The beauty and splendor of unspoiled land
It’s the jewel of Bermuda. And what is surprising is that so many Bermudians have yet to experience the beauty and tranquillity of Cooper’s Island in St David’s. Earlier this year more land of Cooper’s Island nature reserve was opened to the public.
Two years ago HSBC Bermuda along with the Ministry of Environment and Department of Conservation Services joined forces to restore the reserve in honour of the Island’s 400th Anniversary.
Since then, staff have been busy volunteering their time to remove invasive and endemic species on the property which can only be accessed on foot.
The 77-acre island has been used by many United States Government agencies, having been the property of the US Army, US Air Force and US Navy as well as previously being occupied by a NASA space tracking station.
And former Conservation Officer Dr David Wingate said it was imperative that the gate which blocks traffic at Cooper’s Island remain in place.
“That is absolutely crucial to the future of that park and the public needs to understand this. Traffic must be kept out of the reserve. It is imperative that people park outside the NASA gate and then go in on foot. That immediately separates those people who cannot bear to be separated from their cars to those who want to get into the wilderness. It is long enough out to the point so that people who really want and need wilderness can walk that far and leave the rest behind.
“And anyone who has walked out there will notice that a change comes over the people. Their behaviour changes when they walk out to the point. The people out there care enough about the wilderness to make the effort to get out there. People start speaking and chatting to each other just like the old times. It is really the last opportunity for people to get out into the wilderness of Bermuda unless you go out on the water.”
While the US military handed back the Baselands in 1995, NASA held on to Cooper’s Island for a bit longer.
“They handed it back in 2001. At that point Government made a decision to designate the outer peninsula as a nature reserve. Actually this had been on the books since about 1988 when I was the Conservation Officer. Then I pointed out the enormous natural heritage value and strategic location of Cooper’s Island which jutted out into the middle of Castle Harbour where the Cahows survive and the largest Longtail population survive. We pointed out that it was crucial that Cooper’s Island be maintained as a wilderness nature reserve because of its position to where the Cahows were surviving and that any other use that may involve housing, hotels or bright street lights would have been catastrophic,” said Dr Wingate.
“Also if we are ever to get sea turtles to nest in Bermuda again on a large scale that (Cooper’s Island) is the only possibility because sea turtles need to be away from developed areas. They need low lighting at night and less disturbance.”
Recently, Health Minister Zane DeSilva, who was standing in for Public Works Minister Derrick Burgess at the time, said: “Over the next ten years the plan is to transform the Cooper’s Island nature reserve into Bermuda’s largest eco destination and an essential extention to the living museum of the internationally recognised Nonsuch Island nature reserve. It will attract locals and visitors who can experience Bermuda as they have never experienced and lose themselves in nature.”
Over the past two years HSBC Bermuda has assisted in the demolition of four “robustly” constructed buildings, totalling approximately 32,000 sq ft. They helped to demolish several three story radar mounts; three ammunition bunkers dating back to the Second World War; and dug 400 tree pits in preparation for planting of native and endemic plants. Along with Island Construction Ltd, the bank helped restore the beaches and causeway after Hurricane Igor caused significant storm surge damage.
Mr DeSilva called the site “a Mecca of protected sea birds” and said its reopening could revitalise the Island’s tourism product and help us tap into new markets. “This will be one of the best spots for viewing both Longtails and Cahows coming to roost on Nonsuch Island and other small islands to the south. For those who know about keen Audubon enthusiasts, you will know there is a list that everyone is trying to complete birds they have observed in the wild. There are 48 million birders in the US alone, and many of them, I’m sure, would love nothing more than to come to Bermuda and see perhaps the rarest bird in the world our Bermuda Cahow. That’s quite a market to tap for local tourism.”
Dr Wingate praised the work done by HSBC Bermuda and Island Construction.
“HSBC deserve a huge amount of credit for taking this on and putting a large amount of money into it and credit also goes to Island Construction for providing the equipment (to do much of the work). Those two organisations deserve a lot of credit and also Conservation Services for organising the volunteers.”
And he said that they have learned from some of the mistakes made at Nonsuch Island saying that Cooper’s Island is a larger copy of the “Nonsuch Living Museum”.
“We have learned from all the mistakes made at Nonsuch and applied it to this project. Nonsuch is too small and too remote to cater to tourism. Cooper’s Island is five times as big and accessible to the mainland. There is so much more space and people can spread out. Nonsuch is only 15 acres to the 77 acres of Cooper’s Island. It will also take the pressure off Nonsuch without denying people the pleasure to experience the fragile nature Bermuda has.”
And again Dr Wingate returned to his main point of keeping traffic out. “Fortunately NASA put in a barrier and gate and keeping traffic outside of the gate is fundamental to this project, absolutely fundamental. Every Minister of Environment must understand this because the pressure is always on to open that gate.”
They are always looking for more volunteers, said Dr Wingate.
“The volunteers get a sense of pride (in what they do) and as the restoration goes forward that pubic pride will increase as there is more volunteerism people who have gone out there to volunteer for the tree plantings and the building of Longtail nests all have a (personal) buy in. Once you have that it feels that it belongs to you personally it is not just another Government park. You will want to pass it on to your children.”
Such was and is the beauty of Cooper’s Island that it was known as a national park “way back in the 1930s before Bermuda even dreamed about having national parks”, said Dr Wingate.
And if he had his way Dr Wingate would make Cooper’s Island even more remote.
He said: “Back in 1988 I made a proposal that was even more ambitious and grand than what has transpired today. I proposed that when the US (military) lease ended we should think about restoring the gap between Cooper’s Island and St David’s by dredging a channel that was wide enough to stop cats and rats from going across. Then the whole area would be without motor traffic. We could provide a regular ferry service and have a little dock on either end. People would have had to park on the St David’s side and then they really would have had a sense of going somewhere totally remote.
“The problem is now it is hard to reverse (the development that has gone on). But the idea should not be taken off the agenda for possible consideration in the future.
“Going back to the earliest time of (Bermuda’s) settlement, Cooper’s Island was so remote from the rest of Bermuda in fact it was the only place that survived the impact of the introduced pigs and rats. My dream is that Cooper’s Island be separated again.”