A progress report on MSC Cruises' private Bahamian island

Tree planting begins at Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve - Pierfrancesco Vago, left, mans a shovel with MSC Cruises' Gianluca Suprani, SVP global port development and shoreside activities Tree planting begins at Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve - Pierfrancesco Vago, left, mans a shovel with MSC Cruises' Gianluca Suprani, SVP global port development and shoreside activities PHOTO: MSC Cruises

Work to transform a former industrial sand extraction site into a flourishing marine reserve and MSC Cruises' first private island continues in the Bahamas.

Tree planting has begun one year before the first passengers are scheduled to arrive at Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, with MSC Cruises executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago visiting to pitch in.

'Unbelievable natural beauty'

'It was a very special moment to be on the island, together with the team that has been working nonstop on this incredible project, to see how our vision is starting to take shape. Words cannot convey the unbelievable natural beauty of our island, and it is only when you have stood there for yourself, surrounded by nothing but beautiful ocean with nothing else on the horizon, that you can really understand what we are accomplishing here,' Vago said.

During the landscaping more than 75,000 native shrubs and plants will be planted, including more than 60 types of indigenous Caribbean trees, grasses, flowers and shrubs to create a lush, tropical environment.

Work on more than 100 environmentally-friendly structures will soon begin. These include bars and restaurants as well as housing for employees and staff who will live on the island. Work on the lighthouse—a landmark of the island and a focal point of the evening entertainment—will also get under way shortly.

A pier that allows the ship to come alongside will enable passengers to walk off and on at their leisure throughout the day and evening.

MSC Cruises aims to create an authentic Bahamian experience that allows visitors to immerse themselves in a beautiful environment. Stunning ocean access is expected to be a highlight.

The seabed surrounding the island is being recreated and soon will be repopulated with a variety of vibrant marine life. A year from now, visitors will be able to swim in the warm shallow waters, snorkel, dive or travel by boat to one of the neighboring deserted cays.

Marine life is returning

'We are already seeing the return of the marine life that is usually so prevalent in this area,' Vago said, citing an abundance of lobster, conch, stingrays and fish. By the time work is finished, the waters around the island will be teeming with life and new coral. 'Preserving the oceans is of the highest importance to us and this is a wonderful opportunity to protect a little piece of paradise and allow our guests to experience it,' he said.

During the island’s cleanup, more than 500 tons of industrial waste and scrap metal were removed, with the final underwater debris cleanup about to begin. To create a solid foundation, over 500,000 tons of sand and soil have been moved and work has been carried out to shape the island itself. A shallow water lagoon will be created in the center of the island to provide a fun area for families to relax.

Eight distinct beaches

The island will feature eight beaches, each with a different character and ambience. The beaches are formed from aragonite sand, distinguished by its stunning white appearance and the key role it plays in the growth of coral reefs by maintaining the water's pH levels.

MSC Cruises is working closely with environmental auditors, Bahamian environmental experts and other entities to ensure best practices are followed. Plans are under way to locate a marine laboratory on Ocean Cay that will research climate-change-resistant coral in the hope of providing insights for similar island habitats.

Jobs for Bahamians

MSC Cruises said it has been sourcing materials locally wherever possible, and by project-end, around 800 Bahamians will have been directly and indirectly involved in the island's construction. Up to 140 Bahamians will be recruited for permanent operational jobs on Ocean Cay covering roles including management, technical staff, island attendants, lifeguards and rescue divers. Local vendors will also provide resources for shore excursions.

The destination is planned to open in November 2019 with four MSC Cruises ships calling on different days.

Posted 07 November 2018

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Anne Kalosh

Editor, Seatrade Cruise News & Senior Associate Editor Seatrade Cruise Review