Gemma Handy

Anger over resort 'damage' to Caribbean coral

One of the world's most famous coral reefs is being put at risk by work to develop a luxury resort in the heart of a Caribbean national park, local campaigners claim. The beautiful Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), long a haven for scuba divers, are one of the UK's remaining 14 Overseas Territories.

British residents living on the island of Providenciales have lodged an official complaint with the Foreign Affairs Select Committee saying the mammoth scheme could spell disaster for the fragile ecosystem.

For centuries the reef, one of the globe's top dive sites, has been a haven for indigenous wildlife such as turtles, shrimp, conch and lobster.

The development, which includes a Miami-style Nikki Beach resort, condominiums and yacht club, involves dredging thousands of tonnes of sand from the sea-bed to allow 200ft-long vessels to pass through.

The work is destroying the habitat for myriad seabed marine life, it is alleged, and causing silt to settle on the coral and smother it.

Divers claim parts of the ocean floor now look more like a building site than a valuable and protected ecosystem. Local tour operators say they fear for their livelihoods while people living nearby say they have suffered with noise and dust since the project began last autumn.

Jay Stubbs has been leading sailing and snorkelling excursions in the area, known locally as Leeward Going Through, for more than 12 years with his company Sail Provo.

"There are places we used to take guests snorkelling which we can't go to any more because of the damage the silt has done to the reef," he said.

"Sediment is also building up along the mangroves making the water shallower and taking away shelter for the small, juvenile fish forcing them to relocate.

"Just last year you could see the bottom, now it's so murky even the turtles can't find their way down; we have noticed a lot more of them floating around on the surface."

A number of local tour operators' premises along with a restaurant were bulldozed last year to make way for the scheme. "It's changing the face of the whole place," Mr Stubbs said. "Leeward Going Through has been used by boaters for generations. Now it's infringing on our livelihoods.

"When people start privatising the waterways they can assert any legal rights they like on it. All it will take is one or two complaints from high end guests about the noise from boats for them to stop us coming through.