Maho Bay Camps: Current Status
Maho Bay Camps was a sustainably-designed cluster of eco-tents located along the north shore on the island of St. John in the US Virgin Islands. It was located adjacent to the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John, which covers both land and sea in the park. Established in the mid 1970’s, Maho Bay Camp offered an alternative in both experience and price from the hotels and villas on the island.
However, Maho Bay Camps, Inc. leased the land all those years, and in December 2012 the landowner sold the property. The new owner has not indicated their intentions for the land and Maho Bay Camps vacated the property on June 30, 2013, making 2012-2013 the last season and saddening many people who consider this place home. I met numerous guests and staff this past season who have come every year (some for 20+ years) to vacation for a week or a month. Many had hoped to share the experience of “living in a tree house” with their children or grandchildren one day. As of now, the last guest left by 11am on May 16, 2013 and that will be the end of the much-loved Maho Bay Camps.
Maho Bay Camps: History and Environment
Maho Bay Camps was opened in 1976 by Stanley Selengut. He wanted to preserve the delicate balance between man and nature through careful use of the islands natural resources and employing sustainable design. It also gave visitors an opportunity to learn about an alternative co-existence with nature. As Stanley says in the Welcome book, “it is a special place to rest the soul, restore the spirit and find out how little you need in life to be truly happy and comfortable”.
Maho Bay Camps consisted of just over 100 guest tent cabins and roughly 20 staff tent cabins, almost all connected by a raised boardwalk through the islands tropical foliage. The water and electrical conduits for the camp ran below the boardwalks whenever possible to avoid any digging into the ground. This lessened the impact to the fragile soil, which is only a 18 -24 inches of topsoil over volcanic rock. Minimal disruption of the soil combined with substantial plant cover prevents runoff off onto the fringing reefs during (the often heavy) rains and hurricanes. The soil that makes it to the water can actually suffocate the coral animals, killing a reef that took hundreds of years to grow.
As as the reef is damaged and dies, whether from soil erosion or increase in water temperatures, or reef diseases, or elevated nitrogen levels in the water from plant fertilization, another visible effect will be the degradation of the famous white sand beaches. That lovely white sand everyone sits on is created in part by the colorful Parrot Fish feeding on algae growing on the reef. The parrot fish ingest some of the hard coral skeletons when eating the algae, only to later excrete the undigested bits of coral as white soft Caribbean sand. Each year as much as a ton of sand per acre may have passed through the intestinal tracts of these reef fish!
There are other sustainable design ideas used around Maho Bay Camp, such as the cold showers, the glassblowing done on-site, and rainwater collection. I will be sure to cover these various items in individual blog posts.
This is just a small snapshot of the inter-relatedness that exists between man and nature on this island. It is an amazing place, small and undeveloped enough for one to see these connections, action and reactions, if we take the time to stop and look. But it is also important to know that just because we cannot see these connections elsewhere, we should not make the mistake of thinking they don’t exist. Maho Bay Camps reminds us that our relationship to nature is complex, always connected although not always noticed.