Bonaire is facing major challenges including (mass) tourism, population growth, urban expansion, climate change, biodiversity loss and the unilateral dependency on tourism. In thirty years, Bonaire will inevitably look different. Here, two different possible futures are presented, to form a basis for dialogue amongst stakeholders and to stimulate a positive change and sustainability on Bonaire. One of these scenarios follows current trends (business-as-usual), and the other bends those trends into a nature-inclusive future after a vision developed by a trans-disciplinary team of researchers, local experts and stakeholders. For both scenarios drivers and impacts are visualized and documented on climate, tourist numbers, population, infrastructure, resources, land use, erosion and nature.
Visualizing scenarios is one important piece in creating awareness about the future as it allows to shed light of the difficult to grasp long-term effects, and explicitly showcases current trends. It gives opportunities to imagine a future that looks different from the prognosis, and to inspire to work towards a sustainable and desirable future.
DISCUSSION AND FUTURE PERSPECTIVES (excerpt from the report)
With this study, we shed light on measurable impacts to Bonaire if current trends continue as usual; and provided an alternative which can be visualized as a result of nature inclusive policies, actions and land use changes. However steering changes towards nature inclusivity is not only a change in land (and sea) use and indicator values, but to make it a reality it is a change in mindset of an entire community. This cannot happen without the awareness of the trade-offs that nature inclusive actions can bring to the many different stakeholders involved. In this discussion we make a case for the importance of nature inclusivity on Bonaire, and make a start towards a dialogue about the risks, trade-offs and opportunities that may lie ahead.
We have documented the current trends: Bonaire has experienced a quadrupling in population size over the past half century. Cruise tourism started growing exponentially in the mid-2000s, and stay-over tourism steadily increasing. All while access to freshwater with the climate change projections becomes more difficult and costly. While some Dutch Caribbean islands might have experienced a much more explosive increase in tourism and population than Bonaire (e.g. Aruba), other islands experience more stability (e.g. Saba). Anecdotal evidence from other islands (see Bonaire reporter, 2022), as well as the projections showcased in this report imply that if Bonaire wants to stay relevant as a tourist destination and support its growing population the island needs to focus on its long-term assets.
The scenarios in this report were described using indicators that progress along the trends and rates of the past several years. While these assumptions include some climate change parameters like gradual warming, and gradually reduced precipitation, they fail to consider implications of unforeseen natural disasters, or increasing severe weather conditions which will take a toll on the island. Neither do the scenario projections consider any changes in world trade processes for food or fuel. An honest look at the state of the island for the next 30 years under the Business as Usual projections indicates that sustaining such growth under the current (environmental or political) conditions of the planet are relatively short-lived, and are built on a set of fragile assumptions.
Naturally, trends described in the nature inclusive scenario imply (policy) choices with varying effects on each sector as shown using several indicators. In some cases, the rates compared to the BaU scenario will be slower (population growth due to immigrants, stay-over tourism, urbanisation), while with other indicators/sectors growth rates will increase (greenness, agricultural land, green and wind energy use and water collection). Specific implications of a scenario can be beneficial, while others can be unfavourable, depending on the agenda of each particular stakeholder. An example of such a trade-off is the extensive local food production under the nature inclusive scenario: in the foreseen closed agricultural system there is far less need for off-island nutrient imports. As fewer nutrients are brought onto the island, this reduces the harm from foreign particles to the environment and the reef. As such, the reef is more likely to stay healthy and can continue to be a major tourist attraction. Nevertheless, individuals currently working in the food import logistics sector may experience a decrease in business. This may be overcome by jobs created through the growing local food production industry, but awareness of this trade-off is important when instigating changes. Attractiveness of the nature inclusive scenario in the short-term depends on the stakeholder. While in the long-term, the implication of the nature-inclusive scenario is of an island prosperity that is inclusive for everyone and ensures sustainability. One which is much less dependent on the few precarious pillars on which it is currently built: food and fuel importation.
Another crucial trade-off of the nature inclusive scenario is the implication of water and waste collection. This requires significant infrastructural investments (sceptic tank collection, or rooftop collection installations, appropriate facilities and road ways to ensure this, and home fitting) which requires not only government support, but individual support and repeated actions. It means a change in routine, from linear to circular consumption. Routine is a difficult circuit to make or break. This will require a cultural understanding of the benefits and wholehearted will to change the norm. It may require a big investment in time and energy in the short-term to create a long term self-sustaining infrastructure