Sunday, November 09, 2014

Learning to fly... under water. Not your regular snorkeling experience.

In our family photo albums there are photos of me wearing my mask and snorkel on the beach from back before I was five years old. I've been snorkeling regularly since then and of course that's one of the reasons I started my Adventure Antigua tour company in 1999.
With my cousins Nick and David, I did my PADI scuba Open Water Diver when I was twelve. None of us really enjoyed scuba as much as snorkeling. The incredible carefree freedom of casually slipping over the side of a boat or from a beach with just a mask on had more of an appeal to us growing up than the gear, the seriousness and careful preparation of scuba. We may have just been too lazy or too distracted but snorkeling has always been the main way we've explored the undersea world.
In my twenties I met Pilou a fisherman from Guadeloupe who could snorkel down to depths deeper than 60 feet for what felt like several minutes without much effort. He'd often go deeper. That was the first time I had seen what is commonly called freediving. Freediving, free-diving, or free diving is a form of underwater diving that relies on a diver's ability to hold his or her breath until resurfacing rather than on the use of a breathing apparatus such as scuba gear. (According to Wikipedia) There's much more to it that that though. Have a read of this more expansive explanation from AIDA which speaks more about the side that has intrigued me for twenty years.
Unfortunately freediving without training and whenever doing it alone can be very dangerous and sometimes fatal. It wasn't until one of my closest friends was killed while freediving alone, that I learned about what made it so dangerous and why. We'd been doing "breath up" incorrectly all our lives. Strangely that horrible and tragic loss strengthened my interest in freediving and now years later i finally have taken the plunge and received proper training.
A friend here in Antigua told me about a course he did with Vertical Blue on Long Island, Bahamas. Specifically he suggested I get training with a top international competitor called Jonathan Sunnex who was ranked #3 in world last year. People like Johnny dive using one breath from the surface without scuba tanks using just their fins to depths of over 100 meters (330 feet)!
Luckily he was doing a training camp at Dean's Blue Hole in the Bahamas for ten days at the end of October and they had space for me.
First of all, Long Island reminds me so much of Antigua's sister island, Barbuda with its fantastic beaches and wonderfully clear waters that I never felt out of my element. I felt relaxed immediately and more so when I arrived at Harbour Breeze Villas which is where i stayed for 11 nights. I couldn't have found a more relaxing and ideal spot for this type of training.

Over the next ten days I learned more about my mind and body than I could have dreamed of. We did various yoga and stretching exercises daily, breathing exercise and training, static (not moving) breath hold training, dynamic (swimming) breath hold training, deep free diving training and theoretical class work. It was amazing and I still can't stop thinking about it now, three weeks later. Before going to the Bahamas my personal best (PB) for static breath hold was just under two and a half minutes. We didn't spend too many days focusing on breath hold because after two days of training it was clear that my improvement on static breath holding to over five minutes was enough for the dives we'd focus on. FIVE MINUTES HOLDING MY BREATH!! Yes I was amazed that this was possible in so short a time, but that's what getting trained by the world's best will get you. 

Before going to the Bahamas I could barely freedive down to 60 feet without great effort. Within a few days I was comfortably diving with one breath to over 100 feet below and coming to the surface feeling fresh and with "more in the tank" as Johnny kept on saying. 

The safety and attention to the students was top notch and despite having a minor congestion issue which impeded my equalization below 100 feet I was able to get below 120 feet by the end of the course. 

It was fascinating how using various relaxation techniques and a breathing technique I'd never used before I was able to control my breath holds to safely get to those depths. 

Overall with proper training like this a person can safely snorkel or freedive to depths that may have seemed impossible before. The key is training and the focus is always safety. The number one thing I learned while I was there was that you should never dive alone. 

In January my instructor, Jonathan Sunnex, is making a trip to Antigua and Barbuda to be a guest of Adventure Antigua and to offer a freediving course for 6 lucky people. We will do the training between January 7th & 12th. If you're interested in taking part please email me immediately. There is plenty of interest in this exciting opportunity and I know it will change your life. Eliantigua@gmail. Com is me.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Lionfish hunt 16 November 2014

Hi there. Next Sunday the 16th November, Mamora Bay Divers and Adventure Antigua will be hosting another Lionfish Hunt. As usual teams of up to 6 people will compete to catch the most lionfish. Scuba or snorkel equipment is permitted and pole spears or Hawaiian slings can be used to catch the fish. If you would like to use a spear gun you must have a license from Fisheries but the same license is not required for the slings and pole spears in this particular event. The winning boat with the most fish will win $3000. There will be cash prizes for 2nd and 3rd also. This week we will be looking for more prizes for other categories too. Your teams can fish from boats or from shore. For more info and also to register your team please call Linda at Mamora Bay Divers on +1 268-764-4905.
Aquasports in st John's still has slings available. Fish caught in the event will be served once again outside Skulduggery on the Antigua Yacht Club Marina dock. It's going to be another super fun day on the water and a nice family lime after. Take part and know you're doing good for our reefs. Please share this on Facebook or with your contacts on whatsapp. If you'd like to help in some way please contact Linda. Thanks much. Eli

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Are beaches really important to A&B?

Tourism and specifically coastal beach tourism is responsible for over 60% of Antigua and Barbuda's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and it often seems that as a nation we are careless or complacent with what the industry relies upon. Wonderful beaches are what has built this economy and are what we as citizens boast about whenever we travel. That being said, our beaches have seen shocking degradation over the past few decades, and it appears to me that they are deteriorating at much more rapid rate than they are being replenished. In fact, that's fairly obvious to anyone who's being paying attention.
As is the case with so many crucially important things in life, "attention" is the thing lacking and unfortunately while beaches are getting smaller and smaller Antigua and Barbuda as a nation isn't taking notice.
I suppose before we can deal with the problem or even before we can identify a problem, we need to understand what a beach is, how it came to be and most importantly, how it is sustained in it's natural environment.
When we speak about beaches, we are speaking about bays, coves or shorelines that have a sandy buffer between the sea and the land. Sand is made up of different materials depending on where in the world you find it. In many areas in North America the sand is made up of silica or silicon dioxide which essentially comes from eroded quartz rock. Here in Antigua and Barbuda and most of the Caribbean the sand has a different makeup. Primarily sand here is made up of eroded or crushed up corals and shells which really are made from calcium carbonate. This is why islands like Barbuda that have more reefs usually have more beaches and islands like Redonda that have no off shore or barrier reefs have no sandy beaches. So if you think about it, there is an essential and direct correlation between a healthy reef system and a healthy beach system. Of course we are speaking about how these things naturally occur. For example, one could build some stone groynes to make a cove over on Redonda and barge in mined sand from Barbuda to fill it with. Presto! You have a nice sandy beach on an island that never had one. That is done around the Caribbean and quite a bit on Long Island (Jumby Bay).
I guess we could spend plenty of time speaking about what healthy reefs look like and to be honest, most people don't remember or have never seen a healthy reef. Reefs in the Caribbean haven't been "healthy" since the late 1980s. Since then scientists have reported unprecedented degradation and die offs. For the purpose of this little article I will quickly and basically explain about how healthy reefs produce sand. A reef is made up of millions and millions of organisms and the main coral structures are made from calcium carbonate. These structures, when alive, are often challenged by different types of algae (a type of moss) that attempt to grow on them. If algae is permitted to grow over the coral stuctures then the life sustaining sunlight is blocked from the coral polyps. Polyps are living organisms which often produce the limestone structures we call corals. They need light to survive and when algae manages to grow over them, they perish. For millions of years polyps have had the upper hand thanks to a symbiotic relationship with herbivore grazers like parrotfish (chub fish), surgeon fish and other marine species including urchins. Those critically important parrotfish feed on the algae keeping the reef alive, but the magic is what happens as a result. When parrotfish chew algae from a section of coral they usually bite of bits of dead coral. Most of the time they ingest it and pass it through their systems as they digest the algae. What comes out is magical "white gold" or sand. Some of the most important poo in the world in fact! That poo as I mentioned contains the sand which is  essentially responsible for about 60% of our GDP. I know that is kinda far fetched for most people who are probably laughing and shaking their heads right now, but do some reading on what parrotfish do. According to scientists, one adult parrotfish can produce 90 kilos of sand a year while keeping the reefs clean from algae. A healthy reef is covered in parrotfish and other algae eating animals which for millions of years not only sustained the reefs but produced millions of tonnes of sand. Take them away from the reef and anyone can deduce what happens next. However, you would have needed to be paying attention to have noticed all these crucially important relationships. We here in Antigua and Barbuda were not paying attention. In fact, the biggest seafood export out of Antigua and Barbuda over the past five years has been parrotfish. It has probably been our biggest export. Thousands of pounds a week of netted parrotfish were brought ashore to be sold both here and shipped abroad to our French neighbors. Pause and think about that for a moment. We rely on healthy beaches which rely on healthy reefs which rely on healthy populations of parrotfish and other herbivore species, but we are wiping the reefs clean of the parrotfish.
I remember being on a radio show with Chief Environmental Officer, Dianne Black Lane a few years ago and she remarking that the most important wild life form we have in our country is the parrotfish and one that needed to be protected more than any other. Sadly, the Environment Division she heads has no more legislative powers than the parrotfish themselves.
Coupled with out of control reef fishing, the reefs have also had to face several incredibly strong hurricanes in the 1990s. Scientists showed that reefs hit by hurricanes within carefully managed marine parks were able to "bounce back" to a point where healthy coral regrowth occurred. Of course, reefs that had poor management and where heavy fishing still took place struggled to stay alive, and in example after example the corals died out completely.
This brings me to another key factor that helps keep beaches healthy. Of course, we've already spoken about how the sand is created and how that process keeps reefs healthy, but by extension, healthy reefs often form an essential barrier or buffer from the Atlantic Ocean's waves and surges. We have seen areas of reef that boats couldn't navigate through because of depth issues become so degraded that they are now safely navigable. Kettle Bottom Shoal on Antigua's north coast is a great example of that. With the reef now deeper than it was back in the 80s we are seeing more surge and more wave action getting to beaches like Dutchmans Bay and Jabbawock. Climate Change effects like rising sea levels are not helping either! With more wave action there is often more erosion on beaches. Unfortunately these beaches are not being sustained with new fresh sand like they have been historically because of the depletion of parrotfish and other herbivore fish.
That isn't the end of the story because as if beaches didn't have enough to worry about, they have their biggest assault on the land side. Beach sand has been used when making concrete for generations and with more and more homes being built from concrete and fewer from wood, it appears to me that there is more and more removal of sand from beaches. There are few beaches in Antigua that are safe from sand mining and those that have easy access from the road are more susceptible to the problem. There is a common misconception that it is perfectly legal to remove a bucket or two from the beach. I am not sure how this terribly damaging concept came about, but many popular beaches have buckets of sand removed daily from them. I started a mobile kitesurfing school on Jabbawock beach in 2001 and we have seen this first hand since then. Thousands and thousands of bucket loads are taken from this beach and the same happens around the island. Often times there is more taken than a bucket or two at a time removed. If you take a slow walk along Jabbawock Beach you will see the trenches and holes where sand is scraped up into containers almost daily. It is beyond me how people think this wont have a negative affect on the beach.... our most important asset.
Yesterday I received calls about a misguided citizen who decided that he would do what he described as a community service down at Jabbawock beach. The beach has been receiving plenty of Atlantic sargasso seaweed recently and as an excavator owner he took it upon himself to ignore the massive sign about nesting sea turtles, about not driving on the beach or removing sand. He had two of his massive excavators go on to the beach and clear the live shoreline vegetation up to twenty meters from the high water mark up and down a 300 meter secton of beach. The scaevola, green button mangrove, sea grape, grasses and other vegetation not only provide crucial nesting cover for critically endangered sea turtles and other coastal marine species including migratory birds, but they also help prevent erosion by holding sand together in their root systems and foliage. In many countries it is illegal to touch coastal vegetation with stiff fines for even walking on sand dune vegetation. Yesterday all of this was destroyed and leveled on the South end of Jabbawock. The excavators operated under the cover of darkness and clumsily cleared small trees and habitat up and down the beach. They stopped in the morning. Several concerned citizens including myself contacted the various authorities in an attempt to make sure the excavators were moved from the beach and that work would be stopped. I was interviewed by Observer Radio about the situation before lunch explaining what was going down and further explaining that the 1980s environmental legislation isn't strong enough to deal with situations like this. The Environmental Management Bill, drafted by government technicians after help from international consultants and consultations with stakeholders, has been finished and has been sitting on various ministers desks for years and years. The government's inaction to get this bill signed into law is indirectly causing huge environmental damage daily on this little twin island state. One can only ponder why they have not gotten in passed into law. Anyway, despite this interview and all the calls to the relevant authorities, the man doing the excavation work called into a local radio talk show to explain himself. According to him he was "cleaning the seaweed" from the shore where he and many other swim. At 2 pm he continued to say he was returning to the beach to do more work. By the time we got back to the beach, he was at it again tearing up wonderfully healthy beach vegetation and leveling the beach by removing the dunes.
How could all of the various government agencies including the police know of the situation and not do anything to stop further destruction. It really showed just how flawed our system is and how little we actually care for the health of our beaches. We here in Antigua and Barbuda seem to have our heads in the sand figuratively while literally the sand vanishes daily. Apart from paying more attention to our most important natural resource, we need the Environmental Managment Bill signed into law immediately before it's just too late.

Eli Fuller
President of Antigua Conservation Society
Managing director of Adenture Antigua

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Fresh cow's milk in Antigua!

For the first time in decades the Hall family at Smith's Estate are producing milk on their farm. Adrian Hall, grandson of the late, Sir Robert Hall Sr has come back from the UK with his family with a renewed passion for farming. With a incredible wealth of knowledge and skills he's slowly breathing new life back into the farm. It's very exciting to hear some of the things he and his family are planning to accomplish on this farm.
These days getting fresh non gmo food is so difficult, and there seems to be more more interest in farmers market produce. We can now add fresh milk to the list. What's even better is that this milk is from 100% grass fed cows and it doesn't get better than that for you.

If you're worried about all the stuff that the big companies put in milk these days then you should try a bottle of pure cow's milk from Adrian. He just milked today and has bottles ready to go.
I've had some and it was good!
Text him on 7203595 for more info.

Monday, August 11, 2014

AT LONG FORGOTTEN SHORES Written by: Nian Blanchard

From one of Adventure Antigua's team who now lives abroad.

Written by: Nian Blanchard

There is a place I long to be; at long forgotten shores

Where seagulls cry from up on high above a vista raw

Moody sea and gentle land in union forever more

before man came and marked his lanes upon their sacred floor

I come at night with moonlight bright to sit and ponder lore

A single soul in search of whole at long forgotten shores

They speak to me in wordless yarn of tales long ignored

Caressing winds humming sweet as waves lap in score

An ochestra of sites and sounds advance and wane before

A single soul in search of whole at long forgotten shores

Lunar streaks illuminate an ocean canvas sprawled

And shine upon the sandy tracks where turtles once explored

To leave behind for future time a generation more

Each a single soul in search of whole at long forgotten shores

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Part 5 on why I can't vote UPP

Just to recap I posted four blogs over the past 36 hours which got a huge amount of interest mainly because people either didn't know or they had forgotten the things I wrote about. Entitled "Where my tax money has gone over the past 10 years." the four parts are as follows:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

I should have spoken more about The North East Marine Management Area (NEMMA) in part 4. Again a huge missed opportunity, waste of money and more example of a lack of vision and leadership. Our marine park still doesn't have any visible management at all apart from the mooring balls which were set without a plan to use them, manage them or maintain them. The high end patrol boat that they got in the international funding that went along with the project still isn't being used. The entire thing is a mess and a huge disappointment to me especially after I have visited the other Caribbean parks set up with the same international funding. Again, Hilson Baptiste is one of the main looooooosers to blame but it can't rest solely on his shoulders. PM Spencer and the rest of his gang failed with this opportunity. Read more about it on this October 2009 blog. Read more here. 

Sand Mining is another maddening thing that would make me not want to vote for them.  It's not just sand mining on a commercial scale that we see in Barbuda. I mean that's bad enough especially since the UPP boys and girls criticized it for years when the old ALP did it. Of course as soon as they got in they not only kept it going but UPPed production. Quite a few ministers made big money with Barbuda sand. What bothers me as much or more is that so many prized beaches are damaged weekly with mining while the UPP government does nothing. Read here for more about that. I visit beaches that ministers in the UPP government swim at in the afternoons and see them walk right past big holed in the beach where people regularly take buckets of sand. Jabbawock is the worst example of this. You think anything has been done by these guys to protect these beaches, our most valuable assets? NADA and that's another reason they have to go!

Speaking of beaches, sand and by extension reefs. Remember what is happening to parrot fish? The most important fish in our waters has been the one most heavily targeted. While other Caribbean islands take measures to protect this critical reef species and sand producer, the UPP governent has encouraged and facilitated their destruction. While there are few people in Fisheries and the Environment Division who don't agree that the parrotfish needs protection, Fisheries still facilitated the export of thousands of pounds a week of netted parrot fish. Bad leadership! Read more here.
and more here.

It's a waste of time to go on and on, but there are way too many examples of bad decision making and mismanagement of our resources including tax moneys. Ten years was long enough for them to get their stuff together. I am voting against them in the hope that they will go away, think about their failures and come back again as a better party.

Where my tax dollars went over the past ten years. Part 4

In Part 1 and Part 2  I spoke about horrific wastes of tax dollars which have left this country broke despite the UPP government doing the best job in history of collecting revenue. No government in this country has collected as much tax money as they have. Not even close, but we are broke. According to a leading economist, the ALP never collected more than EC $180 million in any year that they were in power while the UPP has collected as much as EC $778 milllion in 2008. In Part 3 I spoke a bit more about colossal wastes of money. Here I will speak more along those lines but more on failures.

I guess I should have included the BAP company failure with the Royal Antiguan Hotel messup. BAP was a company setup by with the help of the government six years ago.
The government put ten acres of beachfront land at Valley Church into this company. The company's shares were split up between a foreign real estate developer who got 70% of the shares and the remaining 30% was kept by the government. The majority shareholder didn't pay a cent for the land. How on earth did this happen? We will never know. They did nothing over the past 6 years and now are trying to sell or be compensated for their shares. Certain people within the UPP hierarchy were completely against this crazy scheme. One of them sent me the documents just now. Our Tourism Minister was sold on the idea. Value for money after 6 years? Remember this foreign entity got 70%
without investing a penny in the land. Corruption, incompetence or something else. You be the judge.


Now for the stuff that really pisses me off. How about sewage?
Anyone remember when Caribarena posted dozens of photos of raw sewage being dumped into the mangroves from the top of Cooks dump? I would show the article but caribarena is down again. Remember our minister responsible for Agriculture, the Environment and Fisheries is Hilson Baptiste. The article sparked a discussion about sewage and what happens to it around the island. It's a very shitty situation and many people were shocked and outraged. Promises were made but what do you think has happened? You guessed it. Nothing. Same shit different day. Meanwhile hundreds of millions in development are being planned and spent for the harbour down current of the crappy situation.

Speaking of nasty stuff floating into the wetlands and ocean. Remeber the garbage in St. Johns? Back in September 2009 I posted this blog showing endless garbage flowing into st johns past a cruise ship which was on the dock there. The Antigua Sun newspaper did a story on it and there was some public dialogue. The problem could have been fixed by using proper grates on the sea end of the gutters and then to have them cleaned occasionally. What do you think happened? That is right. Nothing at all! Minister responsible for Fisheries and Environment got good at solitaire.

Then there was the massive oil leak which is still going on. I blogged about the waste oil issue and once again it got plenty of media attention. Click here to read the blog. 
That was August 23 2010. Again, what do you think happened about it? Nothing of substance at all. What did happen was that I was invited to the Prime Ministers Office to discuss the issue. Not too long after that PM Baldwin Spencer opened the "new" Wadadli Power Plant (Chinese generation plant). In his speech up at Crabbs Peninsular he spoke about building a waste oil recycling plant which would be able to deal with all the waste oil that these new generators would go through. What do you think happened? You got it. NOTHING. Oil is still exactly as it was back on August 23 2010. Again where is the environmental policy of the UPP and the Solitaire player?

Staying with the Environment. Remember how hard we had to fight to get the new Fisheries Regulations? While it takes great skills to be a bad ass solitaire player on your computer screen, people shouldn't be paying the salary of a Minister to do that while years and years go by with legislation sitting unsigned on his desk. This is the same minister who convinced to Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda to issue executive orders to the Fisheries department and Coast Guard to stop enforcing the law on spear fishing. Whether you agree with that type of fishing or not isn't the point. Baptiste did nothing for fisheries until we the people forced him to. Read more in this little blog post.

What happened to the Environment Management Bill? Another one stalled by Minister Hilson Baptiste and the UPP government. All these years later the Environment Division still has no legislative powers which is why so many environmental atrocities happen here each year. It is a piece of legislation that just won't be signed because it takes power away from the Ministers and puts it in the hands of the people and also with the Environment Division.

More coming as to why I can't support another UPP term coming in Part 5.

Where my tax dollars went over the past ten years. Part 3

In Part 1 and Part 2 I spoke about horrific wastes of tax dollars which have left this country broke despite the UPP government doing the best job in history of collecting revenue. No government in this country has collected as much tax money as they have. Not even close, but we are broke. According to a leading economist, the ALP never collected more than EC $180 million in any year that they were in power while the UPP has collected as much as EC $778 milllion in 2008. Read Part 1 and Part 2 and then keep reading. There is sadly plenty more.

Remember Royal Antiguan Hotel? This little exerpt from Uncut Journal spells it our better than I can: "Take the example of the sale of Royal Antigua hotel, valued at $32M us dollars sold at $18M. The money received from this sale was used to pay one week of payroll. In other words yesterday the people of this country owned a hotel with 300 rooms 50 acres prime beach land with a 250 million dollar debt attached, today the people of this country still owes the debt of 250 million and nothing else. The government of Antigua and Barbuda sold the Royal Antiguan  hotel and used the money received to pay one-week  wages of its public workers". Value for money once again. Leadership matters there for sure.

Then there was and is the huge waste of money with APUA PCS and INET.

During the late 80s and early 90s our nation was lucky enough to have some very bright Antiguan and Barbudan kids away in engineering schools. Some came back with the hope of helping our nation achieve excellence in IT. It was because of their hard work and some forward thinking within APUA and government that APUA was able to start it's own mobile phone company called PCS. Years later they launched home internet with a company called INET. These companies not only worked well but made good profits for APUA. PCS reported profits of up to $10 million EC in one year. It was at that time that the UPP started speaking about selling PCS. They were going to sell the hospital and the port too. That didn't happen. The technical minds of APUA telecoms decided to expand and spend more on newer technologies. Plans were made to launch 3G and then 4G long before any of their competitors. Then certain arms of the UPP government decides to start negotiating with Digicel to help make Digicel a bigger and better network than their own PCS. They stopped listening to the head of their Telecoms department and stopped spending the money PCS was making for them on expanding and upgrading. The UPP negotiated with Digicel to get 4G in exchange for a fraction of what the license was valued at in exchange for moneys and the rest in tablets for school kids. Essentially while one arm of the government was trying to uses its brightest and smartest to better ourselves with our own mobile and internet carrier another arm was helping Digicel get ahead with strange deals that made no sense from a financial point of view. Yesterday in the news we heard that Digicel is getting a contract to put cameras around the city. According to a report on ZDK the sum was EC $8 million which would be piad to them in the form of withheld ABST (sales tax). No bidding on that contract happened. There is plenty more on the relationship with Digicel and the government that could be discussed, but tens of millions have been thrown away as the UPP government have slowly destroyed our own PCS mobile while supporting Digicel. Our brightest technical men and women are no longer leading their destiny.

Speaking of smart Antiguan and Barbudan men and women. The UPP decided to bypass them by contracting a UK firm to build our tourism webiste and online platform for EC $2 Million. This was one of the biggest wastes of money in tourism. No it wasn't. Royal Antiguan was. Anyway, it was a major slap in the face to tax payers and the hundreds of young highly technical IT and online marketing citizens. Remember that under the ALP government Antigua and Barbuda became the leading place on the planet for online gaming. Billions of dollars in online marketing was spent from this little island by companies managed jointly with young Antiguans. We had kids working in every aspect of IT and web design, SEO, new media marketing were all part of our highly skilled workforce. Many of these kids went off to bigger and better things internationally but many are still here. Many were displaced when sports books and online casinos moved outside of Antigua or shut down and some started businesses of their own. The point is, SEO, new media marketing and other aspects of IT are not things we needed to farm out to a company run by a young kid from the UK who came here on a cricket holiday. I don't need to question how he got the job or whether he was experienced enough to do a good job, but I will say that we didn't get value for money with the two contracts for 250K Sterling each. After recent criticism there were some within the UPP that tried to say that the moneys were for a complete marketing campaign, but this isn't true at all. I know what it was for because I met with the Minister responsible and was told over several hours all about it. There was no moneys for print marketing and none that I am aware of for paid adverts online either. This 2 million EC was for setup and training of, the online booking side of the portal and the ministry's facebook page.  It took forever to get finished. In fact so long that they launched it prematurely due to internal pressures. I was amazed at the sheer amount of mistakes in basic web design and navigation. The online booking section didn't work either. During the first week I did many tests. One of them was trying to book a round trip ticket from Toronto to Antigua. The only option I was given by this 2 million dollar website was The Barbuda Express ferry service from Toronto. After spending 14 years of my life studying SEO and new media marketing I could go on an on and on about the shortfalls of the site, but I will say categorically that in my experience we didn't get value for money and I can't figure out how it cost so much money. Several leading hotels asked to be removed from the site. By the way, my company is the only excursion/activity company to go through their over the phone training and set up our account with them to receive online bookings. We have not received a single booking in the nearly 2 years it's been up. Meanwhile bookings from Shoretrips, Shorex, Islandroutes, my websites and others keep pouring in thankfully. Until recently if you did a google search for "Antigua" you couldn't find their site. Now I see they are ranked 7th. is ranked 4th. By the way, the highly experienced online tourism professionals at Antiguanice were not consulted at all or notified that they could bid on the EC $2 million contract. Neither were any other Antiguan companies or individuals. My little website that cost a few hundred dollars to build is ranked 13th.

I could go on an on about moneys being wasted left and right. The tax and spend has been terrible and while some key players have made huge profits, the majority of the people in this country are worse off financially today than they were ten years ago. We should never forget that this government instituted bold new taxes and collected more tax than had ever been collected in history. According to one of Antigua's leading economists Petra Williams: "the ALP never collected more than $180 million dollars in a single year. There have been years under the UPP where they collected as much as $778 million..." With that in mind, did we get value for our money? Did they spend our money wisely?

Part 4 will be more to do with bad decisions and incompetence than direct wastes of money.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Where my tax dollars went over the past ten years. Part 2

In Part 1 spoke about some of the things which made me convinced that I couldn't vote UPP in the election this week. Most of them had to do with hundreds of millions of tax dollars squandered in UPP led government decisions. Why they made those decisions is beyond me. People will have to make their own conclusions, but whatever were the reasons, the wasting of our tax dollars didn't end there.
Here are a few more ways money was thrown away.

EC $47 million was spent on fencing and bathrooms for schools and sports facilities. In Parliament and during budget debates it came to light that some of the facilites that had been fenced according to the records still had no fences at all. Light was never shed on what happened with the EC $47 million and there is little doubt that we didn't get 47 million worth of fencing and bathroom facilities. The media tried to find out more and covered the story for a short while without being able to get more specifics from government.

Then there was the massive multi million dollar car park contracted by the UPP for St. Johns. The first problem with this car park if people care to remember is the spot the UPP chose to erect it was a very controversial one.  Some of the long time PLM and UPP supporters were outraged because the area was supposed to be left as a public park. Most cities have "green areas" or parks which remain free from development. This comment was taken from a Caribarena article: "To those of you who wish for the completion of the car park or "monstrosity" as the late ET Henry would say, be reminded that the area had been bequeathed to the People of Antigua as Green Space, never to be fenced, which is now owned by a TNT Corporation." Needless to say the UPP didn't listen to the people and went with the project which has now been sitting half finished for over five years. We will be paying for that EC $40 million dollar mistake for a years and years to come. Hopefully one day the crazy structure will be finished.

Staying in St. Johns we can remember the sidewalk scandal where an Israeli/Antiguan group got a nice deal to fix up sidewalks in St Johns. The cost reported in the media was EC $42 million. I won't go into it anymore than asking you to take a walk around the city. "Where d money gorn?" Pissed down the drain? Well I dunno but it wasn't value for money.

Staying in the city we can talk about the money wasted on the Food City building. Government purchased the ailing supermarket for EC $15 million dollars. Not only was the business crumbling when they purchased it, but the building was in almost as bad a condition. Many people were shocked at the unusual purchase but as the government had no immediate plans for the building, it sat abandoned for years until it was rented by a group that had to completely rennovate the property after doing a proper survey. The survey was done by my neighbor and he says the building had been neglected for years and years and was in very bad shape.

Before 2004 the ALP government decided to build a new hospital. Equipment was purchased and on the verge of the election the hospital was nearly finished. The UPP got into power and threw all ALP ideas out the window as bad ones and decided to stop trying to open the hospital. Instead they had the bright idea of fixing up Holberton which by that time had earned the horrible nickname of "Killberton Hospital". While we accumulated interest on the loans for the almost finished MSJ Hospital, it remained dark while they waited until people forgot it was there. Then almost 5 years after they shut down the project, they finished it farmed out the management of it In February 2009 to the American Hospital Management Company (AHMC). They get 3 million a year to manage it and to do all the purchasing for it. Many complained that this was too much money to be spent on managing it. In fact, even the former health minister of St Lucia, Dr Keith Mondesir was critical of our government's contract. (Source) Needless to say, the hospital isn't being financed properly and even as we speak there is no CT Scan machine working there. It's a terrible shame to hear about all the millions spent and wasted and to know that basics are not available at our only hospital.

More to come in Part 3.

Where my tax dollars went over the past ten years. Part 1.

There are going to be hard core UPP supporters reading this who will vote for them whatever they read here. To those people I say, please don't waste your time reading this. What I am writing here is for people who want more info than they have been reading in the media reports as of late. Here goes. I am going to highlight some of the United Progressive Party's biggest failures as the leading party over the past ten years.  Failures which have set us back in so many ways.

First I will go over some massive wastes of money.

Prior to the 2004 election when the Antigua Labour Party were still leading the government, they made the decision to get involved with the Half Moon Bay saga. The hotel sitting on our most amazing beach had been closed since the hurricane season of 1995. Remember that most hotels are built on land that was sold at concessionary rates by the crown with the hope of helping the economy. A closed hotel does nothing positive for the economy. The government met with the new owner who was no longer part of a group and negotiated with her offering huge concessions to further encourage her to rebuild. The government met all her demands and requests and despite promise after promise no move was made to get the hotel running again. After much more dialogue a decision was made to compulsory purchase the hotel in an act of parliament where fair market value would be paid. This was in 2000. A legal battle started immediately which ultimately ended in 2007 at the highest appeal court giving the government the win. What cost the tax payers tens of millions of dollars however, was the decision by the UPP just after they got into power in 2004 to stop legal proceedings and to give the owner of Half Moon Bay "another chance". It took them a few years to understand that she had no intention on rebuilding and sadly the UPP finally decided to do exactly what the ALP government had done years before. In 2007 they won possession of the lands BUT fair market value had shot through the roof during the years in between 2000 and 07 and when a valuation was finally done, the taxpayers would have to find US $45.5 million (over double the original valuation). (source) Second guessing the ALP decision from 2000 will have us tax payers paying for years and years to come. Their decision was not based on sound thinking but on bad politics. 

Another bad financial move early in the UPP administration that the tax payers will be paying for was the Antigua Power Company fiasco. Prior to the general election in 2004 the family that owns APC were accused by Prime Minister Lester Bird of switching allegance to the ALP and putting their money and support behind the opposition UPP. Lester was clearly outraged on the platform. The UPP won the election and very shortly after signed a joint venture deal with the APC where they would set up a 50.9 megawatt electrical power plant. This joint venture or partnership with APUA would be for 22 years. The deal saw 55% of profits going for APC and 45% for APUA. It would be maintained by the people who built the engines. After 22 years the entire plant and all ownership and profits were to go to apua. Tax payeres would invest nothing at all. The APC investment was 47 million US dollars. After the deal was made and when plant facility was constructed armed police with automatic weapons stopped the generators from being off loaded at the plant. Why? The government had made another deal to buy a smaller 30 megawatt plant from the Chinese government for 52 million US dollars in a loan agreement where we also have to pay interest on the loan of that 52 million. That's five million US dollars more for a plant that produces a little more than half the electricity. How and why would they agree to buy another plant when they were already contractual partners with APC for a larger plant that they would own fully within 22 years and had no money to spend up front? Nobody will ever know. What we may also never know is why this new Chinese power plant using Mann diesel generators no longer legal in Europe due to emmissions standards isn't producing the 30 megawatts. Many people in the media have questioned if these Chinese generators were new ones. The late Winston Derrick had many questions about the plant which remained unanswered by the UPP up to his premature death. He said many times that whether they were new engines or not, there was real doubt if tax payers received "value for money".
(Read more) I would post some articles from Caribarena but they have been cyberattacked again it seems are are down. (since then someone posted this on facebook)

They had great photos comparing the two plants including interior shots. The new Chinese plant was a mess with leaky rusty engines and the APC one cleaner than a hotel kitchen. There have been many reports online and on radio talk shows recently describing only one of six generators working at the Chinese plant. I think that Winston Derrick was clearly correct about the lack of value for money. What is worse is that since his passing APC has won their final case against the government and the judgment has said that they are entitled to be paid for their share of what would have been 55% of production on the 50+ megawatt plant. The actual award hasn't come out yet but legal minds say it will be over 100 million EC dollars. Take that bad value for money and add another hundred million to it and you have something that we will never pay back for in our lifetimes.

More on the Antigua Public Utilities Authority and wastes of money in this story to do with their water production planning and management. In 2004 when the UPP got into power, APUA had several power plants. One of them was called TANGO and at the time there were two new turbines at the facility. One was in the process of being installed and the other would have been installed after the first one was finished. TANGO produced electricity and water. In fact from the day TANGO was opened Antigua never experienced water shortages. Prior to that there was times when water had to be barged in. A decision was made by the UPP government to stop spending money on Tango despite the millions of dollars already paid for the new turbines. They actually scrapped the plant ending water production there. We started relying on ponds once again for water. Then at the start of 2011 the APUA commissioned a new reverse osmosis water production plant financed by Venezuela. After building the plant they started searching for water drilling test wells. They drilled hole after hole over acres and acres of land adjacent to the plant failing to find water. Eventually they had to put pipes into the ocean to suck up sediment laden water...... something almost never done with reverse osmosis plants due to problems with sedimentation. The plant is one of the biggest failures in engineering and again poor value for money. To learn way more about it please check this link here

headquarters building. In 2002/03 government at the time contracted architectual firm OBM to design a building and facility which would house all of the departments of the APUA. The contract with OBM cost approximately EC $150,000. The largest holder of land in Antigua is The Crown and the plan was to construct this facility on government land. After the government change in 2004 the plans were scrapped. Eventually a plan was announced by the UPP government to bring the headquarters into St. Johns to an old building which had been known as BENCORP. This building was purchased for EC $12 million and then years of renovations took place to get it to an acceptable state so that it could be used. The problems with this was that it was way too small to accommodate all of APUA and in fact not even all the office departments could fit within in. It opened about a year ago, and the cassada gardens place where APUA was supposed to move from is still being rented by APUA. The technical part of telecoms is still up there. The OBM plans would have accommodated all of APUA outside of town to avoid congestion and all the issues you would expect in St. Johns with parking and traffic. The estimated finished cost of construction for that facility according to OBM was EC $12 million. Remember that before ripping apart the Bencorp building a rebuilding it, APUA spent the same 12 million on buying it. A year after opening it they are still renting the place they moved from. Tens of millions of dollars wasted once again. Why? Try and figure out why they would buy an old building that's too small to accommodate them. I can't.

Example after example will follow on crazy wastes of money due to incompetence, greed, ego and possibly corruption if you believe some of the articles you read in CaribArena or the Daily Observer.

Click here for Part 2 which was written later.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Environmental Damage or not? You decide for yourself.

On March 3rd 2014 a cruise ship measuring 535 feet, 66 feet wide and a draft of 5 meters dropped two big anchors and hundreds of feet of chain onto the grassy and sandy sea bed inside Falmouth Harbour, a,,,marine protected area. For some time now residents, charservationists have been calling for the authorities to stop this vessel from coming into the Harbour for a host of reas ons. 
Some of the reasons have been environmental concerns based on the fact that the area is a foraging zone for green as well as hawksbill sea turtles, both endangered species. According to the National Parks Website,
"The marine environment is home to several different species of Seagrass, the two dominant species being Turtle Grass and Manatee Grass. Seagrasses are flowering marine plants, which photosynthesize and are hence limited to growth in depths and areas where they have access to sunlight. They provide habitat for many marine species, including juvenile and adult fish as well as crustaceans.  Furthermore, these seagrasses sustain many species, including the Green Sea Turtle. Seagrass also serves to reduce the force of the waves before the get to the coastline. Seagrass beds can be found adjacent to most beaches within the park boundaries."

Since this cruise ship started anchoring in the bay there have been turtles washing up dead to the lee and some suggest that the ship could be responsible. I am not too sure that this is true but their high speed tenders often are seen zooming up and down right though the area where the turtles are feeding. They have quite an array of tenders which are launched from aft as seen in the image below taken from their website.

The image is of one of several dead turtles found washed up during and shortly after the cruise ship has been in the harbour.
There is no way to prove that the ship was responsible for killing these turtles, but there can be no disputing that the area is a valuable foraging area for these species just as the National Parks website suggests. In fact, tour boats like mine often take tourists to see the turtles exactly in the area where the ship has been anchoring.
Another smaller turtle found the morning after Wind Surf had been in the harbour. Notice the damage to it's shell. This is a young green turtle.
Here is a shot of a Navionics Chart which shows the area we are speaking of. Notice the scale in the bottom right of the image. Click on it for a larger version. By the way the soundings are measured in meters. It's very important for the rest of this blog to note the depth on the right hand side of the image between the two red markers. That depth is under 5 meters and the lower of the two marks keeps vessels clear of Bishops Reef. Remember this 535 foot ship has a draft (under the waterline) of 5 meters according to their company website. The grassy beds are scattered throughout the harbour and especially where the ship lays on her huge anchors.
On the morning of March 3rd, she anchored up as she has normally done in recent months with her two big anchors off to the east close to the entrance of the marked harbour entrance. Wind Surf sat just upwind of Dieppe Bay with only a few feet water below its keel. The image below was taken after Wind Surf anchored in her normal position. In the image below taken at 12:04 PM you will notice two other ships outside of Falmouth Harbour sitting on their anchors facing towards the prevailing easterly winds which are normal. However, this photo was taken moments after a very strange weather event. The winds had just switched to the west-south-west. The smaller boats in the Harbour had already swung on their moorings to face the light westerly winds. The three bigger ships were just starting to swing. 

In this next two images below taken over thirty minutes later, the outer ships had swung right around on their anchors like all the other vessels inside Falmouth Harbour (the damage being done to the reef out there is shameful, but that's another story). The photographer had watched the ship slowly drift around on its anchors until came to a stop where it sits in images before. The 535 foot Wind Surf is the only vessel not pointing into the wind in this photo. It also can not be seen to be using any great propulsion to hold her in place. She is only using anchors at the bow. What is holding her in position and preventing her from swinging 180 degrees as all the other vessels have done? Well the answer lies in analysis of the position she is found in relation to the little red marker to her aft. It is difficult to see the actual position in the image below even when you have clicked on it for a larger version. Click here for a larger version.
As you can see she still remains in the same position in this second image taken a short while later from a slightly different position. Click here for a larger version.
The photo below was also taken at the time when I was alerted by several people that she was "aground". Click here for a larger version and please take careful note of the position of the red Bishops Reef mark behind and slightly to port. Most experienced captains who looked at the image below remarked that she looked like she was listing slightly to starboard. Remember that this vessel draws 5 meters and that according to current navigational charts the depth there is between 5 and 6 meters and rapidly getting shallower up to 2 meters immediately on her starboard side. In the photo below her port side anchor is tight against the hull pointing to starboard. The vessel can not go forward in that position and as you can see the silting has started to envelope the harbour. The vessel is doing damage to the marine life there by blanketing corals and sea grasses with silt while she the captain tries to prevent her from being damaged on Bishops Reef which is where the wind was carrying her along the 180 degree swing which all the other vessels including the two cruise ships outside the harbour had just done. The seabed directly under the vessel where she sits in the photo is mostly turtle grass and sand. Video taken the next day shows crushed conch shells and considerable scarring of the sea floor.
Here are a few of the great many images taken. As you can see, the National Parks Authority is correct about identifying turtle grass eaten by the green turtles and many other organisms. Notice the queen conch in the freshly dug up seagrass bed. A little further up there was a crushed conch. We will save that photo and vidoe for a later date. My old buddy Nathan Dundas is the ship's agent and was quoted in the newspaper as saying essentially that the boat didn't touch the bottom, that no turtles forgage in the area and none of their habitat is or has been damaged. There is no question at all that the unusual weather on the 3rd caused the ship to brush up against the sea floor just adjacent to Bishops Reef's mark and that the intense propulsion used to get out of the dangerous position caused considerable silting of the reef and other organisms.

This photo below was taken after one pm and shows a bit of the silting that I am speaking of. By this time they have gotten the ship into deeper water. "Coral polyps, although able to withstand moderate sediment loading, cannot displace heavier loads and perish through suffocation." This was taken from the United Nations Environment Program's site. This level of silting is what you expect during dredging and other heavy construction and every effort to prevent it from coming into contact with fragile ecosystems. As the national parks confirms in their site, turtle grass needs sunlight to live. The photo below shows plenty of sand and silt churned up which is now blanketing corals and grasses. That equates to damage. How can this be disputed by reasonable people? John Maginley, our Minister of Tourism says that what the ship did was nothing out of the ordinary and the same level of silting you would expect after a good rain. I think he is clearly mistaken as is Mr. Dundass. Both people have said that the suggestion that damage was done in unfounded and that the ship didn't touch the bottom. These are some of the photos that we have which we expect proves otherwise. We have reams more evidence including video. We didn't want to publish any of this but the recent articles in Caribarena, The Observer and Antigua Chronicle coupled with statements made on facebook by the Minister forced us to shed a little more light on what happened the other day. Maginley has been telling people and writing on facebook threads that the owners of the ship are going to be taking legal action against me and the Daily Observer for an article where I am quoted as saying that the ship was aground and that The National Parks Authority and Port Authority should not permit a vessel of this size in Falmouth Harbour. I was also quoted as saying that conservationists and residents have been complaining about this ship and the damage that it has been doing to the authorities for months. In fact, I even had a conversation with Minister Maginley about this before the new year. I still stand by what I said and will wait for the court case.
A few more photos for good measure. The first two from the day in question and the other two from another visit. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

With the utmost respect, the Sir Viv commercial doesn't do it for me.

Here is the new Tourism commercial that has just been released to promote the island's sports tourism sector in an industry which is getting more competitive all the time according to this article in Caribbean Journal.
I kinda get what they were trying to do but I'm a 41 year old Antiguan who's never seen Sir Viv play cricket. I know about him and to me his incredible feats are accomplishments I learned about from essentially historical accounts. He's one of our greatest sportsmen for sure, but many here and across the Caribbean don't really relate and for sure hardly any potential visitors from the US have ever heard of him. The golf angle is totally weird and I feel that it's seriously time we market tourism and especially the segment many here are overly obsessed with, Sport Tourism, using younger more dynamic characters. If we are going to use a "star" to market our tourism or sport tourism, then I think we need a rethink. Antigua's America's Cup winner, Shannon Falcone or Antigua's international Kitesurfing sensation, Andre Phillip would be a thousand times more appealing showing off Antigua in my opinion. I mean, think about sailing and how many come to Antigua because of it? Imagine how much trickle down happens in this economy because of sailing. Compare that to golf or even cricket. We really need to examine these sectors carefully and do some very good market research in the future if we want to be competitive. I mean if we had direct flights from India then I would say lets push this all the way, but for now our markets are not all cricket hotspots. Our successful competitors who were cutting cane a few year ago have done the research.
It's time to think outside the box!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Nick Fuller Sr, one of the first of Antigua's Tourism Investors and my grandfather.

My grandfather was a very interesting man. As kids we feared him and from the stories we heard growing up, it was probably for good reason. Anyway, a few years ago we found this online and I think I would like to republish it here just in case the website we found goes down.

Nicholas A. Fuller 1944

1944 Class Crest

Cullum No. 14392 • Mar 4, 1998 • Died in Antigua, West Indies

Interred in Antigua and Barbuda

Nicholas Anthony Fuller was born in Toledo, OH, in 1919. He attended Central Catholic and Waite High Schools in Toledo and the West Point Preparatory School at Ft. Harrison, IN. Before attending West Point, he served in several Army units.
He received an appointment to USMA from Congresswoman Jeanette Rankin of the 1st Congressional District of Montana and joined his future classmates on 4 Jul 1941.
A classmate wrote in the ’44 Howitzer: “The fantastic mind with a body to match. Consistently inconsistent, tough but great-hearted, ‘The Ace’ has been ‘gettin’ knuckles’ from The Fates for too long. With inconceivably little formal education, he proved that common sense is the real essential. His repulsive but conclusive wit and earthy sense of values go to the Air Corps. I’m making book on you, Nick.”
Unfortunately, because of poor eyesight, Nick was not commissioned with his classmates in June 1944. While his eyesight was being evaluated at Walter Reed, he sat for the Foreign Service examinations. Given a disability discharge, he joined Willys-Overland as a research engineer to await the results of the exam. While he was working on a jeep project at Aberdeen Proving Ground, a classmate introduced him to Adele “Del” Marie Wilkens.
After acceptance by the State Department and a “crash course on the basics of life in the foreign service,” he was placed in charge of the American Consulate in Antigua. Following a transfer to Columbia, Nick decided that that revolution-torn country was no place to raise a family, left the foreign service, and joined an advertising firm in New York City.
By this time, he and Adele had married, but, as he later put it, “The leisurely life in the tropics had taken it’s toll, I could not tolerate the white heat of the New York pace for the infernal commuting between Nyack and New York. Hence, I packed my carpet bag and returned to lovely Antigua. I have built a little hotel right on the beach and also own a theater.”
The little hotel, The Lord Nelson, was the first commercial lodging on Antigua. Nick operated it successfully until around 1980, when he went across the island and built “Callaloo” next to Curtain Bluff, the most expensive resort on the island. As a classmate put it, “Nick entertained his friends at Callaloo while Del operated a strictly-for-profit Lord Nelson.” Unfortunately, Lord Nelson was badly damaged in a hurricane in September 1998.
Nick became a legend in the Caribbean. He was known on every island. He and a big Pole named Stash (nobody could spell or pronounce his name, Stanislaw Vishinski), became partners in building fuel depots around the islands for yachts and other private vessels. Nick did the politicking and Stash did the construction.
Nick loved to travel, but he didn’t own a suitcase or a wallet. He carried a sport coat and an open canvas shopping bag containing changes of underwear, several bottles of Glenlivet Scotch, and a box of Cuban cigars (gifts for his hosts, he said). Close inspection would reveal a tie around a polo shirt and one pair of khaki trousers. Otherwise, he was immaculate and dignified.
He didn’t trust wallets. He carried a thick roll of $100 bills crammed into his pocket. He never had a credit card. His only card was an Antiguan driver’s license with a picture of him holding a glass of Scotch. Late in life, he finally got a social security number.
Nick was a character among characters—a star among lesser lights. And Del let him shine. There are legends about Nick’s eccentric behavior. A match for the likes of Hemingway, Nick was surprisingly well read and had a thorough knowledge of world affairs.
Nick never missed a class reunion at West Point. He was extremely proud of his classmates and the West Point tradition. His friends varied from the Mellons of Philadelphia and New York to the nearby goatherd.
Nick and Del had three handsome sons—Nick, Johnny, and Jimmy; and four beautiful daughters—Mary, Jill “Jelly Bean,” Katherine, and Elizabeth “Dee Dee.” Sadly, Mary and Dee Dee preceded him in death. Nick, Jr., became a very respected doctor in Antigua, and John became a prominent and influential lawyer.

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