Basically, a US tourist, who happens to be a jeweler specialising in incorporating sea glass into her works, came to Bermuda, scooped up about 70 pounds (about 32 kilograms) of sea glass from Bermudian waters, and took it to the USA where she’s made a handsome profit from it. By her own admission she came to Bermuda explicitly for this purpose, as part of her business.
Now, there’s a few problems with her actions here.
For one thing, that she came to Bermuda for this explicit purpose breaches our laws regarding work permits. She would have required at least a temporary work permit for this action – it was illegal for her to do what she did as a tourist.
More importantly, it is against Bermudian law to remove sea glass from the beach in the first place, and it’s also against the law to export this.
Now, Ms Fox, the jeweler, has since compounded matters, by being quite frank in the US media about what she did, and then blocking, and deleting comments by, Bermudians and others who have been critical of her actions and pointed out how she broke the law and has been quite insulting to our people.
She’s also playing the victim here and telling folk she’s being bullied and people are making things up. As she’s deleting comments pointing out exactly how she broke the law and refusing people the right of reply, some of her readers are indeed believing that she is being bullied and has done nothing wrong.
Now, I don’t intend to get into a whole discussion about Ms Fox here.
Quite frankly, she broke the law, she’s acted very insultingly to Bermuda and Bermudians, and her behavior has been quite poor and disappointing. I think she could have defused the whole thing immediately after her wrong-doing was pointed out to her. She could have simply said something along the lines of:
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realise what I did was wrong and clearly misunderstood the laws of Bermuda. I am sorry to anyone that I have hurt and will be contacting the Bermudian authorities to work out how best to resolve this issue in an amicable way, and all the profits that from sale of Bermuda glass jewellery is being donated to these environmental charities in Bermuda. Lesson learned.”
That would have been enough I think.
Our people are largely forgiving, and an honest recognition of making a mistake and taking steps to make good would have been welcomed. Heck, we probably would have helped advertise her wares – it would raise money for our charities, boost awareness of our local artisans and be a good little tourism advertisement for Bermuda. Her refusal to even accept any wrong-doing and compounding it by insulting our people and trying to silence us, yeah, that’s left a rather sour taste and won’t be forgotten.
I for one hope that our Government will be taking steps to:
- Seek compensation from Ms Fox;
- Tighten up regulations concerning sea glass and other artifacts;
- Boost local artisans;
- Ramp up inspections.
What I find most interesting about this incident, other than the imperialist mindset of a White American tourist in appropriating other peoples natural and cultural resources, is how this allows us to really focus on what kind of tourism we want for Bermuda, and what are the possible consequences/impacts of tourism in Bermuda?
The Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”.
I think that’s a pretty decent definition, and should really be the ideal form of tourism that we want – and the kind of tourists we should be when we travel.
Now this definition is not simply ‘green’ tourism. One can build a resort with the latest green tech, or go on an explicitly nature vacation (hiking in a natural park, etc), without meeting this criteria. It also has to ensure economic benefit to ordinary people and not threaten or undermine the local economy and culture.
If one were to apply this concept to this particular incident, then not taking our sea glass was the responsible thing to do. Supporting local artisans was the responsible thing to do. Perhaps asking to work with some of our local sea glass artisans would have been the right things to do, and even arranging to help sell their products in the USA through her site would have been the responsible thing to do.
Doing all this would have ensured the sustainability of our sea glass beaches (certainly a lot more than carting away 70 pounds of it!) and boosted the local economy and artisans.
This principle can apply to tourism in general for Bermuda. It means making sure that the impact on our environment and infrastructure is sustainable, that it doesn’t destroy the very nature that attracts tourists here in the first place (and environment here means more than just beaches, clear blue waters and greenery – it extends to pollution, litter, energy use, waste management, food, water, traffic, etc).
And it also means that tourism should benefit ordinary people. I don’t mean the bank accounts of the elite, of the 1%. I mean ordinary people overall. We all recognise that there is some degree of trickle down from tourism, even if it’s just revenue collected by the government and used for public services.
However, I’m thinking more in terms or increasing local economic links and reducing leakage of the tourist dollar overseas (or into the bank accounts of the elite), and this means ensuring the tourist dollar is more equitable spread (through using local entertainers, boosting local artisans, using small businesses as much as possible, relying on local farmers as much as possible). Doing this – and shifting to renewable energy – all keeps the tourist dollar local and spreads it around more equitably, while also supporting local enterprise and culture.
Starting a Conversation?
There’s A LOT that can be written about responsible tourism and how it can be applied to the benefit of Bermuda.
I’ve already written a longer piece than I like writing – I just think that if some good is to come out of this incident it is that we might be able to start a conversation about tourism in Bermuda – what are it’s negative impacts, how do we address them, what kind of sustainable tourism do we want and how do we go about realising it? Just for starters…