Bahamas Outdoor Notables: Basil Minns – conservation and environmental steward

Basil Minns ready to photograph Exuma iguanas.

A native of Exuma, Basil Minns attended George Town All – Age School. He left the island for a ten year period to live in New Providence, where he worked as a Bahamas Development Board photographer. In that capacity, Basil attended the first Out Island Regatta held in Elizabeth Harbour. Anticipating the possibilities of growth with the advent of tourism, he returned to Exuma in 1957. At that time, the Peace and Plenty Hotel—his childhood home where Basil was born—was being converted into a 32-room inn.

Basil promoted the first organized bonefishing on Great Exuma and by 1960 he opened Minns Water Sports, a small company, which pioneered the introduction of a fleet of self-drive rental boats. By 1966, the company expanded to include small – boat dockage along with sales and service. From 1980 to 2002, Basil served on various island boards including Works, Town Planning and Port. In 1978, he was the chairman of the first Local Exuma Family Island Regatta committee. In 1982, he chaired the subcommittee of the Bahamas Government Commission, which was organized to advise on the protection of Exuma’s wildlife, forests and national preserves. The 1992, quin centennial year celebration of the meeting of two worlds, found Basil as co-chairman of the “America 500”. Exuma hosted 120 transatlantic sailing vessels from 25 nations for the presentation of the final awards. In 1993, he spearheaded the Bicentennial Celebration of the official establishment of George Town.

The 1998 Exuma Council appointed Basil as chairman of the newly created Exuma Tourism and Environmental Advisory Committee (TEAC). In recognition of his work, Basil received the 1999 Cacique Award for “Nature Tourism”.

From 1998 to 2002, with the support of TEAC and local government, Basil worked for the establishment of Moriah Harbour Cay Land and Sea Park, which became part of The Bahamas National Park system in 2002. A life member of BASRA (Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association) and The Bahamas National Trust, Basil served on the Trust Council from 2001 to 2004 and was invited to be a member of the Trust’s 2002 – 2003 executive committee. Basil supports the work of Bahamas Reef Environmental Educational Foundation (BREEF) and the Nature Conservancy, especially to save the Nassau grouper from extinction. As a youngster, he began making model boats and continues today, creating replicas of traditional Bahamian work boats.

Coastal Angler Magazine – Flahama’s co-publisher Gary Guertin recently had this conversation with Mr. Minns. Here are his thoughts on a few topics.

CAM:Many of your accomplishments are in the area of conservation and environmental stewardship. Which are you the most proud?

Basil Minns, a Bahamas Outdoor Notable.

We are still working on getting the original full boundaries as proposed for the Moriah Cay Land and Sea Park. And you know that if that happens, it would be something to be proud of. It should happen this year. We are hoping before the end of the year that we will have something concrete on that.

CAM: Why do you think it is so difficult to encourage people to protect their environment over the long term?

Well, one of the problems here on an island like this is that people have to try and work and make a living. Conservation is secondary to them and they never had conservation as a part of their education, so you are working from scratch. There is now more environmental education in the schools and there are organizations like the Bahamas National Trust, BREEF and the Nature Conservancy. These organizations make it their business to work with the kids to get the kids involved and if you can convince the children on conservation, they will take the message back home to their parents that this is the right thing to do. The Bahamas National Trust has an organization called the Discovery Club, which works with young children. There is a branch here in Exuma and I have been working with them. The key ingredient is education. Without education, people do not understand what it is all about until it impacts them personally, such as having to go further and further for grouper for the market due to diminishing supplies. Additionally, governments tend to work slowly. In some cases Cuba is further along than we are in that they have more protected areas than here in The Bahamas.

CAM: What can be done to encourage the youth of The Bahamas to help ensure the environment is protected and, in some cases, restored?

Here again, education is the key to all of this. Unless you make people aware of it, it won’t happen. Believe it or not, our local television station is doing a much better job of this than was done in the past. They have several programs on during the month on conservation that is helping to get the message to the general public. There is one program called Bahamas Naturally featuring quite a bit on conservation. CAM: Basil, do you have a formula for balancing economic development and a sustainable environment in an island nation? No, I don’t have a particular formula. That would be something to really think about. We can only hope that through education the appropriate solutions will evolve over time.

CAM: Basil, you certainly played a role in tourism development in The Bahamas and Exuma, you were a photographer in Nassau for the Bahamas Development Board (precursor to the Ministry of Tourism) and you started bonefishing in Exuma.

I did pioneer bonefishing in Exuma in 1958. The bonefishing industry is a big industry in The Bahamas and is something that we need to work to protect.

CAM: Where do you see tourism in Exuma ten years into the future?

That’s hard to say, unless economic conditions in the world improve in the nearterm. Of course, we have the Sandals enterprise here at Emerald Bay. They are pretty big and very aggressive, especially with advertising. That’s an all-inclusive organization. The smaller places, like Peace and Plenty, are struggling along because of the economy worldwide is so bad that it is hard to really make it today. Unless the economy improves, we don’t know where we are going to go from here.

CAM: Any last words on the balance between conservation, eco-tourism and development?

As far as conservation and eco-tourism and development, it’s difficult because with any development there is going to be some damage to the environment no matter how you go about it. There is so much large equipment available today, they can do damage in five minutes that will take nature 100 years to mend. It’s like Moriah Harbour Cay. There was a group that wanted to develop it and said “it’s so beautiful and there is so much we can do with it.” I said “there is nothing that you can do to improve the beauty of that area, it is already done! Mother Nature took care of that.” The stewardship of our ocean, coastal and upland resources will be the key to our economic and environmental success and well-being.

CAM: Basil, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with our Coastal Angler Magazine – Flahama readers. I know that your lifelong efforts will bear fruit for generations to come for Exuma and the Island of the Bahamas.