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BNT in survival mode, layoffs ahead

EyeWitness News Coronavirus May 8, 2020 at 9:30 am Royston Jones Jr.

Environmental watchdog will have to reduce staff hours

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The organization responsible for protecting and maintaining the over 2.2 million-acre national park system in The Bahamas, will be unable to survive beyond July without a major influx of funds and has already made the tough decision to layoff staff to meet its June payroll.

In an interview with Eyewitness News, Bahamas National Trust (BNT) Executive Director Eric Carey was asked how long the trust could remain afloat without a major influx of funds.

“July,” he said. “We could probably make payroll in June.

“We’re going to make payroll next week, which is the May payroll — May 15 — which covers the period April 16 to May 15.

“We may be able to scrap. Well, what’s happened is our June payroll is going to be significantly reduced because we will now layoff. We have to layoff people… and also, everyone else is on reduced hours — most people are going to be on 50 percent reduced hours.

“After that, our hope and prayer is on the government’s subvention.

“If the government is not able to pay us any cash in July to help us with our payroll, we’ll have to look at an overdraft for July, and then hopefully in August we’ll get some relief from government. If not, I don’t know what we will do.”

The organization’s payroll is $200,000 per month.

Carey said while it remains to be seen how much money the government will allocate to the environmental watchdog.

In the 2019/2020 budget, the BNT was allocated $1.5 million.

Carey said he remain “cautiously optimistic” about private donors contributing to keep the critical work of the organization going.

“It’s rough, but I am cautiously optimistic,” he told Eyewitness News.

The BNT manages 32 parks across the archipelago.

All of have been closed, though workers have been monitoring and maintaining them.

Poachers remain a constant threat to the inhabitants of these protected areas.

According to Carey, there have been incidents of poaching Iguanas from Andros, and fish from Bonefish Pond, among other areas.

Parks and beaches are expected to open in ‘Phase 3’ of the government’s six-phase plan.

The Bahamas moved to phase ‘1B’ on Monday, which brought on increased commercial activity with those able to support delivery and curbside service.

“With the Exuma Park; because it is a land and sea park we’ve had boaters who have been in the Exuma Park and some of them are still there,” he said.

“They’re not allowed to do recreation. They can’t go ashore. They cannot carry on as usual. They obviously can’t fish in the Exuma Park. As long as they are prepared to stay on their boat and self isolate, the government has allowed them to remain in place in particular locations.”

Carey thanked the government for remaining accessible to the BNT.

He said the organization has had meetings with both the deputy prime minister and financial secretary.

He also opined that as the economies of the world begin to return to some sense of normalcy, visitors will seek escapes to island destinations and the BNT and tour operators have already received numerous calls expressing interest when the country reopens.

“I think that is going to be an important part of our recovery; getting people in nature,” Carey said.

“We are pushing the point that our national parks are going to be places and spaces that can support social distancing and can still support outdoor engagement and outdoor recreation.

“I think that is going to be important.”

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