‘The jewel of the Atlantic’
Imagine being able to market an “island in the middle of one of the world’s biggest marine parks”. Just as Australia has the Great Barrier Reef, we would have the Sargasso for Bermuda - the “Golden Rainforest” of the Ocean with our Island surrounded by a protected “Halo” of unique marine life.’ - Greenrock, ‘Changing the Mindset’,
The Royal Gazette, 2 February 2, 2012.
In these modern times, ‘Heritage & Tourism’ (which should be identical and inseparable twins) cannot be perfectly aligned, like the sun, earth and moon in an eclipse, without including the ‘natural world’, a heritage often referred to as ‘eco-tourism’.
Of course, while we macho humans like to think of ourselves as above the laws of Nature, we are but a part of the natural world, albeit one with the capabilities of destroying most of the other segments of that emporium, if its elements can be eaten, converted to cash, or simply obliterated for the fun of it all. Our sectarianism thus is oft expressed in the classic putdown: ‘He acted just like an animal’, which is a nonsensical phrase adding insult to insult for the non-human parts of that kingdom.
We human beings, being animals, are but the latest in a long line of predators, but a species that is fast moving towards becoming dinosaurs through self-destruction and by destroying the animal, vegetable and mineral heritage of the Earth.
One day, the remaining birds of a feather and fishes of a school may pleasurably reminisce about the bygone Age of the Dinosaurs and the Age of Humans, as they soar over a cedar-enveloped Bermuda (the odd chimney poking through the jungle), or nibble on coral and fry in fishhook-free waters surrounding its coast, amidst the wrecks of the last yachts and motor vessels ever seen on the island. More likely we will leave behind very empty skies and a dead ocean of floating plastic Coke and Clorox bottles.
Of late, new life buoys have come in with the tide, as some now regard the waters surrounding Bermuda and of the rest of the Sargasso Sea as objects for preservation and potentially of great value to the Heritage Tourism Trade. A quote from a recent newspaper article by the environmentalist Greenrock group waxes effusively (perhaps on Sargassum weed): ‘Declaring the Sargasso Sea a marine reserve would put Bermuda in international headlines as the “Jewel of the Atlantic” she truly is the kind of marketing and publicity that cannot be bought’. With a little bit of nationalism coming in with that tide, we are informed that ‘Bermuda could market itself distinctly from Caribbean destinations, enhancing our diving product and eco-tourism’, though it is not certain that many tourists would want to be diving in Sargassum weed in waters over three miles deep.
Of course, Bermuda should be marketed as a distinctive destination and Greenrock and other tree-huggers are correct in believing that the preservation and enhancement of the natural world is one type of heritage product that can assist in making the place a jewel in the western North Atlantic once again, perhaps a Hope Diamond (‘said to be the second-most visited artwork in the world, after the Mona Lisa’) within the crown of a ‘World Heritage Site’ Sargasso Sea, not just a ‘marine reserve’.
Closer to land, we should be enhancing existing marine reserves and creating new ones and seriously enforcing the laws against overfishing and other illegal underwater activities. Why not declare all inshore waters a ‘TEEZ’ (Tourism Exclusive Economic Zone), for surely in the long run lots of live fish in the water are worth more money in the bank, than ending up as a short and expensive meal on the table.
A great deal in the sparkle of the sea for visitors is provided by the flashing by of many fish of many colours, not by the occasion appearance of the odd bream or cowpolly. Compared to the land, the sea has a greater possibility of recovering much of its heritage of life and wonderous things, provided that one can stop or abate pollution, deep sea trawling and other deleterious oceanic activities.
More difficulties arise with the preservation of the ‘natural heritage’ that remains on the dryer parts of the Bermuda jewel, a geological limestone crown on the head of a basaltic oceanic volcano. Beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil casuarinas, peppers and other invasive plants, the natural world landside at Bermuda is but a fraction of the sparkling diamond it was before that fateful day in late 1505 when it became one of the last places on Earth to be discovered by man (and other animals like swine).
Apparently denuded several times for shipbuilding, an airborne disease in 1946 all but wiped out our distinctive, non-Caribbean juniper, the marvellous Bermuda ‘cedar’. Many have made attempts at reforestation on private lands, but many are the scores of acres of public lands that remain infested with non-distinctive, non-endemic, non-Bermudian trees, with only an occasional cedar or palmetto to remind the visitors that they are in the present of ecological greatness, at least as far the large endemic trees of this small paradise were once concerned.
Wildflowers are mowed to death annually on public and private lands, as we seek to maintain a non-Bermudian image of a clean, neat, tidy and lifeless North American suburb. Sargassum weed, much a fertilising saviour for local gardens before the ‘Clean Age’, is relentlessly scraped from the beaches, to make them unnaturally pristine, while assisting in the erosion of beach heritage. Others can add to the list of what is left of our natural heritage (that odd phrase, ‘open spaces’, to some) that could be enhanced, reconstituted and made again Bermudian, would but we had the will to preserve, conserve, restore and maintain what is ‘real’ about the natural world in this beloved place.
Many are in agreement that the natural heritage of Bermuda, on land, in the oceans and under the sea should be preserved and should be a major part of the tourism agenda of any oceanic island. Hopefully, the grunts will have their say in any national tourism plan for such potential, if momentarily unpolished or slightly tarnished, ‘Jewels of a World Heritage Sea’, including the unique, if temporally damaged and compromised, Bermudas.
A few years ago, we witnessed the consignment to oblivion of ‘The Natural Arches’ in Tucker’s Town, one of Bermuda’s ‘natural wonders’ and a tourism icon for generations. Such geological heritage cannot be replaced or reconstructed, unlike some cultural heritage, but its loss was greeted to a certain extent with the same apathy with which many have watched the unnecessary decline and decay of the visitor economy over the last few decades.
Much natural heritage, however, can be recreated and it is incumbent for us to do so, not only because we are trustees of the genetic legacy of Cahows, cedars and Bermudianas, but because the fundamental economy of tourism needs such recreation of heritage, natural and cultural, for its rebirth as the essential livelihood of more than the majority of us who are yet able to reside and work in this Island.
Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PHD, FSA is Executive Director of the National Museum at Dockyard. Comments may be made to director[AT]bmm.bm or 704-5480.
For the images of fish, please put this summary caption in a box.
The British artist and would-be earlier settler in North America in the later 1580s, John White, painted these detailed images of fish well known to Bermudians and other present denizens of the Sargasso Sea. These, along with his portraits of Native Americans are among the earliest images of pre-European occupants of North America and the Sargasso Sea and western North Atlantic. Now in the collections of the British Museum, the paintings brought to the attention of the English public never-before-seen images of people and living creatures of the Americas.