercial purposes in The Bahamas. Why do foreign-owned vessels need multiple freezers on board which they leave on the docks except to fill them and take back to the USA to sell or eat? Commercial fishing licenses should be restricted to Bahamians only with the sole exception of those participating in a sanctioned fishing tournament. Every tournament must also have Bahamian participation in the ownership of the event. No foreign vessel shall be allowed to go out for the day and return directly to the USA. They must be boarded and catch inspected. If they return to the dock from a day of fishing, a warden must meet them and inspect their catch.

Create fishing zones to allow defined areas to be fished in. For example, if there were eight zones, two or three would be open for fishing activity at a given time to allow others to “rest,” just as farmers allow land to lie fallow following a harvest.

Strict preservation of conch: Only Bahamians or residents can touch a conch. A supply system via an app for persons wanting conch will allow them to order it and have it delivered. Every catch conch must be recorded and reported which can be achieved through an app on any phone or smart device. In the Florida Keys, no one is allowed to touch a conch. It has been decades of hard work for them to get populations back. Decades. We will all pay for this if nothing is done. 

Addressing raw sewage: Every vessel with a head (bathroom), foreign or local, must prove it has the ability to use a pump-out station or facility. Raw sewage disposal policies must be established with no dumping of sewage in inland waters, up to three miles from the nearest shoreline. Gauges can easily be read. All yachts must be inspected before departing, similar to filing a flight plan, a 24-hour notice to depart full boat inspection and permission granted. Every licensed marina must be required to have a working pump-out facility with adequate final disposal provisions.

Toy distancing: The usage of toys inclusive of personal watercraft must be 500 feet offshore and not around shoals or used within areas designated as marine or recreational parks, inclusive of parks like Montagu Beach and Arawak Cay in New Providence.

Step up strict sailboat or other liveaboard monitoring: While many sailors are eco-conscious and natural environmental stewards using wind to power their sales rather than fossil fuels to drive large engines, others ‘camp out’ in The Bahamas, feeling they have a right to live inexpensively (it’s all over social media) off the fish in the sea and anchor at will where they want for as long as they want.

They are not paying rent as a visitor would who stays in a hotel, resort or Airbnb. They may be damaging the seabed, consuming more than their land-based counterpart without paying anything and it is time that we establish policies for boaters who ‘reside’ in Bahamian waters for any length of time. Any such vessel that violates fishing limits, size of conch or crawfish or is caught fishing during a closed season should be heavily fined and taken before the courts risking the possibility of jail time or their boat being confiscated. Florida and many other states have zero tolerance laws. Why can’t we?

Enforcement: The benefit of introducing the suggested measures in this paper at this time is that the technology exists today to permit enforcement. With the Royal Bahamas Defense Force adding high-powered drones and organizations like the Bahamas National Trust, Save The Bays, BREEF and others engaging volunteers, sea wardens can be deputized and become the guards of our future, a future that depends on the preservation of our seas. - no foreign vessel can go out for the day and return directly to the USA. They must be boarded and catch inspected.

If they return to the dock from a day of fishing, a warden must meet them and inspect their catch.

Benefits: The green and blue economies are the economies projected to have the highest rate of growth in the next decade. International maritime laws, stakeholders, conservationists and a growing maritime sector mandate that we change the way we have been looking at our oceans and waters since the beginning of time – believing there will always be plenty for everyone, an endless supply of fish, conch and crawfish, endless tropical fish and magnificent brain coral and sea fans.

We now know better. The question is can we do better? The unwillingness for the Bahamas to look itself in the mirror and work towards saving our ocean will not speak well of our legacy.

When Florida began to take its waters seriously and the Florida Keys clamped down on the ‘wild west of the seas’ mentality 50 years ago, it was almost too late then. 50 years later they still have work to do. We are in a fragile place and to save ourselves requires hard work. Do we have the courage to deal with what’s at hand?

Remember, once the bounty of the ocean is gone, this type of discussion will be too late!

By Mario Carey

Mario Carey is best known as a highly successful real estate broker, leader and innovator in the industry. Although he has handled more than $2.75 billion in transactions over a 30-year career, he has always carved out time to put everything else aside and pursue his lifelong passion – deep sea diving. He wrote the following piece pleading for action after watching the waters of The Bahamas degrade from alive and teeming with marine life to near desolate in many areas. He blames much of weariness of the seas and the depletion of fish, conch and crawfish stock on the lack of regulation of foreign vessels and their guests. Carey says it is urgent that a higher price be exacted for accessing Bahamian waters and controls be established to monitor what remains of the country’s coral reefs and marine life before it is too late. Where once that type of monitoring would not have been possible across 100,000 miles of open ocean, technology now allows it with the use of drones and individuals with monitoring apps. He also calls for a national buoy tie-up system to protect the fragile reefs and the life that depends upon reefs.

News date : 06/09/2020    Category : About Bahamians, Environment, Press Releases

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