Residents of the Southern Grenadine island of Canouan are engaged in another battle in the decades-old struggle to maintain access to their beaches as tourism investors try to accommodate high-paying guests seeking exclusivity.
And, with the Ralph Gonsalves government having declared on Tuesday a no-anchoring or kite surfing zone in east coast Canouan and a no-anchoring and swim zone on L’ance Guyac Bay, west coast Canouan, islanders feel that they are being robbed of even more of their economic options and recreational space.
“There are more restrictions being put in those areas, and more and more is being given to the investors while the villagers get very little or nothing,” Community activist Terrance “Terry” Boyne told iWitness News.
“And, for 26 years, this has been happening to us — since this project became law. There has to be a cut off line somewhere. We are not going nowhere. We notice our children go to secondary school, they’re qualified, or they get education and come back and they just don’t get any further than making up beds in these resorts, after all these years,” he said.
Bynoe called a meeting of islanders Thursday night, two days after the Kingstown-based Maritime Administration declared what is being interpreted as exclusive zones on the island.
The Maritime Administration, which is headed by former Coast Guard commander, David Robin, said, however, that the area seaward of the swim zone remains accessible to local fishing vessel for fishing and related activities in accordance with the nation’s fishing laws.
Bynoe, along with Albert Ollivierre, president of Canouan Island Council (CIC), called Thursday’s meeting as a follow-up to one that MP for the Southern Grenadines, Terrance Ollivierre, an opposition lawmaker, held with residents of the island some weeks ago.
After the first meeting, residents used boats and swarmed the L’ance Guyac beach for a picnic.
Thursday’s meeting was also held “to discuss how we are going to move forward with situation on Canouan that keep coming up”.
Bynoe said residents told the meeting that they are concerned about the way that “the yacht people are being run from these areas and they are some of the better areas that the yatchies will enjoy when they come to Canouan.”
Yatchies, Bynoe said, provide a vital income stream for resident of Canouan.
He mentioned Marcus “Iceman” Williams whose main source of income for more than 30 years is supplying yachts with ice, water, bread and other provisions — a business in which Williams’ adult son now works.
“He has never worked with the company or the government in his life, or any private people,” Bynoe said of the older Williams.
“This is what he created. He does moorage for the yachties. So if you run the yachties, these are the people you are destroying,” Bynoe further explained.
He said that unlike resort guests, yachties come to the village, and buy things.
“There are guys, if they (yachties) want to walk, will walk around and show them the place — give them a tour. They (tour guides) will make something as well. Some of them use taxi to do island tour. So you are hampering the local people who do not get the spill off from the resort type of guests,” he said of the decisions taken by the government.
The meeting also heard complaints about access to the beaches where the resort is located.
According to the laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, all beaches in the multi-island state are public, suggesting also that there must be a public access.
Bynoe said that before the developers came to Canouan, there was a public access road to L’ance Guyac beach, which is located near Canouan Resort, formerly Raffles Canouan.
“There were public roads before the lands were leased. We think if you lease the lands, the access to those beaches remain, or should remain. And if some of those access routes were diverted by the investors when they were building, they still remain as public access,” Bynoe told iWitness News.
But the investors have put up gates, and islanders are not able to get past them.
He said that while residents can access the beach by boat, “if you have elderly people, you ain’t going to put them in no small boat to try lift them in boat and lift them out to get on a beach.
“They must be able to drive down as well, just as how the investors can drive down or the police transport can drive down. Nobody is asking to rush into the people’s property and throw down their gate or run in their house.”
Thursday’s meeting decided to revamp the CIC — a registered group –- “to take these issues more seriously to the investors and the government”.
Bynoe said that islanders were not consulted before the zones were declared.
“There was no discussion about this new arrangement, none at all by anybody.”
The meeting on Thursday decided that resident will hold picnics weekly on L’ance Guyac beach.
“And we will continue to do it until somebody comes and talks to us. I don’t know if they are holding back because this is the slow season, they don’t really have any guests, but they wouldn’t like it when we keep showing up in the busy season,” Bynoe said.
Person taking part in Sunday’s picnic will go to the beach by boat, as the meeting rejected a suggestion that residents drive there.
“We managed to restrain from driving, and use the boat access again. But I am not sure we will be able to hold them back the next time from driving through,” Bynoe said.
“We are going to make it a weekly thing until somebody talks to us,” he reiterated.
He said that the beaches are special to residents of Canouan, who visit them on holidays or when relatives visit from overseas.
“You do it occasionally when you have event likes those. They are not beaches that we would have gone every Sunday, but we still want to know that we have access to them.
“We shouldn’t have to be going by a picnic by 60 or 70-something people,” he said, adding that residents want to know that they can take up a picnic basket and go to the beach for some time with their family.
“We seem not to be able to do that,” Bynoe told iWitness News. “But there are concerns and that’s why the people turn out,” he further said, adding that about 70 persons attended Thursday’s meeting.
Bynoe further said: “The only one we have left now from an island that has beaches all around it is the one in Grand Bay, which the ferries and all the Bequia boats come with all the containers and so on. It is the only one that is left, because we are being barred and banned from all the others.”
He said that his resistance to the zoning in Canouan has nothing to do with politician, noting that in 2000, under the James Mitchell New Democratic Party administration, he also protested against similar developments.
“Of course, it goes beyond politics. And The strange thing about it, in 2000, when I protested against the NDP administration, Sir Louis Straker, Dr. [Ralph] Gonsalves and Glen Jackson were the ones who came down when there were negotiations, to bring some solution and settlement to that protesting.”
Gonsalves and Straker, of the Unity labour Party, were opposition MP at the time. The ULP was elected in 2001, and Gonsalves is now Prime Minister, and Straker Deputy Prime Minister. Glenn Jackson, a journalist turned activist who became Gonsalves’ press secretary after the 2001 elections, was murdered in 2006.