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Saul: Blue Halo project would be ‘economic suicide’

Former Premier David Saul has dubbed the “Blue Halo” proposal to turn the sea around Bermuda into a protected environmental zone as “economic suicide” for the Island.

Dr Saul, in an opinion piece published on page 4 of today's edition of The Royal Gazette, claims the “heinous” plan to create a “marine reserve” and ban fishing and all other commercial activity in a vast ocean area would be disastrous for future generations.

Arguing that Bermuda has the potential to profit hugely from valuable minerals on the sea bed, he writes: “The hundreds of thousands of square miles of land below the ocean surrounding Bermuda could be utilised to pay off our billions of dollars of national debt and also have money left over to enrich future generations.

“However, at this moment, our Government, led by an outside foundation, is considering ‘freezing' this colossal area and passing legislation that will ensure that Bermudians will not be able to benefit from vast riches that may be below the sea.”

Dr Saul, a shareholder in a local sub-sea mineral prospecting company, says the Island's marine EEZ (exclusive economic zone) is likely to contain phosphates and polymetallic substances thousands of feet below the sea and the Island should invite foreign companies to explore the area.

He says such a scheme, supported by “positive, sensible legislation” to protect the environment, could result in licences being issued for mineral mining and “Bermuda earning a major share of the profits on any such venture”.

Ocean Projects Ltd, the Bermudian company he owns shares in, has already begun to study a relatively small portion of the seabed (the size of Staten Island) within the EEZ.

The former Finance Minister calls on Bermudians to reject the Blue Halo proposal and urges the One Bermuda Alliance Government not to “voluntarily throw away, for free, the country's assets, and thereby lose an opportunity to pay off [Bermuda's] colossal debt”.

Dr Saul concludes: “Government must not be bullied into making this decision on a marine park. Bermuda deserves better. Let us not rush into a blind alley, from where there is little chance of returning. The Island's economic future depends on wise judgement and not emotionalism in this all-important matter.”

The Bermuda Blue Halo scheme, supported by Government, proposes turning much of the sea within a 200-mile radius of the Island — covering an area the size of the British Isles and encompassing about 180,000 square miles of ocean — into a “no take” zone, severely limiting all activity there.

Environmentalists, backed by the US non-profit organisation Pew Charitable Trusts, say it would preserve the ocean environment and protect the habitat and species within, as well as giving Bermuda the opportunity to lucratively market itself as an ecotourist destination.

The reserve would have an inner and outer ring and only the outer ring would be deemed “no take”, meaning fishing and other activities which happen within the reef would not be curtailed.

Government is running a public consultation on the Blue Halo proposal and members of the public have until the end of this month (October 31) to give feedback.

Keen diver Dr Saul, who is also director of Odyssey Marine Exploration, a Florida-based company which recently recovered silver worth about $48 million from a wreck off the Irish coast, said he wrote his article because “the Government is asking for feedback from the average Bermudian; this is my feedback”.

He added that the revenue generated by tourism and international business “all add up to nothing” compared to what Bermuda could potentially earn from mineral mining.

“The only way we could ever pay off the huge national debt is if we could encourage overseas businesses, at their expense, to actually come and explore the ocean floor around us,” Dr Saul said.

“As the former Minister of Finance, empathising with the current Minister of Finance, I would ask: how is Bermuda ever going to pay off this debt?”

A study of the economic impact of the Blue Halo, published last year and supported by the Pew Environment Group's Global Ocean Legacy, said deep-sea mining technology was still in its infancy and concern about lost revenue was about the “foregone opportunity to do this in the future”.

The report said: “The environmental impacts from seabed mining are largely unknown and may be significant — a fact that would have deleterious implications for an environmental brand for Bermuda, should mining be undertaken.”

* Useful websites: www.sdbermuda.bm and www.bermudabluehalo.org.

David Saul

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Published October 02, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 02, 2013 at 2:24 pm)

Saul: Blue Halo project would be ‘economic suicide’

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