The race is on to see who can create the Caribbean's first completely green island. In the running: the Turks and Caicos government, private developer David Skar and actor Leonardo DiCaprio.
All have plans in the works – at varying stages – to green up their respective Caribbean isles.
DiCaprio, long a champion of all causes environmental, snatched up his own private island just off the coast of Belize back in 2005: 104-acre Blackadore Caye. According to published reports, the actor envisioned an environmentally sustainable resort, or possibly an entire community, on his private paradise from the start. Development was rumored to have started late last year.
DiCaprio's publicist, Ken Sunshine, declined to comment on the status of the project at the moment, saying there would be more to report in the next few months.
But the other two contenders aren't keeping so mum on their plans. Last month Turks and Caicos announced that it will transform its largely undeveloped Salt Cay Island into the first to be fully environmentally sustainable.
Meanwhile, a private developer behind STAR (Sustainable Terrain and Resources) Island in the Bahamas is staking a similar claim. It's the brainchild of architect/designer David Sklar, who's already made considerable headway and plans to break ground this year.
Both parties are actively grooming their islands for tourism and vying to be the face of the green Caribbean initiative.
"It's a conscious decision and very historic," Turks and Caicos Premier Joseph Misick said. "Once we see what works, we'll spread it to other islands as well."
What works for Salt Cay will be slightly different than for STAR Island, which is privately owned and currently home to no one except those stationed there to build out the new eco-Shangri La.
Just 2.5 square miles, Salt Cay is already home to about 60 to 100 families. This means the Turks and Caicos government has a slightly different challenge: "greening up" Salt Cay for tourism, but not leaving its current residents in the dust.
At the moment there isn't much tourism – or any industry – on Salt Cay. "Time has stood still," as Misick described it. For about 300 years, the island's primary focus was also its namesake: the production of salt from brine. But soon that focus will switch to the courting of tourism. Green tourism.
"Going green is more expensive, but in the long run it's better," Misick said. "We want to lead the way and show with Salt Cay that you can develop and be environmentally sustainable."
Plans are in the works for two new resort hotels and an 18-hole golf course – all of which will run according to the new green energy standards. Misick expects the $500 million project to finish in the next three to four years.
As for Salt Cay's current citizens, Misick says they will benefit from the switch to green as much as the future tourists – especially with the Turks and Caicos government's subsidizing the conversion of all homes to the new alternative energy source and even foot the power bill for a brief transitional period.
While the government has not yet decided exactly what that source will be, Misick says it will likely be either wind or solar power generated from an energy park to be built on the island. All cars will run on electric or hybrid power as well.