Comments at the Fifth Forum on Clifyon Pier

Nassau, Bahamas
February 17,2000
James R. Barborak

Protected Area Specialist
Mesoamerican and Caribbean Program
The wildlife Conservation Society
4424 NW 13th Street
Gainesville, Fl 32605 USA


Phone 352-371-1713

Fax 352-373-6443


           I would first like to thank the Clifton Park Committee for their invitation to visit the Bahamas and to speak at this event, to our hosts of the College of the Bahamas and to all of you for coming.


          For over twenty years, I have worked with governments and citizens around the Wider Caribbean to national parks and reserves.


         I have visited Clifton pier on land and by sea, and I have read available documents on its marine and terrestrial resources, both natural and cultural.  I can say without a doubt that there are few sites in the Wider Caribbean with such a diversity of reef types, archaeological and historical sites , and recreation, tourism, and educational potential in such a small area.  On top of that, Clifton is very near a major, growing urban center starved for outdoor recreation opportunities, and which is also an important international tourist destination, full of visitors looking for interesting new attractions.


          Clifton really packs a punch.  I know many people throughout the region who would love to have such a site on their island!  You should be extremely proud to have such an interesting and unique microcosm of all that is special about the Bahamas so close to your capital and largest city.  Its proximity to Nassau offers exciting possibilities to enrich the understanding of Bahamian history and natural environment by your own citizens and foreign visitors alike.


           Like my colleagues on this panel, I have reviewed the development plans for Clifton and having studied the independent review of the environmental impact assessment put forth by the developers.  I also reviewed the detailed environmental impact study done some years ago for the container port originally planned for the same site, which also would have involved major dredge and fill operations.  It is my opinion that current proposals to develop the property would lead to severe and long-term damage to unique and irreplaceable natural resources and to outstanding examples of the cultural heritage of the Bahamas.


            In particular, an analysis of expert opinion on the environmental impacts of the proposed dredging, canals and marina leads me to conclude that the Clifton Cay project would casue serious damage to a world-class reef system--one that generates nearly $20 million for the Bahamas economy each year.  The marine and canals may further damage fragile aquifers on a water-starved island.  An important film industry asset would also be impacted.  A potentially lucrative new destination for cruise ship passengers will be lost.  Acess to a unique archeological and historical site and an important traditional recreational destination will be restricted.  And as Dr. Leatherman pointed out in his statement, the small remaining beach developers have offered to leave open for public use might very well end up without sand as a result of the proposed engineering works.  Development of an exclusive gated community at Clifton with associated golf courses, marinas, canals, and gredging is in my opinion clearly not the “ highest and best use” of the site.


            The debate over the future of Clifton is not a case of being for or against deveolpment.  Conservation is not anti-development, but rather means to use resource in a manner that does the does the greatest good for the greatest number of citizens for the greatest length of time.  The proposed national park at Clifton would accommodate many types of recreational, scientific, and educational uses for Bahamians and foreign guests alike.  Such a park represents a truly sustainable development option, which would provide a wide range of direct and indirect benefits to generation of Bahamians to come.  It would contribute to economic growth for the Bahamas in a way maximizes social equity and justice.


              To sum things up, this appears to be a clear case of “developers” who perhaps know very well the price and speculative potential of real estate at Clifton, but yet who don’t have a clue or choose to ignore the real value of the property.  The good news I bring is that I have personally witnessed in numerous countries of the region similar conflicts where groups of visionary citizens have overcome seemingly great odds to convince their elected officials to do the right thing.  A wonderful example is Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica.  That small park, not much larger than Clifton, was created after local residents were denied beach access by a foreign landowner.  With support from local political religious and environmental leaders, outraged local people organized a march over a hundred miles to the nation’s capital and congress.  The government finally heeded public pressure and responded by enacting a law creating the park, which now receives over 200,000 national and foreign visitors a year, a flow worth many millions each year to the national economy.


               Generations of your ancestors, shackled, were forced to climb the “Pirate stairs” at Clifton Pier.  I applaud your efforts to preserves the memory of their sacrifices, and to ensure a better future for their, and your, descendants by turning Clifton Pier and surrounding reefs and waters into a model national park.  It would truly be a shame if indifference, complacency, or intimidation lead to the imposition of a new set of shackles in a Bahamas where priceless national treasures-your national crown jewels, so to speak - are defiled in the name of a quick buck.  You and your leaders must ask yourselves: do we want to live in a society where citizens- many of whom are descendants of those early slaves who came ashore at Clifton - cannot freely visit, contemplate, and enjoy one of the last remaining reminders of their cultural and natural heritage?  Can we not save even 200 precious, unique acres on our small island from the voracity of bulldozers and speculators?


             Than you again for inviting me to visit and contemplate the beauty of your country, the island of New Providence, and the unique national treasures at Clifton and surrounding waters.  I wish you the best in your efforts.