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Interview with St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort and Golf Club

Guests can view the El Yunque Rain Forest from the golf course at the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort.

This is the first installment of a monthly feature that Golf Course Trades has started with Aubudon International, the non-profit organization whose mission is to create environmentally sustainable environments where people live, work, and play. Each month GCT will speak with a golf course superintendent or agronomy manager at an Audubon International-certified property.

This month we hear from two managers at The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort and Golf Club in Puerto Rico – William Ocasio, Golf Course Superintendent, and Marcela Canon, MSc, Executive Director of the Alma de Bahia Foundation (a non-profit organization created by the resort to work on environmental projects at the property and regionally).

Why did Bahia Beach join the Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuary Program (ACSP) for Golf?

Marcela Canon, MSc, Executive Director of the Alma de Bahia Foundation
Marcela Canon, MSc, Executive Director of the Alma de Bahia Foundation

Marcela Canon: Bahia Beach is one of the most gorgeous places in the world. From the lush forests to the turquoise oceans to the abundance of lively wildlife, few places compare to the scenery and sounds that you will find at Bahia Beach. In fact, 65% of the Bahia Beach property comprises unharmed wildlife sanctuaries and incredible nature trails, earning us the distinction of being a Certified Gold Audubon International Signature Sanctuary.

How did BB manage to achieve this status – what did the process entail?

Marcela Canon:

Initial Assessment

A member of the Audubon International staff visited our property to determine what natural resources we had and how a typical construction process could damage them.

Natural Resource Management Plan

Next, Audubon International put together a Natural Resource Management Program (NRMP) to let us know how to build our resort so that there would be a minimal impact on the environment and the wildlife that depends on it to live.

Execution

We had several site visits during and after the construction phase to confirm we were following the guidelines set out in the NRMP.

Random Audits

Audubon International continues to visit us to perform audits, ensuring we are still doing our part to protect our planet.

Recertification

Achieving Certified Gold Audubon International Signature Sanctuary status is not a one-time thing—we must recertify every few years to keep the distinction.

Related: Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses: More Relevant than Ever

What were/are the most challenging aspects of being certified and maintaining the standards required to achieve and retain that status?

Marcela Canon: We are truly committed to our program, and everything that we do has become a lifestyle and part of our efforts to keep our status. We have to be consistent with what we do, and that can sometimes be challenging, but we have always maintained our certifications. We also find new ways to include new residents and new staff to take part and understand our commitment to the preservation of our surroundings. Our most significant efforts are to make all the processes part of the typical day-to-day work, including all different departments, members, hotel guests, and staff committed and interested in our important certifications.

What has been different for your maintenance department before and after becoming Gold Certified?

The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort and Golf Club in Puerto Rico – William Ocasio, Golf Course Superintendent
The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort and Golf Club in Puerto Rico – William Ocasio, Golf Course Superintendent

William Ocasio: We have been grateful to have received the certification from the beginning, but the care and consideration for natural resources and wildlife habitats becomes part of the organizational culture. As time passes, we take part in different initiatives that help preserve our environment and nature. It is a life-changing experience.

What are the biggest benefits of certification/membership?

Marcela Canon: One of the biggest benefits is the credibility with respect to environmental commitment and the tools to train staff. Becoming a Certified Gold Audubon International Signature Sanctuary is more than just a label. It demonstrates our extreme passion for the world. We continuously partner with private and public organizations to ensure that the local endangered species will be around for our kids to enjoy—because the world would be a little less beautiful without the Leatherback Turtle or Caribbean Manatee, two of the species we are committed to.

Turtles Hatching
Turtles Hatching

Our Alma de Bahia Foundation, which translates to the Soul of Bahia, contributes to the community and local sustainability through conservation initiatives and environmental education. The Foundation is tasked with the protection and enrichment of critical habitats for the flora and fauna inside the resort and its surrounding areas. The Foundation also works closely with public and private organizations to protect the environment and educate the public.

The Foundation works closely with the residents and guests at Bahia to give back to our community and the natural environment.

Related: Golf Course Superintendents Drive Environmental Accountability

Describe how you view the cost of membership/certification vs. the ROI (however that’s measured by St. Regis and BBGC).

Marcela Canon: The certification is considered a prominent recognition providing added value to Bahia’s property and The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort as the first and only resort in the Caribbean to be awarded the Gold Signature Sanctuary certification by Audubon International.

What is the best guidance or tip(s) you have received pertaining to being a superintendent and overseeing the golf course agronomy/maintenance department? (And from whom?)

William Ocasio: To be very disciplined and always act with caution. Carelessness will lead to mistakes that are detrimental to the golf course. I learned this from Mike Mehan and Hector Ortiz, two Directors of Agronomy who I worked with at Dorado Beach.

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