“Give Us Reef-Rangers…not Leaf-Rangers”

Letter to the Editor:

Living and working in St John’s populated areas is stressful business. We coexist with massive vehicles grinding and roaring past us, with the sounds of construction, with the turmoil of traffic and tourism. But just ten minutes out of town is our retreat: the North shore beaches, and the most accessible to locals, Hawksnest Bay.

A few years back when the NPS decided to “improve” our favorite beach with buildings and concrete pathways, we endured the sounds of drill hammers and concrete mixers for nearly two years and were delighted when the work was finally done, looking forward to having once again each day, a quiet hour in the water when the sun is not at its peak and when every inch of the beach is not filled with rental villa chairs.

I arrive each day for a swim between nine and ten in the morning, hoping that for one hour of feeling at one with the natural world: with  turtles basking out by the buoys, with reef fish near shore, with seabirds swooping nearby to feed. For one hour the whole raucous “civilized” world, just a few miles away, disappears.

But no!

Because every weekday at that exact time a gas-powered leaf-blower boots up, and for the whole time I’m in the sea, I hear the high-pitched roar of machinery echoing off the concrete walls on shore. Visitors can leave and return in a hour when the racket is done, but some of us have only this short time to enjoy our beaches.

I keep wondering WHY it’s necessary to groom Hawksnest beach with a leaf-blower…why the Park needs to blast away every bit of natural dry-forest ground-cover…stripping root-systems of the leaves and sand which should be there to nourish and protect them. Why does Hawksnest beach have to be manicured like  an urban pocket park? Aside from the unnecessary commotion and disturbance of the natural environment, how can the NPS justify wasting its gasoline and manpower for this purpose?

Attempting to find a quiet hour at the beach, I gave up on the morning and started taking a late work-break, between four and five, again when the crowds have thinned and the sun is less intense. Perfect, I thought…no leaf-blower racket!

But now what I’m seeing are dinghies swinging across Hawksnest Bay, often bulging with passengers, usually running too fast and entering the swim and reef areas at random, ignoring the red and green entry buoys. The worst sight was during high rolling groundseas, seeing two kayaks “surfing” across the reef!
If the boaters sweep close enough to me in the water or if I see them on the beach, I always have words with them. Most of them seem surprised, claiming to have no idea what the green and red buoys mean. When they rented their dinghies —several from a large resort for example — they claim that no one had explained the running rules.

I understand that the NPS budget of manpower and resources is a complicated business. But I’m sure the Park must have many maintenance projects more constructive  than blowing leaves, and I that I suspect that the courteous hard-working maintenance man who grooms Hawksnest Beach would be glad to use his skills on more meaningful projects.

And I wonder if some  sort of Park personnel —perhaps young trainees or even volunteers —could monitor the most endangered reef sites during the height of tourist season to educate visitors and to protect the natural environment. Perhaps these personnel could work with the boat-rental agencies to educate the public about safe operating and running rules within the National Park.

I ask the Park to give us Reef-Rangers…not Leaf-Rangers.

Name withheld