Off Balance

I wrote this for our trip’s official blog. See the other posts here:

And pictures below.


Life is all about balance.

I think someone said that once though I don’t know who, or even if the statement is true.

But for my purposes, let’s pretend that that person – whoever he or she may be – is right.

If life is all about balance, then when life gets out of balance we are uncomfortable until equilibrium is restored.

While on this trip, we have been learning about the delicate balance between the tourism industry, the people of the Bahamas, and the natural environment of the islands. If one element is focused on without considering the others, the balance can be drastically upset. At first glance, some of entities that we have visited during our time in the Bahamas seem to favor one element over the others, though if we are willing to dig deeper we often find that this is not true. Such was the case on Friday.

After a breakfast cooked up by the ever-entertaining Eddie, our group headed north across a high-arching bridge to Paradise Island: home to Atlantis Resort. After a week and a half of living in converted Naval barracks and campground cabins and growing accustomed to poor water pressure in the showers each day and an ever-present layer of the delightful concoction of sunscreen, bug spray, and sand, we felt slightly out of place in the high-end resort. I’m sure we stuck out like sore thumbs in the lavish lobby.

After storming the on-sight Starbucks, we received a tour of the resort’s extensive aquariums and behind-the-scenes operations. There we viewed exhibits including the food preparation room and the animal hospital. This was an astounding opportunity to see species, such as twelve-foot manta rays that most of us will never see in the wild. We finished off our three hours at Atlantis with a look at a suite in the Coral Towers and a chat with a representative from the hotel about the economic and environmental impact of Atlantis on the Bahamas. Since tourism is the main industry of the country, you can imagine the sort of impact an establishment such as Atlantis has there. The resort provides 10,000 jobs during the peak season. In addition to being a vital part of the island’s economy, Atlantis has endeavored to be ecologically friendly by helping to develop recycling programs across the island as well as using electricity responsibly.

As a class studying small island sustainability, we were delighted to find that Atlantis has such a positive impact on the Bahamas. Nonetheless, some of us walked out of the resort feeling off balance.

After a week spent on the unspoiled sands of San Salvador, the fake beach around the man-made lagoon in the middle of the grounds of Atlantis was a mockery that was difficult to ignore – especially for me, a girl raised on the wild, untamed prairies of Nebraska. I find it mind-boggling that anyone would choose a fabricated experience with “nature” when real, earth-designed beaches lay only a few miles away on the other side of the island.

I left Atlantis yearning for a restoration of balance.

Our afternoon stop was at the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) headquarters. We heard a presentation on the goals and challenges facing the BNT as they work to preserve the unique and priceless wild places of the Bahamas. This quasi-governmental organization has identified the value, both economically and environmentally, of setting aside national parks. Firstly, protecting marine environments means protecting habitats of threatened and endangered species which Bahamians rely upon as food sources and for their livelihood. Secondly, national parks attract tourists with the promise of accessible, thriving marine ecosystems. Because they are a non-profit organization, the BNT needs the support of tourists.

I was beginning to understand this concept of balance a little better.

Representatives from the Ministry of Tourism joined us and educated our group on the role of tourism in the Bahamas. Again, the idea that because tourism on the islands is dependent upon the environment, those in the industry are concerned with the welfare of the natural aspects of the Bahamas was presented to our group.

While learning these things, we sat surrounded by an eleven-acre forest of palms and other tropical plants – a reminder that even though giants like Atlantis are crucial to the economy of the Bahamas, natural places still exist on the islands.

In balance, I guess.

The wild must be tamed if humans wish to coexist with it. The more time we spend in the Bahamas and the more we learn from the various individuals with whom we have spoken over the past two weeks, the more we recognize the co-dependence of the tourism industry, the locals, and the natural environment of the islands. You cannot deal with one without affecting the other two. All three elements need each other. The Bahamas are struggling to find a balance, just as the individual members of our team are as we study sustainability and begin to apply the concepts to our own lives.


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