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Compulsory moorings in the Tobago Cays

By doina — last modified Jun 29, 2004 09:32 PM

Published: 2004-06-29 21:32:04
Countries: St Vincent & the Grenadines

One of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean is finally going to become a proper Marine Park. After years of planning and arguing about the protection of nature in the Tobago Cays, it became known that the President of St.Vincent and the Grenadines intended to give its management and the right to develop the Cays to Mr.Barrett of Palm Island Resort. As the leader of an international hotel and casino consortium he had proposed to install fixed buildings on the little islands for rangers, cruise-line tourists and day charter guests. Large wind generators were to be erected, mooring docks to be built and the 200 yachts sometimes anchored in the Cays were to moor on compulsory moorings costing 10-20 US per day. The generated revenue was planned to be split between his company and the government of St.Vincent. That would have left the local people with little or no gain at all. And like the surrounding islands Mystique, Canuan, Palm Island and Petit St.Vincent, their own Tobago Cays might have become off limits for them, simply denying access to the “boat boys”, water taxis, fishermen, and weekend visitors from near by Union Island and Mayreau.

Sailors and local people alike were furious and organised peaceful rallies, protest marches in St.Vincent, wrote endless articles and protest letters plus entered into various public bodies like the “Water Taxi Association” or the “friends of Tobago Cays“ to make their voice heard. With one of the most pristine reefs in the Caribbean at stake, even marine biologists from nearby islands, but also from the USA, Canada and Europe approached the St.Vincent government to fend off such an unnecessary and only profit orientated development. School classes wrote to President Gonzales and local activists got into a fierce battle with the hard headed government.

For the moment the battle is over. Mr.Barrett of Palm Isl.Resort Ltd. has withdrawn their proposal. Well informed sources indicated that this was done on a recommendation of President Gonzales. One Million US Dollars out of a World Bank Fund has been released by the “Organisation of East Caribbean States” to get the Marine Park of the Tobago Cays actually going. Mr.Vibert Dublin of Union Island, appointed as a “Good Man”, is to supervise the first steps. However, President Gonzales has already hinted that he wishes to hand management to a former employee of Palm Isl. Resort and employ the mostly absent Mr.Barrett as a consultant for the marine Park.

Furthermore, a company from the Virgin Islands has been asked to lay moorings for the visiting yachts. Taking an unserviced, uninsured mooring will become compulsory for both cruisers and charter boats. The cost is indicated to become 10 – 20 US per day, depending on the boat size. This fee will be charged in addition to the already existing park fees, cruising permit fees and clearing fees, making the Tobago Cays one of the most expensive sailing destinations in the Caribbean. While local people and their government alike are of the opinion that there is no alternative to visiting the Cays, cruising sailors and charter guests have already proven i.e. on St. Lucia that such rules can lead to the complete opposite result. While destinations as i.e. Martinique and Tobago with less rules and lower cost seem to boom, others have clearly become nothing more than an overnight stop with all real cruising seized. Small gains on the charges of mooring fees are opposing great losses on the markets, shops, vendors and taxis.

But it is not only the cost side which worries the sailors. The proposed moorings will be compulsory, but at the same time leaving the skippers to use them at their own risk. In case of a mooring breaking, the skippers will be liable to the resulting damage on their own boats, the reef and possibly other boats damaged while dragging. Such mooring system is most unlikely to covered by the yacht´s insurance.

The Tobago Cays, once one of the safest anchorages in the strong trade winds, will in future cause many sleepless nights, uncovered insurance claims and possible fights over who is getting the last mooring when it is getting crowded around Christmas and New Year. With perfect anchor holding in 2-8 meters of pure sand, it is safe to say that the proposed moorings serve no other purpose than to gain revenue. While mother nature will be only too happy to see less human activity in the area, we are very worried about oil spills and possible wreck damage with the ever increasing size of yachts and launches using unserviced moorings.

Unfortunately this destination is just a lightning example of what happens in the Caribbean and many other countries. With Yachtsmen and women being supposedly rich, we are more and more often presented the bill for services we never asked for.

It is up to us to make the choice if we like to visit such destinations or look for alternatives.

Lilly Vedana, Thomas Müller