We all need nature. We crave being outdoors in open spaces. That’s one reason why we love going to the beach. Fresh air makes us feel good. Especially after all of this, we deserve to breathe in some fresh air. Don’t you think so? Simply, we need to be outside; we need to feel good again. Talk to anyone who lives on the Family Islands. They’ll likely tell you the outdoors and nature are in their top five favorite things about living there.
Bahamian children running free on a beach on Cat Island, after a night of wilderness camping.
There are actually scientific studies that affirm spending time in nature has positive benefits for your health. Precisely, spending at least 120 minutes per week outside can help boost your mental, emotional, and physical health.
Since March 2020, The Bahamas has had to implement Emergency Orders in an effort to suppress the spread of the coronavirus.
In the more recent surge of confirmed cases, we’ve had to revert back to earlier stages of lockdowns and daily curfews. Even though this is what may be the most effective way to stop community transmission – to say the least, it’s been a truly exhausting time for many. As the weeks go on under quarantine, lots of people have experienced a rollercoaster of emotions and feelings – from sadness and anger to tiredness.
An older graphic illustrates the closure of parks and beaches on islands at risk of community transmission of COVID-19. Graphic from the Office of The Prime Minister Bahamas.
Apart from the future of the economy, I worry about the mental health of Bahamians around the country. Many are confined to their homes, facing stressful situations with employment, and feeling the sting of not being able to afford food and meet other financial obligations.
The economic and social pressures of these lockdowns are surely growing. I think nature can help relieve some of these pressures. Surely, nature doesn’t pay the bills (for some), but it can offer you solace, a place to feel free, even if only for a short time. You may be surprised by how simply being outside will affect your mood and can help you process your emotions and thoughts.
Access to nature is few and far between in the 242, especially in New Providence. There are few areas where you can visit, where it feels like you have truly stepped into nature.
National parks are some of the few places with the proper infrastructure that provides access to natural areas for Bahamians to enjoy. The boardwalks, bridges, trails, and staircases in these parks make it possible to traverse through complex and intact natural ecosystems.
Because of these structures, you’re able to see and hear the birds sing their songs, you get to see the insects, spiders, and reptiles. You take a deep breath and you realize the air in these national parks is just so more… refreshing.
Welcome to your national parks. You can breathe here; you can smile and stretch here. Take a selfie, hashtag it #exploreyourpark.
Most national parks are hidden from plain sight. Seriously. You have to really notice them to know they exist. You may notice their large signs on roadsides. These signs are the entrance to something wonderful.
The Bonefish Pond National Park is spectacular. It’s a rather well-known spot to Bahamians. It was created to protect the last intact mangrove system in New Providence. A 600-foot boardwalk was built in this national park to allow you to experience this amazing system.
It was strategically constructed over the sensitive, muddy bottom seafloor. Without this boardwalk it would be difficult to observe the many birds, fish, and other critters that call this place home. It would be challenging (and mushy) to walk and access the wetland without disturbing the benthic zone.
It’s also a fantastic kayaking and paddle boarding spot. That’s when you truly get to experience the magnificence of this area.
The Primeval Forest National Park is a geological and botanical gem, tucked away in Southwestern New Providence. The forest is filled with an array of native plants, mushrooms, ferns, dramatic sinkholes, and even marine fossils.
I’ve never met someone who visited this park and wasn’t blown away. The typical response is: “I didn’t even know all of this was right here!” This ancient hardwood forest, which is largely untouched by humans, is one of the best-preserved plots of old-growth woodland on the island.
The Lucayan National Park on Grand Bahama is the 2nd most visited national park of the 32 in The Bahamas (second only to the world-famous Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park (ECLSP). It’s home to the longest underwater cave system, all terrestrial ecosystems in The Bahamas and the highly rated and world-class Gold Rock Beach, voted the best beach in the Caribbean by USA Today. It’s considered the gem of Grand Bahama, and this park is a perfect example of a natural space that has been integrated into the local community.
One more example, The Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve on Eleuthera is a 25-acre world-class, botanic garden. It’s a wonderful and lush showcase of native Bahamian plants and was the first national park on the island. It’s a haven for wildlife, teeming with birds, insects and reptiles. Bahamians and visitors can walk miles of trails through the native habitat, and view the beautiful orchids, birds, insects, medicinal plants, and the hardwood trees that played an important role in the history of the island.
Talk about fresh air – once you climb the Ethan’s Tower at the peak of the trail, you won’t want to come down. The view is spectacular. Here, you’ll truly appreciate access and infrastructure in national parks.
Your national parks are areas of outstanding natural beauty and are wonderful assets that should be accessible to everyone.
Nature has always been here, so have your national parks. Access to nature shouldn’t be a luxury, it’s a necessity. A connection to the natural world should be considered a human right.
I never get tired of expressing how amazing national parks are. As a Bahamian, as much as I like indoor entertainment and social events, I enjoy being outside. As much as national parks were created to preserve nature, they were also created to give us access to nature.
BNT Ambassador Sacha Kalis taking in the magnificence of the Rocky Dundas cave in the Exuma Land and Sea Park.
At the beginning of national lockdowns, we brought forward virtual national park experiences, just to give people something to remotely experience until they can come back to national parks again.
As officials and policymakers start to lay out the plan for a post-pandemic future, they should envision communities with improved access to natural areas. We will need to be creative to rebuild local economies; we must consider the many economic and environmental benefits national parks can have.
There’s no doubt that when international travel starts going again, people will want to visit island destinations. Places that offer wild, outdoor experiences.
The Inagua National Park is one of the most remote, untamed and awe-inspiring national parks in The Bahamas
COVID-19 has reminded us that even though we’re social creatures and need contact with others, we still need to have direct contact with the environment.
A few days ago, The President of The United States, Donald Trump signed The Great American Outdoors Act (even the name gives me goosebumps). This is an act that would invest in national parks and outdoor spaces in the USA. A perfect example of visionary support from politicians. They have realized that the great outdoors, is a great healer.
“This legislation marks the most significant conservation accomplishment since the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt,” stated The White House.
The BNT is committed to protecting national parks throughout The Bahamas for the future of Bahamians. We have been for the past 61 years. We haven’t done it alone, we’ve done it with the support of our donors, partners, and members. BNT national park membership is one of the best ways you can help us look after these areas.
A Family membership is the perfect way to support your national parks and offer you entire family the benefits of a BNT membership
Taking out an annual membership not only gives you free admission to all national parks, but it also gives you a number of other benefits including discounts at many local stores and free admission to national parks and sites in other countries.
There’s so much to experience in national parks. So much to see so much to do. National parks are the perfect place for you and your family.
The BNT has worked tirelessly to ensure national parks are ready to receive visitors again once the competent authority approves it. We’ve implemented a number of safety guidelines to ensure you can explore your parks, safely.
Bahamians can discover the great Bahamian outdoors through their national parks. I did, and everyone should have the chance to do the same.
Photos taken by myself, Heather Carey, and Christopher Johnson.