A designer's critique of Leonardo Dicaprio's proposed Blackadore Cay development

This summer my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting El Pescador Lodge in San Pedro Belize for a week of flats fishing.

The bone fish above was caught and released near Deer Key just north of the proposed Blackadore Cay development.

During our trip we spent many days motoring past an island owned by Leonardo DiCaprio. Which we thought was pretty cool. He is one of the better actors of our generation. I like a lot of his films, in fact my wife uses his new version of the Great Gatsby in her high school English class. 

Our guide told us that he planned to build an eco-resort on the island and I thought, cool, I'm sure he will do a good job and it will be interesting. Our guide for the week, the entertaining and venerable Cesar, said that the island had been robbed of many of it's palm trees over the years by developers going there and digging them up for other developments. Mr DiCaprio was said to be planning to restore those losses and restore the damage done to the island. Again, I thought that seems cool. 

But then I came home and found this article in the NY Times. The renderings showed a little village built out over the water, not cool. 

The proposed design shown in the NYTimes article doesn't heal the island, it violates it and it's relationship to the ocean. Its stands in the face of the elements as a middle finger to the whole chain of islands there. From a design perspective it's a clear fuck you to the whole natural world rather than being of and from nature, it's there like some sort of synthetic church of the polished petrochemical futuristic Hollywood ideal. Its a whole collection of tiny, collagen injected, silicone enhanced, make-up wearing, mirrored glass pristine alters to the new gilded age. And it's wrong wrong wrong. Wonrg place, wrong building, wrong design, wrong approach.

Ceasar says cheers, We ate lunch on a small island near Blackadore owned by El Pescador and you wouldn't know it had any development on it whatsoever from the water. The palapas are all nearly completely concealed from view.

When I was in design school at Ohio State we had an assignment under the watchful eye of Charles Wallschlager to design a tree house and then build a model of it. I designed and built mine to contrast with the tree, I wanted mine to stand out! Everyone else tended to go the tree hugger route and blend in with the tree. My design ended up being a bright white geometric design based on the golden mean ratio. I borrowed from nature's geometric foundation but stood in stark contrast to it in aesthetic principle.

The final deisgn was Frank Ghery-ish and Santigo Calatrava like in starkness and geometry although being that is was 1998, neither of those guys were a thing in pop culture yet and I hadn't heard of them. Built from plain white styrene and acrylic I thought the model really made a bold statement, and it did.

When I presented my final design to the class the only thing Prof. Wallschlager said was, "sometimes you see things and you just want to blow them up." Then he moved on to the next presenter. That was it, he hated my design and his only comment was that he wanted to blow it up. Nice teaching technique asshole.

I was fairly pissed and crushed at his bold dissection of my nearly semester long project. I took serious umbrage and held a grudge against him for a long time. His comment on the next tree house presenter who embraced the natural elements and blended in with the tree was totally complimentary. I hated him. But you know what nearly 20 years later, I think he is RIGHT ON. I've come around 180 degrees.

In places like Miami, LA and New York, places violated by man's presence for centuries the work of Ghery and Callatrava is perfectly acceptable. It's fine. It might be actually more beautiful than the crap that a lot of our ancestors built. But those are places who's natural purity was violated centuries ago and we aren't claiming that we are enhancing those "natural environments" or "stopping damaging erosion" those are entirely contrived environments. But that's ok, there. But here why go down that path if we don't have to?

And let's remember that erosion, which the article claims they want to stop, is a natural thing and quite healthy for flats. Mangroves grow new knees all the time. They create new cays. The sea is always changing we can't stop that. In fact many many moons ago, our continents were probably at one time all stuck together, because of plate tectonics, erosion and what not. Shit changes, sea levels rise, they fall, tides move the sand. Erosion happens. All this is temporary and any claim to to stop it is unfounded and frankly silly. If you want to see what erosion control looks like just go take a drive by Cay Chapel  for a look at what wrapping an island in an ugly ass sea wall looks like. Ugh, no more of that please.

 In Belize, above an incredible salt water flat on an otherwise undeveloped island — don't build this shit!

Saltwater flats of Belize and in fact every salt water flat everywhere in the world, paint their own abstract picture by themselves. Anyone who's spent any time on a flat, knows that salt water flats have their own intricate beautiful architecture, that's why we visit them. It's not just the fish that are there, though that's a nice excuse. Flats have their own holiness. They do not need to be enhanced. In fact placing modern architecture right on and above the flats, no matter how you wrap it, is a direct violation of the very thing that makes it a beautiful place. It's like a giant infected hang nail, screaming out to be removed. The flats are glaring, extreme, barren, painfully calm, but sometimes violent places and there is no room for man's dreams of perfection and taming of elements there. We must exist in harmony there and tread as lightly as possible.

The small island we ate lunch on near Blackadore from afar shows no sign of development and celebrates the abstract beauty of a saltwater flat  by using natural materials that blend seamlessly into the islands existence and as such doesn't violate what we love about a slat water flat.

The salt water flats are the birthplace of life on earth. They are quite literally where piscatorial forms emerged from the primordial ooze. Attempting to concur that with concrete and steel and ceramic tile and mortar and plastic and asphalt and electricity is a futile zero sum game. The salt will always reclaim it's minerals and beat them back into their component parts to re-integrate them into the ooze. We are fighting that front in Florida everyday and losing. We will always lose!

Do we need another battle front in that war in the form of wall street bankers whose investment they want to protect at any cost? NO! When things start to fail, and they always do in these environments, it will be a constant fight against the ever clawing erosion and corrosion of the sea. They will eventually despair and abandon the place and the local people will be left with a mess to clean up a few generations down the road. Is that what we want to do? Is that how we want to spend the money we've earned by pretending to be other people? I don't think so.

If they could go back to the drawing board and find a way to truly enhance and restore the island without creating this artificial space station in the sea and make a smaller visual impact then maybe it will be ok. But for now what they have planned is in my opinion fairly arrogant, short sighted and more of the same that they do need there. Find some inspiration in Palapas and ceviche not the geometry and glitter of South Beach. Maybe talk to the folks at the Rural Studio? I don't know, anything but this. 

Oh, and there's all that legal stuff about circumnavigating current building laws etc etc. See more on that below... so there's that too. I mean c'mon. 

From Bonefish and Tarpon Trust

Despite being part of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, there is a real chance that a mangrove island called Blackadore Cay, near San Pedro, will be developed as an “eco-resort”. Not only will the development greatly damage the Cay, but also impact the surrounding flats – including creating a fishing exclusion zone. If this development is approved, it will negatively impact the local flats fishery and will set a dangerous precedent threatening flats habitats throughout the country. The local fishing guides and lodges are opposed to this proposed development and have asked for our help. Please read the talking points below and let your voice be heard by signing the petition that is linked at the bottom of this post.

  • The flats fishery of Belize has an annual economic impact exceeding $100 million Belize Dollars.
  • The flats fishery is entirely catch and release. In fact, due to the high economic impact of the fishery, the Belize legislature made bonefish, tarpon, and permit catch and release only.
  • Research has shown that the flats species have high survival rates after release, which means that the fishery is sustainable.
  • The flats fishery is also culturally important. For example, the job of flats fishing guide is frequently passed along through generations within a family. These multiple generations of fishing guides depend upon access to healthy habitats for their livelihoods.
  • The flats fishery is already under threat. At the November 2014 National Flats Fishing Summit, flats fishing guides identified the top threats to the fishery: lack of enforcement, loss of habitat, and illegal netting.

The proposed Blackadore Caye development poses a significant threat to the flats fishery of Belize for the following reasons:

  • The development will cause habitat degradation, which will negatively impact the fishery. In fact, with habitat loss and degradation already a top threat to the fishery, the proposed Blackadore development adds to an already worrisome situation.
  • Blackadore is within a protected zone as part of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. To propose development of a marine protected zone is ludicrous. This not only has local implications, it has national implications. If the Blackadore development is approved, this sets a dangerous precedent that calls into question the safety of other protected areas, and thus the future of the flats fishery throughout Belize.
  • One of the important characteristics of the flats fishery is that flats guides are able to access all waters in pursuit of fish. This right is threatened by the proposed development, which aims to exclude Belizeans from the waters around the island. This leads not only to a loss of available habitats for fishing guides, but also negatively impacts the cultural heritage of the fishermen.
  • The proposed Blackadore development needs to be denied. It is an example of everything that threatens the future of the economically and culturally important and sustainable flats fishery

Sign the Petition: https://www.change.org/p/government-of-belize-leonardo-dicaprio-living-future-institute-department-of-environment-neac-blackadore-caye-stop-the-overwater-structures-protect-the-environment-public-access

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published