Ten years ago, Leonardo DiCaprio bought an island in Belize with plans to build the world’s first eco-restorative resort that would “restore” the over-fished waters, eroding coastline and deforestation. The island is called Blackadore Caye. Leo discovered it while vacationing on a nearby resort in 2004. Fishermen would use this island to manage their catches and chop down the mangroves for firewood while they were there and it was expected to sink back into the sea from erosion in just a few years. In other words, DiCaprio is essentially going “to save” Blackadore Caye, healing the environment by the nature of its design while serving as a luxury eco-resort to guests. It’s expected to be finished in 2018 and I’m torn between optimism and cynicism, but let’s hear them out…
As part of its mandate to restore the environment, the resort will have guidelines dictating what guests can and cannot bring to the island, which is a 15-minute boat ride from San Pedro. “Plastic water bottles, for example, will not be allowed on the island,” the N.Y.T. writes. The vision of the project is to increase the biological health of species on the island and surrounding waters and be powered completely by renewable energy.
A research station on climate change, leading restoration programs, local organic foods, zero fossil fuel use, 100% solar powered living, composted waste systems are a few of the hallmark green features listed.
But while promising the greenest luxury development ever built, there are still some questions to be asked. (I went to the website‘s “contact” page and was upset to find that Leonardo DiCaprio’s number wasn’t there).
You can’t help but wonder whether building 50 luxury “off-the-grid” villas on a 100 acre island has a net positive impact on the environment. Is that a restoration move or a development? Won’t there be yachts parks off the island dragging anchor chains around the world’s second largest barrier reef? I’d like to be wrong but human development has typically proven to lower the quality and diversity of an ecosystem.
Just take for example, what happened after Leonardo starred in that movie The Beach. Controversy arose during the making of the film due to 20th Century Fox’s bulldozing and landscaping of the natural beach setting of Thailand’s Ko Phi Phi Lee to make it more “paradise-like”. A lot of damage was also done due to the tourism that came after the film’s popularity. Lawsuits dragged on for years filed by environmentalists who believed the damage to the ecosystem was permanent and restoration attempts had failed.
While human design can be regenerative, the design process is highly knowledge intensive. For those curious, the type of development Leo is planning is called regenerative design and you can read up on it here. And in his defense, DiCaprio has been doing an amazing job drawing attention to climate change, and I think he deserves praise for that. Here’s an excerpt from Leo’s speech at the UN in 2014.
To be clear, this is not about just telling people to change their light bulbs or to buy a hybrid car. This disaster has grown BEYOND the choices that individuals make. This is now about our industries, and governments around the world taking decisive, large-scale action. […] We need to put a pricetag on carbon emissions, and eliminate government subsidies for coal, gas, and oil companies. We need to end the free ride that industrial polluters have been given in the name of a free-market economy, they don’t deserve our tax dollars, they deserve our scrutiny. For the economy itself will die if our ecosystems collapse.
Someone else could do worse.
But I know what you’re thinking. Where are the dinosaurs?