Kermit the Frog once famously sang that it “wasn’t easy being green”, but going green is another matter altogether. Within the Caribbean destination of The Bahamas, embracing sustainable practices has become a way of life. Grand Bahama, the northernmost of the 700 Bahamian islands and the one closest to the American mainland, is emblematic of the destination’s wholehearted embrace of “green” tourism. Blessed with stunning natural beauty both on land and beneath its waters, Grand Bahama is the frontline of the effort to preserve the ecology of The Bahamas for future generations. As such, it is in Grand Bahama that you will find some truly inspiring success stories – realized only through the successful collaboration of government, private, and grassroots initiatives.
The Quest to Save Corals (and Conch!)
Almost half the world’s coral reefs have been damaged by climate change. In Grand Bahama, one enterprise is making a significant effort to stem the tide. Coral reefs bleached by ocean warming and damaged by storms, overfishing and careless boaters are being replanted and augmented with specially grown species resistant to the effects of climate change.
Coral Vita is The Bahamas’ only land-based coral farm and is open to visitors. They’ve developed an entirely new approach to coral propagation, first identifying corals which have been shown to be naturally hardier, then taking tiny slices of healthy coral and planting them in tanks to stimulate growth. Their process leads to higher survivorship and a growth rate that is 50 times faster than on the open reef. When the young corals reach an appropriate size, they are replanted back in local reefs. They’ve achieved success with 18 varieties of coral, but the company admits the re-growth isn’t going to happen overnight.
Nevertheless, they are proud to have been named the inaugural winner of The Earthshot Prize in the Revive Our Oceans category. The Prize, which is worth £1 million, was launched in 2021 by Prince William and David Attenborough to find solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental problems.
Coral Vita is also growing mangrove seedlings. Mangrove wetlands that were depleted by development and hurricanes are being replanted to protect against future storm surges and provide a sheltered nursery for almost every variety of marine life. Much of the island’s fishery depends on healthy stocks and most species start their lives as tiny creatures in the shallow waters of the mangroves. No mangroves, no fish, no conch.
The queen conch is an important staple of the Bahamian economy, ecology and culture, but is in decline across the islands. A green initiative called ‘Conchservation’ aims to transform the fishery to allow the population to rebound to ecologically significant numbers.
National Parks and Tours: The Art of Admiring Without Expiring
The Bahamas National Trust manages all national parks, including three on Grand Bahama. The Trust is a science-based organization dedicated to conserving and protecting Bahamian natural resources. This work is especially important following a hurricane. Along the coastline, pristine beaches are being restored and the unique Caribbean pine forests are showing signs of recovery.
The Lucayan National Park protects one of the world’s longest charted underwater cave systems, two of which can be visited. Inside, the preserved remains of indigenous Lucayans have been discovered. The park showcases all of the varied Bahamian vegetative zones, such as pine forests, mangrove creeks and coral reefs. After being closed for a couple of years in the 80s, the park reopened with new boardwalks which permit minimally invasive tours. The work was carried out under the patronage and encouragement of the then-Prince of Wales. The park includes the world-famous Gold Rock Beach, where scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean were filmed. In 2018, it was voted the best beach in the Caribbean by USA Today and is protected by extensive coral reefs with excellent snorkelling. As part of an ongoing green initiative, an offshore coral nursery has been established to help restock the reef.
The tiny land mass of the Peterson Cay National Park belies the overall size of the protected area. Originally only the one-and-a-half-acre cay was protected, but the park now includes the thousand-acre marine habitat surrounding it. The only cay on Grand Bahama’s leeward shore, it is a low-lying limestone outcropping, home to a significant colony of nesting birds. The park is recognized as an Important Bird Area and can only be visited by boat and conducted tours. Diving and snorkelling in the pristine turquoise waters of the park are outstanding. Another coral nursery has been established southwest of the Cay with the capacity to grow 250 elkhorn and staghorn corals at a time.
Kayak tours allow visitors to get up close to nature by paddling along the park’s mangrove creek, the only surviving example on Grand Bahama’s leeward coast. A wide variety of marine creatures can be seen, including indigenous jellyfish which feed on the brackish seabed.
The Rand Nature Centre encompasses just over 100 tranquil acres of protected nature not far from the heart of Freeport. Here, a well-maintained trail snakes through pine barrens and woodlands, culminating in a freshwater pond and tropical plant arboretum. The Centre is both a permanent and temporary home to a wide variety of dazzling avian species and is particularly buzzing during peak migratory season between October and May.
Visitors are encouraged to take a self-guided tour through the Centre and experience it at their own pace. Beyond the beautiful outdoor environs, the Centre also hosts rotating visual art and cultural exhibits, making it an ideal choice of destination for lovers of natural and manmade beauty. Visitors are encouraged to take a self-guided tour through the Centre and experience it at their own pace. Beyond the beautiful outdoor environs, the Centre also hosts rotating visual art and cultural exhibits, making it an ideal choice of destination for lovers of natural and manmade beauty.