DEADMAN’S CAY, Long Island, Bahamas: More than a dozen spongers on Long Island expressed huge interest in moving forward with creating a local association and revitalizing the industry during a meeting with project managers of a project to revitalize the sponging industry in The Bahamas
“It was encouraging to see so much support from the community in getting this industry restored on Long Island,’ said project coordinator Claudine Green. “Many of those who sponge or want to get into sponging also seemed very interested in establishing a local sponging association as a part of the larger project. This is very promising for the residual impact of the project.”:
The project to revitalize the industry is sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank and The Bahamas Government, and managed by BAIC along with support from IICA (Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture), The Bahamas National Trust, The Department of Marine Resources and BCSA board members.
This is the second town-hall meeting organizers have had outside of the project’s pilot island of Andros. Project managers met with Abaco spongers and those interested in sponging earlier in the month. At both meetings organizers discussed current sponging activity on those islands, future plans, ways the project can assist them, and future opportunities for training.
Deral Wells Jr. is a 29-year-old sponger from Grays Long Island and left the meeting in his community enthused about the possibilities.
“I think the meeting opened most eyes with the classes and training that will be going on,” he said.
The 1.1 million dollar project seeks to increase income for spongers by providing them with a larger share of the revenue from this industry. A major component of the project is the formation of the Bahamas Commercial Spongers Association to centralize the processing of the sponge and help to link local spongers with international markets directly.
Wells, who sponges about 5 months out of the year, pointed out that the creation of the local and national sponge associations should help push the price for the product and make it a lucrative livelihood for many Bahamians.
“It’s a different avenue for Long Islanders and Bahamians to take instead of just waiting on someone to come in and dictate the pace,” he said. “It’s our product we should be able to put a price on it. We don’t go into the shop and say ‘hey this can of corned beef is 70 cents’ we have to buy it for whatever it costs. It’s an easier way to make more money for us here.”
BAIC Sr. Deputy General Manager Debbie Strachan has lead the meetings on Long Island and Abaco and believes the industry is well on its way to rejuvenation and increased revenue for the spongers.
“On both of these islands, along with Andros, it is encouraging to see the local support of spongers.” she said. “We have identified a recurring issue of spongers having available reputable buyers but a part of this project is to connect the local spongers with buyers who will pay top dollar not only for the unrefined sponge but also sponge that has valued added from processing, clipping and even packaging.”
According to The Inter-American Bank project documents, the project hopes to empower local spongers who “do not have access to higher-value markets because they are not organized and do not have the skills to process and market the sponges, and thus earn a low-income.” Many spongers harvest the sponge and sell it at a low price not realizing the full economic value of their work.
Contact: Christopher Saunders, Project Communication Consultant