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Columns : Letters to The Editor Last Updated: Feb 13, 2017 - 1:45:37 AM

Eco-tour operator requests investigation by Bahamian authorities into water rights issue
By Keith Cooper
May 6, 2016 - 11:44:15 AM

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Keith Cooper of West End Ecology Tours interacting with stingrays in waters off Grand Bahama Island

Dear Editor,

The following is my letter to the authorities, explaining an incident that happened this week as it relates to my eco-tour business in Grand Bahama.

April 29 and May 1 and 3, 2016

My name is Keith Gordon Cooper, a citizen of the Bahamas. My wife Linda Barry Cooper and I are owners of WEST END ECO-FISHING CAMP ASSOCIATION, WEST END JR. REGATTA and FESTIVAL, LINDA BIRD TOURS and WEST END ECOLOGY TOURS which is a Bahamian registered company that operates ecology, snorkel and fishing tours. The boat used for the eco-tours is a 20 foot MAKO equipped with a 225 Honda engine and registered GB02468

Sandy Cay is located approximately 8 miles from Old Bahama Bay. It is a desolate place with no dwelling structures or identifying evidence of human occupation for the past 40 years. It is primarily a sand bar with severely eroded beach, overgrown dune grass, fallen and standing pine trees along with coconut trees interspersed among sea grape plants. The cay serves as a sanctuary for migrating birds, juvenile conch, various fish species, including stingrays, eagle and manta rays, sharks and dolphins. The cay is surrounded by piles of knocked out mature and undersized conch left by fishers over an extended period of time. The area should be designated as a marine protected park.

On Friday April 29, 2016 I was hired by Gigi Salisbury, owner of NANDANA VILLA RESORT located on Pine Island at Old Bahama Bay to bring her guests to Sandy Cay to snorkel the boat wreck and feed the Stingrays. We were a group of 7 adults and 1 child. My wife Linda was also on the tour.

We snorkeled the boat wreck first and is located .44 miles from Sandy Cay. The Nandana Resort also provided a second zodiac boat to follow-us to the wreck and cay. We were planning a picnic on the cay with the guests and to feed the stingrays. As we were completing the snorkel on the wreck the zodiac went ahead of us to set up for lunch but quickly returned to inform us that we could not use the cay because the “owners” were visiting for 3 weeks and did want anyone to come ashore. We were shocked when we heard this news.

One of the owner(s) of Sandy Cay is Dr. Richard Brohammer who resides in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I had been in contact with Dr. Brohammer via email and by phone since April 2015 and introduced him to our company and the ecology tours we provided. I was seeking permission from him to become caretaker of Sandy Cay because of the wildlife and bird life that frequent the cay especially during migrating season. He was not receptive to the idea nor were his partners of which I was advised in a subsequent follow-up. After that I dropped all contact with Dr. Brohammer.

Two persons in the group is currently staying on the cay in an orange tent. They have anchored a 60-foot sailboat (WITCH DOCTOR) as well as a 26-foot motorboat and dinghy. As I approached the sailboat there was another man and woman standing on the deck of the vessel. I spoke with Dr. Brohammer and reminded him of our communication and he agreed to allow me to conduct my tour after I asked that I would remain at the high water mark and not disturb the couple on the cay.

The older man on the cay can be described as obnoxious, intimidating, and demeaning when speaking to anyone approaching the cay. Another boater who is a friend of Jamie Rose, Owner of OBS had approached the cay while the group snorkeled the wreck and noticed that it soon left after being denied access to the cay. At the time I did not give it a second thought. The man who says he is one of the “owners” can be described as having tattoos over his entire, short white beard and pierced nipples with rings. He told the group that he and his woman wanted to “skinny dip” and needed privacy. When I approached him to discuss further it was clear that our presence was not welcome and he did not want us to stay even for a minute. I tried to explain to him that I earn my living by providing guests with an ecology experience and have been doing so for more than 5 years without any disruptions. Everyone stayed aboard the boat and listened intently to this TATTOOED MAN rude and disrespectful manner to Bahamians, visitors to Grand Bahama and the Nandana resort owner.  I sensed it was going to be confrontational and I quickly returned to my guests after having been giving permission by Dr. Brohammer to conduct my tour which we completed as quickly as possible under great duress.

On Sunday May 1, 2016 I returned with another group of Bahamian citizens and a Canadian and had to get permission once again from Dr. Brohammer who was on the sailboat to conduct my tour but only if I stayed below the high water mark. I always agreed to this request and will remain that way with all of my tours until Dr. Brohammer and other owners depart the Bahamas. The TATTOOED MAN kept a watchful eye on us as though we were criminals. We ignored his presence as he swam in the sea. The “man” could hear the briefings that I give to guests prior to their interaction with the Stingrays. Normally my guests would further interact by swimming with the rays just off the shoreline but did not do this on either occasion just for fear of my guests’ safety and the rude cold hateful stares at our group.

I presented Dr. Brohammer and his “owners” with a full color copy of my birding and ecology brochures, web site, Facebook page and business card. In the envelope was a copy of the email I sent him in April 2015. I thought by doing this would at least let them know that I was not a threat to them and our conservation efforts to keep the cay clean and provide visitors with a unique Bahamian experience is all that we wanted to do. This apparently did not matter to the TATTOOED MAN.

On Monday May 2, 2016 I went to Freeport to purchase food items for upcoming tours later in the week. I received a call from my wife who was quite alarmed and upset that Dr. Brohammer and the Tattooed Man came to my home to confront me in person. Someone in the village must have told them where I lived as they had arrived by motorboat in front of Kenneth “Jakey Boy” Williams boat ramp. They walked across the street into my yard and knocked on the front door. Once my wife knew who they were she invited them inside the house to talk. As I was not there to witness the conversation my wife made known to me that Dr. Brohammer was trying to be reasonable and allow us to use the cay up to the high water mark for our tours. However, the TATTOOED MAN threatened Linda and me with demands to cancel all of my tours booked from May 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10, 2016. I found this demand unreasonable, despicable and quite out of the ordinary. These are American citizens ordering me to basically shut down my business operation while they visit the cay. I was flabbergasted when my wife informed me of this foolish request.

All of my stingray feeding tours are conducted on the waters’ edge and in the sea. I find it odd that these visitors believe they have the power and right to tell a Bahamian citizen to cease business operations in the manner they proposed.

During these encounters I remained calm and humble. I never spoke in a disrespectful manner nor did I threaten them in any way. It appears from all the negative comments that we should remain passive and obey the TATTOOED MAN or else.

On the morning of May 3, 2016 and prior to the arrival of my third group of guests arriving from the Netherlands I asked Department of Marines Resources Superintendent Clement Campbell to accompany me to the cay to meet the purported “owners” as it seemed unreasonable the demands they were trying to force me to obey. Once Mr. Campbell arrived to the cay to question the visitors I could hear that a woman was cursing at him in a very loud, condescending and obnoxious manner. At the time I was in my boat and quickly left to assist Mr. Campbell in case they attempted to physically harm him.

Prior to our departure I contacted and spoke with Superintendent Sean Norville Smith, Royal Bahamas Police West End and James Culmer, General Manager of Old Bahama Bay were advised of our visit to Sandy Cay. The Marine Police could not make the trip. I was questioned by the cursing woman why “I was making money off a cay that they owned”, she further spewed out that she was a Canadian and had more rights that I did. I promptly responded by telling her that “I was born in the Bahamas”. At that point Mr. Campbell ordered me back to my boat and I complied. Once the incident died down a little Dr. Brohammer brought Mr. Campbell in his small dinghy and wondered why I brought Campbell out there. I expressed to him that when you came to my house while I was not present and spoke to my wife in a demeaning fashion I wanted to make sure that all of his “owners” could speak with a Bahamas Government official and that they could not order me to stop visiting Sandy Cay and could not DEMAND that I CANCEL all of my ecology tours that were booked with some guests having prepaid deposits. I found their demand preposterous and obscene to my character as a self-employed business owner and productive member of Bahamian society.

On the late afternoon of May 3, 2016 the last minute tour arrived to Sandy Cay with guests visiting from the Netherlands consisted of a group of 3 adults and 4 children ranging in ages from 11 to 2 years of age.

The group first snorkeled the wreck but as soon as we entered the area a pod of dolphins suddenly appeared to the delight of the children and adults. We followed the dolphins and filmed them for about 15 minutes.

When we arrived to the cay the “owners” motorboat was not there and was perhaps out to sea. I was relieved. The sailboat did have a person aboard and kept a watchful eye of our activity. The children thoroughly enjoyed touching and feeding the stingrays and was indeed a memorable experience for everyone. WEST END ECOLOGY TOURS has a five-star rating review from guests on TRIPADVISOR.COM. We have put West End on the map as a top birding destination and provide wholesome educational ecology tours for children and adults.

As we were preparing to leave the cay the mother of the infant child was changing the baby diaper and asked me to wait a few minutes before departing. Which I agreed even though I was anxious to get out of there before they returned. While we were waiting the “owners” motorboat approached with 4 persons aboard and did not want to wait and asked that we move immediately because he wanted to park in the same spot I was in. I could not believe that they could not wait 3 minutes for my guest to finish changing the baby diaper. It was embarrassing for me and demeaning to my guests. We did not provoke them and even gave them a friendly hello when they arrived.

I have never been disrespected in this manner before and as citizen of the Bahamas and taxpayer I humbly request that the Bahamas Customs and Immigration Department investigate the purported “owners” of Sandy Cay as to the validity of their ownership under Bahamian law, and to advise them that our laws provide Bahamians access to all shorelines within the Commonwealth of The Bahamas up to the high water mark. If a foreigner owns or claims to own land in the Bahamas and I as a citizen and business owner is within my constitutional right to visit any island or cay unencumbered as long as I am not breaking any laws.

I believe that I have a valid complaint against these persons named and not named above and would like to seek a complete investigation into the matter and to kindly advise these persons of Bahamian laws and how they should conduct themselves as visitors in the Bahamas. As a guest in our country they must abide by our rules and regulations. They cannot violate my or any other Bahamian rights to access land from the sea.

I will not tolerate from this day forward any foreign person telling me what I can or cannot do in the country of my birth under any circumstances. They will be reminded that there are laws in our country and would be advised to check out what they are before arriving.

My wife Linda and I thank you for your prompt investigation into this complaint and hope that this incident will never happen again by these people.

Thank you!

Keith and Linda Cooper
Owners – West End Ecology Tours

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his/her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of TheBahamasWeekly.com

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