The Royal Gazette, Letters to the editor, March 28, 2024

Dear Sir,

Bermuda is a photographer’s paradise and if you are active on social media you will see a kaleidoscope of pictures which capture the stunning beauty of our island home. I marvel at the scenes captured around every part of this archipelago, revealing the magnificent, raw and rugged coastline, lined with powdery pink, sandy beaches bathed in crystal clear turquoise waters, our fauna and flora bursting with colour.

All of this is bound together with a people, a culture and architecture that is distinctly ours. I have a good friend, Wendell Hollis, who is a talented photographer and I follow him on social media. He is an avid walker and always travels with his “camera” (phone), which results in a ”story“ of pictures to tell his journey. Recently, he walked our South Shore beaches, including the ones below the Bermudiana Beach and the Azura/Nautilus resorts.

So what have you heard about these developments? You probably know that the Bermudiana Beach Resort is a government-led, hotel initiative and the Azura resort/adjacent Nautilus Residences are privately owned. Most of us have driven by the entrances to these resorts primarily from the perspective of South Shore Road but, I wonder, have you seen the views from the seashore? Have you seen all the “cliff carving” to make way for a saltwater pool, being constructed right on the rocky beach below the cliffs of the Nautilus resort?

Have you seen the Bermudiana Beach resort’s massive, ecologically damaging, cliff top-to-beach elevator/staircase structure, which is carved deep into the cliff face and likely to be destroyed beyond repair by the first hurricane driven storm surge that overwhelms this site? Have you seen the minimal retaining wall, which was built at the base of this same cliff site? Maybe you saw the red graffiti written on that wall, reflecting an obvious show of displeasure by Bermudians at this blatant desecration of the shoreline? Have you seen the construction “wounds” inflicted on large stretches of these cliff faces, and a section of rock collapse directly below ongoing hotel construction, which was caused by the storm surge of a passing hurricane last summer?

The new Nautilus ocean pool has clearly been built into the public foreshore, being the land beneath the mean high tide line shown on the Ordnance Survey maps and depicted in red on the Department of Planning zoning maps for Bermuda. The pool is located directly at the base of the cliff landmass, an area which is zoned coastal reserve. Planning permission for this pool project was sought in 2021 and was rejected. A subsequent revised plan was approved in January of 2022.

The building permit included foreshore revetment works, repairs to existing cliff face, capping slab, a saltwater pool, raised beach areas and a pump room. In June of 2023, after seeing the initial construction starting, Wendell wrote a formal complaint to the Ministry of Public Works. To substantiate his claim, Wendell provided mapping and clarification of the boundaries along with a number of photographs showing the development that had taken place up to that date.

He has yet to receive an acknowledgement of receipt of his letter, much less any form of response. It is interesting to note that work seems to have slowed on this pool project. In April of 2023 when controversial pictures of this area of the shoreline construction first emerged publicly, an Azura spokesperson defended the coastal construction and claimed the cliff face was “literally falling into the sea” and significant repair works were necessary resulting in more than $2 million being spent on foreshore protection measures.

In viewing Wendell’s pictures, (when compared with the planning department picture of this site before any work commenced), one can see the major cliff cut back work and retaining wall to accommodate this pool, but the vast majority of this expenditure seems to have been spent on the construction of the salt water pool, built principally on the foreshore.

While it might be claimed that this pool is part of the cliff stabilisation, the greatest threat to the cliff face appears to be the new hotel units currently being built directly above it. While I agree that coastal protection measures are often necessary, I am very surprised at the Development Application Board’s approval for all the substantial concrete “slabbing” and the building of a sizeable pool, pump house and adjacent raised lounging/decking area within the protected, public, foreshore boundary. The essential point here is that much of this construction is on land owned by the Government (not Nautilus) and this natural beach area is/should be open to the public.

The Bermuda Plan of 2018 is the Government’s latest development plan for the whole island, which provides for the land use and development requirements of the island in a way that makes the most effective use of its resources, protects its natural and built environment and provides a good quality of life for the island’s residents. This plan helps to guide the Development Applications Board in its review and decision making process. The Bermuda Plan differentiates between development base zones (residential, tourism, industrial, etc) and conservation base zones, which includes parks, open space, coastal and nature reserves.

There are specific sections in this plan which speak directly to the conservation base zones, with the goal of preservation of the ecological, natural, historic and scenic features and qualities of Bermuda’s coastal areas, inshore waters and islands. On Page 124 of the plan, in the section on coastal reserve objectives, it reads: “To preserve and protect Bermuda’s coastal areas and islands from coastal erosion by minimising development within these areas and maintaining their open, natural state.”

The plan encourages conservation management initiatives in all coastal locations and it is actually mandatory for certain development proposals. While the Bermuda Plan seems to have all the right protection language in place, what is also written into this document is a great deal of “discretion” afforded to the DAB with regard to all project approvals, which takes away much of the “teeth” of the intended coastal conservation and protection objectives. The phrase, “may be permitted at the discretion of the board” appears liberally throughout the plan.

I have written many times to this newspaper about the need for private sector investment in Bermuda. This is the essential lifeblood of any economy and it fuels government coffers. So I am encouraged when I see investor confidence by private hoteliers like the Azura, Nautilus, Grotto Bay and others who are expanding and improving their existing hospitality products.

However, this must always be balanced with the “care, custody and control” of Bermuda’s natural resources, ie our magnificent but limited landmass and our equally important marine life. Our rapidly shrinking green space and gouging of beach coastlines (simultaneously destroying the natural and historic nesting sites of the longtails who have returned to Bermuda to nest for centuries), is obvious to many. If this continues without restraint and careful assessment, we will become just like every other overdeveloped, concrete covered, island holiday playground, having lost (destroyed) the very things which made us stand out from our competition.

I love my island home and I want the best for our people, our land and our future. We the people, decide what that future looks like. We, the people, determine whether the land is given the respect it deserves, when it comes to development. We know that responsible, sustainable building can happen with the right mindset from our politicians, who are charged with setting development policy “controls”. We also know that the people have powerful voices and it is up to us to demand that our leaders act responsibly in these matters.

Some 40-plus years ago, our Bermuda Department of Tourism (as it was known then) had a catchy, accurate marketing slogan for Bermuda. Back then, we called ourselves, “Unspoilt, Unhurried, Uncommon”. Sadly we are fast losing all three of these.

The lyrics of a Joni Mitchell song have come back to haunt me. In April 1970 Joni Mitchell released the single Big Yellow Taxi. These famous lyrics now seem to be a premonition:

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

With a pink hotel, a boutique and a swingin’ hotspot,

Don’t it always seem to go,

That you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?”

Beverley Connell