30
Mar 18

BTT Shares Concern About Grand Bahama Refinery

Yeah… I agree. This sounds like such a bad project for the things I love.

Justin Lewis in the Bahamas

An open letter by Justin Lewis from BTT

The Rt. Hon. Dr. Hubert Minnis,

Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (BTT) is an international non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of bonefish, tarpon, permit—the species, their habitats, and the larger fisheries they support. We work in a broad geography that spans the Caribbean Basin from its easternmost anchor in the Bahamas. Locally, we have worked for many years in the Bahamas, collaborating with the Bahamas National Trust, anglers, guides, fishermen, and other leading NGOs. Studies have shown that the flats fishing industry in The Bahamas contributes in excess of $141 million to the Bahamian economy annually, making it a valuable sustainable natural  that benefits thousands of Bahamians, especially in rural communities.

The Island of Grand Bahama is an area where BTT has placed significant effort and continues to do so because of its expansive healthy flats habitat and thriving recreational bonefish fishery. It is where I, as a native Bahamian working for BTT, am based. Years of research by BTT and our collaborators has identified habitat loss and degradation as the greatest threats to bonefish and their habitats. Developments involving dredging, sand mining, and other manipulations of nature pose a significant threat not only to bonefish but a range of other environmentally and economically important species and habitats.

We received the news of the recently announced OBAN energies development in East Grand Bahama with great interest due to its potential impacts to the flats, coral reefs, and deep ocean—our most valuable natural resources—not only in that area, but along the entire southern side and eastern end of Grand Bahama. The OBAN plans to construct a large oil refinery and storage facility will require significant dredging, which will pose risks to our local marine environment and threaten fresh water aquifers. The 250,000 barrels of heavy crude oil slated for daily production also deserves closer scrutiny. Heavy crude oil is similar to bitumen, which comes from the oil sands of Canada, and has caused significant environmental issues there. Heavy crude emits three times as much CO₂ as regular crude oil and even coal and contains large quantities of heavy metal contaminants and sulfur.

Additionally, the silt created from the large amount of dredging to be done would be carried by prevailing winds and currents to our beaches, aquifers, the flats, and coral reefs along the entire south side and east end of Grand Bahama. Any future oil spill would follow the same path.  Directly in harm’s way would be the Lucayan National Park, East Grand Bahama Protected Area, and the Northside-Gap National Park, which protect important bonefish spawning aggregation sites, bonefish spawning migration pathways, and bonefish flats that support the economically valuable fishery.

In consultation with other stakeholders in the Bahamian flats fishery, particularly in East Grand Bahama, we write to urge the greatest care in assessing this project and its environmental impacts. Topics that should be considered while conducting the environmental impact assessment should include: likelihood of an oil or other chemical spill; if a spill occurs how would it be contained, and where would the resulting pollutants be transported by ocean currents and through the aquifer; what will be the impact to the natural resources that support the travel and tourism industry; what will be the economic costs to the flats fishery due to the loss of anglers; will safeguards be in place in case the project fails or ceases operation.

Thank you for your consideration. As always, please consider BTT an information resource for bonefish and flats conservation efforts. We stand ready to provide assistance—please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Justin Lewis

Bahamas Initiative Manager


29
Sep 15

Interview with Justin Lewis from BTT

As hard as it is to believe, I actually asked these questions of Justin Lewis from Bonefish & Tarpon Trust before all this Bahamas regulation stuff came up.

Justin works for BTT. He’s a Bahamian working in the Bahamas for BTT. Shows BTT’s commitment to protecting bonefish where bonefish live. I applaud that up and down and am only sorry I have but two hands to applaud with. See… BTT is awesome.

Justin Lewis in the Bahamas

Justin Lewis in the Bahamas

 

You are working with BTT out in the Bahamas. Can you give me an overview of what that work entails?

Working as the Bahamas Initiative Manager for the BTT, I travel around the Bahamas visiting lodges and working with local guides which has helped us identify bonefish home ranges, juvenile habitat, bonefish spawning sites, and bonefish spawning migration pathways. The Bahamas Initiative is a collaborative, multi-year program to conserve and protect the bonefish fishery and their habits in The Bahamas.

 

The work I do when I travel to the different islands ranges from giving presentations to guides, anglers and schools, to tagging, to snorkeling with thousands of bonefish in pre-spawning aggregations. The scientific information we collect is then applied to habitat conservation plans in conjunction with fishing guides, lodge owners, collaborating NGO’s, and the Bahamas Government.

 

Nice fish from Justin.

Nice fish from Justin.

What is one thing you wish anglers knew about conservation.

The one thing I wish anglers knew about conservation is how much they are capable and welcome of getting involved in conservation efforts. For the work we do at BTT, angler and guide participation is key to the success of many of our projects. For example, our tag-recapture study in the Bahamas involved a lot of angler and guide participation. From anglers and guides tagging bonefish and reporting recaptures we were able to figure out that bonefish have very small home ranges (<1km), and also travel long distances (>30km) for spawning purposes. By anglers participating in research like the tagging program, the information they help collect is vital to conservation efforts and planning for bonefish and their habitats. It is also a great way to give back to the resource we have such a passion for.

 

The BTT in collaboration with Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has initiated a new genetics study looking at the connectivity of bonefish and tarpon populations in the Bahamas, Caribbean, and Western Atlantic. We collect fin clips from bonefish and scales from tarpon that are used for genetic analysis, and can help us determine whether different populations are related to one another. If anglers or guides who target bonefish or tarpon in those areas are interested in participating in this study, they can request a fin clip or scale sample kit by contacting us at info@bonefishtarpontrust.org.

A baby poon, Bahamas style.

A baby poon, Bahamas style.

What’s one unexpected thing you’ve see out there on the flats?

On a flat in Eleuthera, I saw a very large porcupine fish. I’ve seen them countless times out on the reef, but never thought I’d ever see one on the flats.

What do you think is the biggest threat to Bahamian bonefish?

We have identified habitat loss and degradation to be the greatest threat to bonefish populations in the Bahamas. Lots of areas that are prime feeding and spawning habitat for bonefish are also sought after by developers for sand mining or hotel and marina developments. Removing or altering habitat could negatively affect a local bonefish population that depends on habitats like mangroves and seagrass beds for food and cover.

How good is the Bahamian rugby team? And please explain how to play rugby. (I admit I asked this question to be funny, but Justin just went ahead and answered it anyway)

We are a good team and have a lot of talent, but we still have things we need to improve on. We had a good international season this year, beating both Bermuda and Turks & Caicos.
Rugby is a continuous game whereby two teams carry, pass, kick and ground the ball in order to score. In rugby there are 15 people playing at a time per side. The key to playing rugby is that you always have to pass the ball backwards, and to be in support of the man with ball in order to receive a pass or ruck in order to secure the ball. The purpose of the ruck or maul is so that the game can continue without any stoppage in play. The line-out and scrum are two key distinguishing factors to the game of Rugby Union. A scrum occurs when there is an accidental infringement and a line-out occurs when the ball goes out of bounds. A try is scored when a player places the ball in the opposition’s in-goal area, and is worth 5 points followed by a conversion kick which is worth 2.

On an average day of bonefishing, average conditions, what fly are you pulling out for your first cast?

Well that all depends on the area I am fishing. My go-to fly for most situations is a simple crab pattern, most of the time a merkin or bastard crab that will match the bottom I am fishing. The two keys to choosing the right crab pattern is weight and color. Match the weight of the fly to the depth of water you are fishing, and as I already mentioned match the color of the crab fly to the bottom. Most of the time crabs will take on the color of the bottom they are on. Crabs have a very high caloric value which bonefish love, so to heighten your chances of getting one to look and hopefully eat, I’d recommend a crab fly.

If you were writing the laws in the Bahamas and could enact one law to help the fishery stay healthy, what law would you enact?

If there was one law I could enact, it would be the protection of key bonefish habitat from unsustainable development. From the research BTT and our collaborators have done over the years on bonefish, we have come to the conclusion that degradation, blockage, and removal of bonefish habitat is the greatest threat to the species.

 

One other law I would enact is total ban of gill nets. They are a non-selective and extremely destructive type of fishing, and if they get lost and float at sea or get stuck in mangroves, they can cause even more destruction by entangling any marine organism that gets near it.

Thanks Justin!