*File photo
*File photo

It could torpedo our tourism season — but only if people get sick.

That’s one view of how a beach sewage warning — issued this week by the US Consul — could impact Bermuda.

Some say the fallout will be minimal as long as health risks are not exaggerated. Others warn that damage has already been done to Bermuda’s reputation and the problem must be fixed — now. It seems there is clear consensus on only one fact: this issue is of great concern to all stakeholders.

It has already caused a big stink.

But the repercussions of the US Consul’s decision this week to warn citizens of Bermuda’s ‘contaminated beaches’ remain to be seen.

The move was prompted by a 2013 study highlighting the health hazards associated with the continued dumping of raw sewage off south shore.

Government was quick to pour cold water on the potentially disastrous development, dismissing suggestions that the island’s most prized possessions were not fit for purpose.

Tourism and travel insiders told the Sun the furore around the thorny topic had the potential to be blown out of proportion.

Opinion amongst industry experts is divided as to the extent the news will hurt Bermuda’s tourism industry.

Most acknowledge it has potential to derail the latest attempts to rejuvenate the second pillar of the island’s economy but few believe it will.

Warren Fernandes, general manager of Up and Away travel agents in New York, told the Sun he did not expect a major fallout from the pollution report or the US Consul’s warning. 

He said: “We have been dealing with the Bermuda market for 14 years now. News of this report and Consul warning has not made the news in the US.

“We closely monitor social media and other media avenues and it has not surfaced.

“I do not think there should be a major concern with this — it may take a small bite out of the market, but nothing more.

“When you are flying into Bermuda and you can see the bottom of the ocean from 100 feet this is unlikely to be the first thing people think about.”

But Gay Nagle Myers, Caribbean editor for Travel Weekly, said the beach study ‘spelt trouble’ for the island.

She added: “If there is any hint that some of the beaches in Bermuda are contaminated with raw sewage at certain times, I think it spells trouble, certainly for swimmers, and for the tourism industry.

“I see that the government put out a statement saying that measures are in place to ensure the water is safe, but why not address the source of the raw sewage and take steps to eradicate that problem? Bermuda’s beaches are its signature attraction. If swimmers are in any kind of health danger, that is a matter not to be taken lightly.”

The report by the University of Laval, BIOS, various government departments and the Bermuda Central Government Laboratory says as many as five beaches were ‘unfit for recreational use’.

But US journalist David LaHuta, who lives in Bermuda and contributes travel and tourism articles to major US publications like the New York Times, said: “I don’t believe this story will break overseas until people in Bermuda or visitors start getting sick.

“The likes of CNN and the big media outlets will not report on a potential cause for concern.

“We are at the very early stages of this at the moment and there has not been much attention given to it yet abroad.

He added: “This whole issue begs the question: why is more not being done to prevent raw sewage being pumped into the sea and why are there not more sewage treatment plants in Bermuda?

“The other factor is why did it take a warning from the US Consul to bring this to light?

“As an American citizen living in Bermuda I am a little bit dismayed with the lack of concern from Bermuda’s own Government and if I was Bermudian, I would be especially mad.”

Monday’s US Consul’s statement suggests vaccinations for Hepatitis A and typhoid for those who want to take the plunge on south shore.

But tourism chiefs insist the ‘security message’ should not be allowed to snowball into something it is not.

Bermuda Tourism Authority Chairman, David Dodwell, added: “We are extremely concerned about this. We are on top of it and we are working on solutions.

“A lot of hard work is going on in tourism and it does not take very much on this little island to undo all that work.

“This has the potential to be embellished and it is not as bad as it could be made out in other countries.”

Stuart Hayward, chairman of the Bermuda Environment and Sustainability Taskforce, added: “Anything that casts our island in a bad light is of concern. 

“Environmentally, while our systems for handling wastes of all kinds are not ideal, we are more modern and health conscious than most places on the planet.

“Our overall scheme for dealing with sewage is improving.

“And to the best of my knowledge, incidences of sewage-related infections or diseases have occurred rarely, if ever, in recent times. But it is neither healthy nor amenable for us to be disposing of human wastes in ways that put us or our guests in harm’s way.”