Just west of Ambergris Caye in Belize is a long and narrow, 104 acre island called Blackadore Caye. If I had to guess, I would say that it has existed well protected on the leeward side of Ambergris at least since the days when buccaneers and privateers and pirates sought shelter inside the barrier reef.
It has existed unchanged for the decade or so since actor Leonardo DiCaprio bought it for a pittance.
But now, DiCaprio and his investors have decided the time has come to “rescue” this helpless piece of sand and mangroves from itself.
They will do so by building a super high-end resort that will require development of 55 percent of the land.
There will be an airstrip — but it will be made of solar power generating photovoltaic cells. Enough, I wonder to offset the carbon footprint of private jets flocking to this Caribbean playground?
There will be 68 villas — but they will be built over the water. There will be 48 estate homes — each with the privacy that $15 million price tags can purchase. Also on land will be three restaurants, a clubhouse, infinity pool and wellness center that promises to turn back the clock for aging one percenters and carries the Deepak Chopra brand name.
All of this will be laid out in something called a “sacred geometry” which presumably mitigates the 55 percent development footprint. According to the Delos press release “the proportions of buildings are derived from the Fibonacci Sequence and mathematical proportions found in nature. In addition, the proportional relationship of the sun, earth and moon drive the design in order to introduce further meaning to guests and visitors.”
You can find plenty of scientists who say the Fibonacci Sequence is hokum, but a pleasant architectural conceit. Perhaps it is a way of plowing under Nature while remaining “one with nature.”
The design plans seem to at once isolate guests from nature while asking them to be — again — one with nature. They include ultrapurified water, circadian lighting systems to help people sleep better and various other amenities that support the Blackadore’s newly adopted tagline as “a restorative island.”
As if living on a tropical island with brilliant natural lighting, uncommonly beautiful blue water and constant and soothing breezes weren’t restorative enough. It is for me, and I’ve lived here in restorative mode for a year and a half.
Still, all of this is very, very cool. The resort will bring employment and a certain cache of eco-hip to Belize. Local realtors have been hawking other islands in the neighborhood according to their proximity to Leo’s island for years.
Or it would be cool, if the pretentiousness of “rescuing” an unoccupied island from itself hadn’t been so ridiculously touted in over-the-top exclamations by the world’s media echo chamber since the first press release went out.
You can start with The New York Times which in a breathy, star-struck article on June 5 made DiCaprio sound like the ecological superhero of a sci-fi movie: “the ‘Restorative’ in the title refers not just to the impact the island might have on visitors, but to the island itself. Blackadore Caye has suffered from overfishing, an eroding coastline and the deforestation of its mangrove trees, and the partners mean to put it back to rights.”
The Times being the Times, bits and pieces from its article were picked up with unquestioning enthusiasm by newspapers, television news reports and websites all over the world. It is so much easier to quote the Times than think for yourself or — god forbid — do your own reporting.
Likewise the April 6, 2015 press release from DiCaprio’s partners, Delos, a New York City developer, has been either heavily quoted or reprinted in its entirety by media which can’t get enough of DiCaprio’s name and attendant celebrity keyword search recognition.
The Times describes an island in devastating decay: “Blackadore Caye has suffered from overfishing, an eroding coastline and the deforestation of its mangrove trees, and the partners mean to put it back to rights.”
How did this happen?
“It was a popular spot for fishermen, who would stop on their way to markets in Mexico and cut mangrove, using the wood for fires to smoke their catch and the conch that they took from the reef, littering the island with thousands of empty shells.”
The image of old conch shells scattered around a deserted island is more than I can bear.
Cue the Eco Heroes: “We don’t want to just do less harm or even have zero impact,” says Delos CEO Paul Scialla, “but to actually help heal the island, to make it better than before.”
Is that before or after 55 percent of the land is developed in a “sacred geometry”?
The Seattle Times quickly jumped aboard the rescue train with a story that promotes the intervention myth: “Blackadore Caye has suffered from overfishing, erosion and deforestation, and DiCaprio and his partner see the project as a groundbreaking renewal initiative.”
In England, The Daily Mail, which always appreciates a good touch of irony, had this subhead on its story:
Actor plans luxury tourist development — where villas will sell for $15m
— to save Central American island from environmental destruction
In the Daily Mail story, eco-superhero DiCaprio was not be one-upped by Scialla, his development partner, who wanted to merely heal the island. Says DiCaprio: “The main focus is to do something that will change the world.”
Remember when changing the world was about bringing water to starving nations, or teaching little children to read, or curing diseases, or eliminating poverty? Now we change the world with $15 million hideaways, gourmet restaurants, Deepak Chopra anti-aging centers and infinity pools.
Did I mention that plastic water bottles would be banned from the island?
The EcoWatch website joined the echo chamber: “The ‘restorative’ aspect doesn’t only refer to its hopefully healing effect on visitors, but also on the island itself. Overfishing, an eroding coastline and deforestation of the island’s mangrove trees have taken their toll.”
Even NBC joined in “Leonardo DiCaprio is in the process of restoring Blackadore Caye in Belize, undoing decades of deforestation and coastal erosion as part of plans to build an eco-conscious resort.”
With something called the Realty Today, my expectations were already low, and not to be disappointed: “Oscar-nominated Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio is planning to heal an island.”
Heal an island. God, I love this man.
And Realty Today’s story added still more echo, of course: “Based on Daily Mail’s report, this is an unpopulated, private island which has been over-fished and suffers from sand erosion. Leonardo wants to reinstate the area.”
Outside magazine ran a story headlined: “Actor hopes to restore embattled island.” It then repeated the three big tragedies that have beset this deserted island: “In addition to setting aside 45 percent of the island for conservation, the project’s directors say they intend to restore what they describe as an ecological treasure that has suffered from overfishing, deforestation, and an eroding coastline.”
First, overfishing is a global issue, not one for a 104-acre island; second, deforestation is a regional issue with mangroves, but they also grow like weeds when left alone; and finally, erosion is a fact of life on islands which are constantly moving westward with the wind and currents. (Think sand dunes.)
It goes on and on. Pick a media — any medium — and key words and phrases show up over and over, building an argument for complete abandonment of any journalistic inquiry. Everyone, it seems, took what it was fed because DiCaprio’s name is attached.
Well, not everyone is buying the hype.
Blue Planet Society has mounted a petition drive on Change.org to convince DiCaprio to abandon the project, although it sounds a bit like sour grapes too, as if making something for the ultra-rich one percenters to enjoy is intrinsically a bad thing.
Among other things the petition states:
- Leonardo DiCaprio purchased Blackadore Caye, an island off Belize, nearly a decade ago for $1.75 million. In partnership with New York property developer Paul Scialla, DiCaprio now plans to turn the island into a resort for the mega-rich.
- We would like environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio to please reconsider. The world does not need another eco-resort.
- Restore and protect Blackadore Caye by creating a wildlife sanctuary, free from human interference.
- Turn Blackadore Caye into a wildlife sanctuary, not a rich man’s playground.
The petition had 244 signatures after three months. That suggests that either the PR campaign has worked brilliantly or the world just isn’t too worked up about a 104-acre island in the Caribbean.
Well, look, it is DiCaprio’s island to do with as he wishes, within reason and I don’t imagine Belize will give him much push-back.
And it is to his credit the DiCaprio is trying to do something better than has been attempted elsewhere.
And he may even be a bit embarrassed that his portrayal as an eco-hero attempting to rescue an island from itself has been bought so fully by global media echo chamber.
The truth is there are many small-scale resorts in Belize that are already eco-conscious, environmentally friendly and fit nicely within the scale of the ecology of this tiny country. Not one pretends to be saving the world.
If Leo DiCaprio wants to save the ecology of Belize here are a few things he can do:
- Fight the expansion of the cruise ship industry and the destruction of islands as fake” off-shore ports of call in Belize.
- Fight the oil industry that seeks permission to drill on the barrier reef that Leo loves so much.
- Help finance sewage treatment and water infrastructure for Ambergris Caye where resort and condo development is taxing the island’s frail infrastructure.
- Find a way to harvest and halt the massive volume of plastic that floats on our oceans and finds its way to our shores.
- Encourage the development of renewable energy sources throughout Belize.
- Help fight against the massive deforestation that is really taking place in western Belize where illegal farming and lumbering and legal agra-business are snapping up jungle acreage like junkies in Hell’s Kitchen.
- Help find clean industries that will hire Belizeans by the thousands and perhaps end the violent drug trafficking and illegal hardwood deforestation.
True, none of these are as sexy as building an eco-resort on a “restorative island” for wealthy chums, but they would be embraced by a grateful nation.
Belize has erected statues and proclaimed national holidays for people who have done less.
Come help heal an entire nation, Leo.
I’ll lead the fundraiser to get the statue built.
I’ll throw in some “sacred geometry” around it, for free.