NUMEROUS tourism developments earmarked for St Lucia offer to reshape our economy and in the process the landscape and culture of our island. Primary among those is the DSH redevelopment of Vieux Fort, which includes a 150 acre causeway connecting Sandy Beach to Maria Islands. These islands are a protected nature reserve with a sensitive ecological balance that includes some of the world’s most endangered fauna.
To me, St. Lucians are a rare species of wildlife. Out of the 7.4 billion people in the world there are only 182,000 of us. That’s 0.00025% of the Earth’s human population. We have our own language, eat our own food, dance to our own Dennery music and are endemic to this tiny rock. St Lucians are like the gentle snake and lizard that bare our name. We are unique, tenacious and determined to survive.
Our forefathers knew the value of nature and wildlife to St Lucians. This is why we sing about it in our national anthem. It is why our flag is blue. It is why Derek Walcott wrote Omeros. St Lucians are spiritually connected to the land and the sea. This is not romantic rhetoric. It is a fact of who we are.
What kind of people would we be if we destroy that to which we are spiritually connected and which forms a vital part of our identity? Do we think the St Lucia Racer or St Lucia Whiptail stand a chance of surviving a causeway being built to Maria Islands? How will the Mankote mangrove and coral reefs fare against steroid filled dung runoff from a horse racing track? What will happen to the archaeological artifacts that are likely to be unearthed in an excavation of Sandy Beach and Maria Islands? Do we ever expect to sit under a grape tree on the beach again? Is not the primary aim of tourism to improve the quality of life for St Lucians? Is it too much to ask that the development of our country be in keeping with the unique culture and history thereof?
The argument against environmental protection is always the same. We need jobs. How else do we provide employment for the 23% who are desperately waiting? I find it perpetually confusing that St Lucia markets itself as a romantic, nature lovers’ paradise yet we have such a propensity to bulldoze exactly that which makes the island lovable. I am reminded of a Joni Mitchell song. “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Paved paradise to build a parking lot.”
While we do need tourism development, we also need to balance the scales. We can choose to direct our development in whatever way we want. The decision to build this massive, high density, resort style development is just that: a choice, it is not our only option. For instance, we can also choose to focus on other forms of tourism that put less pressure on the natural resources, such as educational tourism. St Lucia already has several thriving colleges and universities both in the north and south. Put policies and procedures in place to attract more accredited international universities to the island. University students travel with their parents. This provides regular demand for airline seats. Foreign student live on the island for years, rent apartments, shop in supermarkets, eat in restaurants and make a direct contribution to the pockets of St Lucians. This is a stark contrast to the type of development we are pursuing in which millionaires sequester themselves in a resort and never experience the true St Lucia.
Apart from the economic benefits, there is also a direct social benefit of educational tourism. Vieux Fort would come to life with a liberal arts college, where we could develop the one thing in which we have the greatest comparative advantage, the creativity and native intelligence of our people. Instead of building a causeway and ten sky scrapers on Sandy Beach, why not focus on turning Vieux Fort into a college town?
Our 38 year old country is experiencing an identity crisis. This identity crisis stems from a spiritual crisis. As a nation we have to decide who we are and who we want to be. Amidst the recent independence discussions, a pundit proposed we add a new colour to the St Lucian flag. At first I thought this was ridiculous. Now I believe we will have to add a red stripe across the St Lucian flag for the blood of poor Helen in this ecological massacre.