Too many unknowns to support exploration, says Pew boss
Bermuda's marine ecosystem could compete with Australia's Great Barrier Reef as a world-renowned visitor attraction, according to an environmental group.
But Matt Rand of the Pew Charitable Trust said a strict embargo on commercial activity in Island waters would have to be enforced before Bermuda gained an international reputation as a top destination for marine enthusiasts.
The US-based trust is backing calls by the Bermuda Blue Halo project to turn much of the ocean within a 200-mile radius of the Island into a “no-take” zone.
Environmentalists look to be on a collision course with developers who claim that natural minerals on the floor of Bermuda's marine exclusive economic zone could be mined, generating billions of dollars of revenue.
Earlier this week, former Premier and ocean explorer David Saul claimed that the Blue Halo project would be “economic suicide”.
“The hundreds of thousands of thousands of square miles of land below the ocean surrounding Bermuda could be utilised to pay off billions of dollars of national debt and also have money left over to enrich future generations,” Dr Saul, a shareholder in a local subsea mineral prospecting company that has already begun to study a relatively small portion of the seabed, said.
Yesterday Mr Rand poured cold water on that claim, saying that it was not known what mineral deposits — if any — would be found thousands of feet under the ocean.
He further pointed out that it was not known what impact ocean dredging might have on Bermuda's marine environment.
“I think Bermuda needs to make a decision based on what is best for all Bermuda citizens, and a decision that protects Bermuda's waters through the Blue Halo project does that,” Mr Rand said.
“Tourism is a major driver of Bermuda's economy and if you proclaim it as a marine reserve, that has great potential to increase tourism activity,” Mr Rand said.
“Tourists travel to places they believe are doing the right thing and a protected marine ecosystem has the potential to open up a whole new market for Bermuda as a tourism attraction. Marine tourism has taken off globally and Bermuda is now one of the few places where you still have a healthy marine environment.”
Mr Rand claimed that deep sea mining was still in its infancy and technology had not yet been developed to make it commercially viable.
He said there were “major negative environmental ramifications” that could result from dredging — including pushing sediment onto the shoreline — and also questioned if the seabed contained valuable minerals.
“Everybody wants to believe that there's a quick and easy answer to the economic situation and that we might find gold in our backyard, but that is highly unlikely,” he said.
“The last geothermal activity was 30,000 years ago and so I think it is highly unrealistic to think that Bermuda has some sort of major asset.
“At the moment deep sea mining is highly unrealistic and I think that it is going to be maybe another 50 years before we get the new technology that will allow us to revisit it.”
Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute chairman Jack Ward also expressed caution.
“I'm neither for or against mining or the Blue Halo, what I am in support of is informed decision making and at the moment neither side is in a position to do that.
“Dr Saul said there could be billions of dollars worth of deposits down there and maybe that's right, but we just don't know. But even if that's the case, it then raises the question of whether or not we can get it out cleanly.
“Then again, with the economic challenges that we are facing, is it time to fully close the door? Deep sea mining is completely unproven but there could be resources out there of value — there are signs of promise. But if we make Bermuda marine reserve, no one is going to go looking because there is no economic incentive to explore.”
Sir John Swan has applauded David Saul’s stance on the Blue Halo project, and warned against the dangers of allowing environmentalists to ‘hijack’ the country’s natural resources.
In a letter to the editor earlier this week Dr Saul made the case against the Pew Group’s desire for a Marine Park, arguing that to close off the option for developing the Exclusive Economic Zone would be ‘economic suicide’.
It was a stance with which Sir John heartily agreed.
“Let me commend Dr Saul for his depth of knowledge and understanding of the practical realities of Bermuda faces, and what other jurisdictions might or might not do in order to safeguard their existence,” he said.
“As he said, we are a country that is imperilled by debt and a shrinking business environment. We need to have resources that would help us to reduce this debt. And he points out — why would you mitigate these resources for not only this, but future generations?
“When in actual fact there are means, and ways, in which one can protect the marine life, and the environment, at the same time as being able to explore the resources that are available.”
Sir John also urged Government to take ‘a second look’ before committing to anything.
“I think that the country should not be hijacked by an environmental argument that would ruin the opportunity for future generations of Bermudians, and therefore I must concur with Dr Saul in all respects, in what I think was one of the finest letters to the editor ever written,” he said.
“I hope more Bermudians recognise the risk which he has so well articulated. We should keep our options open. We should also be mindful of the risk involved with damage that could be done to the ocean … we should do it judiciously, ensure that the resources accrue to the people of Bermuda.
“But to turn over our sovereign right to this environmental philosophy would be irresponsible.
“I hope that the Government will take a second look … unless there is something compelling that we don’t understand, let the public know that it serves for the time being to defer such action.”