Freeport, Grand Bahama, The Bahamas – A newly launched tourism-based program will allow visitors to the shores of Grand Bahama to become a part of helping to restore the mangroves on the island, an important part of environmental sustainability.
‘Mission for Mangroves’ was officially launched in Grand Bahama on Monday, November 20, 2023. Minister of Tourism, Investments and Aviation, the Hon. Chester Cooper, who was on island for the launch, said he was more than excited about having the opportunity to be a part of a program that was so tightly connected to the country’s tourism product.
“It is with great pleasure and unwavering commitment that we gather here today to celebrate a groundbreaking initiative, poised to not only add another tourism experience in the Bahamas, but also to deepen our collective commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability,” Minister Cooper told those gathered at Pelican Bay Resort for the start of the program.
“Mission for Mangroves is not and should not be just an initiative, but it must herald the significance of mangroves themselves to our way of life. No mangroves, no environmentally sustainable eco-system: and without an environmentally sustainable eco-system, there would be no tourists and if there were no tourists, there is no economy, and if there is no economy, we could kiss our way of life good-bye.
“Therefore, we must herald the significance of living this mission and be sure that this is not just a pilot program, but we must be sure that all of our people are living this mission.”
The unique aspect of Mission for Mangroves is that it has been designed as a tour that tourists can participate in, as well as be a part of helping to restore the mangroves in Grand Bahama, by planting mangrove seedlings. The program is being promoted as an eco-tourism excursion. Tours will be conducted by specifically trained taxi drivers and tour guides, who were certified in Bahama Host as well as in aspects of the environment, including environment conservation and mangrove management. Certified as SOTES (Stewards of the Environment), these tour guides were trained by environmentally focused organizations in The Bahamas.
Hyped about the initiative and the potential for its future benefit to the country Minister Cooper challenged organizers to expedite the launch of the Mission for Mangroves initiative into other family islands.
“There is a great thirst for this program in all of our sixteen island destinations across our country,” Mr. Cooper noted. “When we did our research on sustainable tourism, we found that 76 percent of travelers have indicated that sustainability is important to them. Therefore, I can tell you today that our Director General of Tourism and all our executive directors are working diligently to relaunch sustainable tourism in all of our Family Island destinations.
“The mission for Mangroves clusters in Grand Bahama embodies our commitment to responsible governance and sustainability underpinned by a robust digital transformation strategy. Through this initiative we aim to empower designated stewards of the environment within the tourism sector, equipping them to deliver exceptional environmental tour experiences, centered on mangrove planting, conservation, and protection. Our objectives are clear – creating a sustainable link between tourism and coastal resilience, training and empowering our stewards of the environment, delivering customized environmental tour experiences. These experiences will not only create a destination allure but will also align with the growing demand for nature-based tourism, championing the eco-system, preservation and protecting vulnerable communities.”
Talks about sustainability and the eco-system are not new, Minister Cooper. In fact, he recalled his attendance at a World Tourism Organization forum in the Middle East, where he was asked about his thoughts on sustainability. He responded that sustainability was not a buzzword for The Bahamas, but rather a way of life. He added that it was not an option for The Bahamas, because it was how the Bahamian economy was built and, in a way, it represented what it meant to be Bahamian.
“I hope that the message that I gave to the world that day, can also be the message that our stewards can carry and the message that this initiative will send to the rest of The Bahamas, that what we’re doing here with the Mission for Mangroves is not optional and therefore we should all be stewards,” said Mr. Cooper.
“Individually and through the various entities we represent, we all must continue to be stewards of the environment. Hurricane Dorian left a profound impact on Grand Bahama, especially the significant loss of mangroves. A loss felt deeply by our community and our eco-system. But today we stand united, determined to not only restore what was lost, but to forge a path that elevates our environmental resilience, embraces responsible tourism, and addresses our climate commitment head-on.
“Our obligation to meet the nationally determined contributions to climate change impacts, is not just a commitment on paper, it’s a pledge etched in our actions. We are all aware of the fact that our Prime Minister has gone to the world stage as a champion on these matters. But I believe that there is a gap between the message that he is sending very eloquently and very strongly to the international community at the various COP seminars every year, and the regular man on the street.
“When I hear a grown man tell me that “we can’t eat climate change,” I believe that he has missed my message that with no mangroves, there will be no economy. It’s that simple. But it’s up to us in this room to send that message clearly and to bridge the gap between the leadership our Prime Minister is having on the world stage and the regular man on the street.”
Minister Cooper noted that the Mission for Mangroves Project is a testament to the government’s adherence to the five essential pathways outlined in the Glasgow declaration for climate action in tourism: measuring impact, decarbonization, regenerating resources, fostering collaboration and ensuring sustainable finance.
He said the goal is to cultivate environmentally responsible nature-based tourism experiences that will not only support local hospitability entrepreneurs, but will also offer visitors to Grand Bahama a chance to experience firsthand the wonders of the mangroves, fostering a profound appreciation for nature’s magnificence.
“I’m happy to see that the world is finally catching up and having a greater appreciation for what has been our way of life for the last seven decades or more,” said Mr. Cooper. “This program is sustainable tourism on steroids, and I’m delighted that its starting in Grand Bahama Island. There is a close connection between the harrowing experiences that we’ve had in Grand Bahama and the need to protect our environment, but also the need to create and strengthen even more tourism product around sustainability and sustainable tourism.