By Charles Morgan III
Islands are curious places. Charles Darwin based much of his work on the Galapagos Islands because of the distinctive environmental and ecological features of the land and of the plants, animals and birds that were found there.
I’ve been visiting an island in the northern Bahamas for 35 years. I’m not a scientist and I never liked to study, but in that time, a lot has changed.
If the island had a mascot, it would have been the curly tailed lizard. The low riding, hopped-up creatures were everywhere. My kids used to catch—and release—them, with a long blade of sawgrass with a noose fashioned at the end. The lizards weren’t cuddly, but they weren’t afraid of people. The probably should have been.
There were also land crabs in every patch of woods and mangrove swamp. They only scurried around at night after heavy rainfall. They were prized for their sweet meat and were hunted with spotlights and nets. They were probably leery of people. But they weren’t leery enough.
If there are any curly tails or land crabs left on this island, I haven’t seen one.
In 1985, there weren’t many people on this island—less than 100 Bahamians, a handful of second home owners, and the occasional tourist who was generally lost.
There were no cats or chickens on the island then. But there are now. The chicken’s only predator is the cat, and the cat’s only opponent is disease.
On this island that has been home to lizards and crabs since God-knows-when, the original inhabitants have been gobbled up.
We’re here repairing houses badly damaged from Hurricane Dorian. It was a real hurricane. Thirty-five years ago, since there wasn’t a lot here, the monetary damage to the island wouldn’t have been much. Since the island has “been discovered,” the damage is financially massive.
The island has been developed. Hundreds of multi-million dollar homes have been built. There is a golf course now that’s caused an already fragile reef system to wither from exposure to herbicides and fertilizer. Mangrove creeks that once provided sustenance to schools of bonefish have been covered up. Dredges have dug channels for marinas and supply boats and have covered and killed acres of spartina and eel grass.
Cars, trucks and golf carts race around, making it dangerous to walk—aside from boats, walking used to be the only way to get around.
Occasionally, we try to fix things that nature has thrown our way. I visited an island in the late 1970s several hundred miles south of here. There was an infestation of rats on St. Thomas. Hundreds of mongoose were imported, because mongoose were supposedly rat eaters.
Unfortunately, rats are nocturnal and disappear during the day when they sleep. The mongoose sleep at night. They never even saw each other.
Now there’s a glut of rats and mongoose.
When we tinker with things, there are repercussions. It shouldn’t take Greta Thunberg, a 17-year-old Swede, to remind us of that.
American’s understanding of all kinds of “development” tends to be shallow at best. Occasionally, it takes something as simple as a virus to bring our financial system to its knees.
It never hurts to break things down. Instead of taking a world-view, sometimes it helps to look at a small island. Instead of looking at the historical span of modern man, just look at the past hundred years in our world.
I’ve seen dramatic changes on a small island in my adult lifetime.
Of all the creatures on this earth, it’s not much of a contest to determine the most destructive.
That would be us. Humans.