MINISTER of the Environment and Housing Kendred Dorsett opened the Caribbean Challenge Initiative’s second senior officials meeting in Grand Bahama.
The two-day conference was held at the Our Lucaya Resort and aids in the preparation for the Caribbean Summit of Political and Business Leaders.
The CCI focuses on leadership to provide for the sustainable use, conservation, and effective management of marine and coastal resources.
In addressing the opening session at the Our Lucaya Resort, Mr Dorsett noted that Caribbean Challenge is an initiative that the Bahamas and Grenada launched in 2008 at the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (UNCBD).
The Bahamas, he said, exemplifies what will be lost to world ecological heritage and the beauty of our natural environment if the objectives of the Convention on Biodiversity are not achieved.
Addressing participants from 10 Caribbean countries attending the conclave, Mr Dorsett said the environment is the very foundation of the country’s economy and that Grand Bahama Island is an example of how the environment sustains lives and livelihoods.
“This island is blessed with an abundant supply of fresh water, a vibrant natural ecosystem, blue holes, a fringing reef system, mangrove and pine forest – making it unique, special and in need of preservation so that we balance economic activity with environmental sustainability,” he said.
“However, in order to develop industry, sacrifices have been made to create a deep water harbour and expand it to accommodate the Post Panamax vessels which ply the high seas.
“Grand Bahama is thus blessed with attributes which have enabled it to become a port of regional significance serving as a natural conduit between and among the Americas and to Europe and a larger extent to Africa and Asia.”
The Environmental Minister said national development has come at a price. He said that the once pristine, undisturbed pine forest, mangrove creeks and wetlands have been disturbed in pursuit of economic development, an imperative for social and economic well-being and the expansion of economic opportunities for Bahamians.
“The CCI, nevertheless, through its innovative partnership of public, private, scientific and civic collaboration offers an opportunity to prove to the world that aspiration can become reality. The contradictions and sacrifices between business and preservation can be reconciled and man can finally become a prudent steward of nature,” he said.
Mr Dorsett challenged delegates to find the best mechanism to harness the collective wisdom and skills of each partnering sector to quantify, adapt, fund and refine the ambitions of the plan.
“By so doing, the political stamp of the summit will move our region from aspiration to sustainability, and therefore, conservation of our natural heritage for generations to come,” he said.
Mr Dorsett also said the Bahamas has not remained idle in the face of the combined threats of global warming, climate change, sea level rise, more frequent and intense hurricanes and the many threats to biodiversity.
He told participants that the effects of Hurricane Sandy could still be seen through the window of their meeting room.
“The impact in the Bahamas and across the region, and in our principal tourism marketplace the eastern seaboard of the United States, is a stark reminder that we will continue to face the challenges that climate change will visit upon us. It is becoming increasingly more important for initiatives such as the Caribbean Challenge to be successful,” he said.
The minister also advised that the Bahamas has enacted legislation to foster the sustainable use and management of ecosystems through better land-use planning, and that action has been taken to ban long line fishing, protect sea turtles, establish the Bahamas as a shark sanctuary and expand national parks and marine protected areas.
He said that those moves are all in support of the objectives of the Caribbean Challenge Initiative.
Further, he reminded delegates that they were there to promote and make significant progress on the Draft Leaders Declaration to be delivered at the Summit of Caribbean Political and Business Leaders in the British Virgin Islands, May 17-18, 2013.
Mr Dorsett said the government of the Bahamas, through the Caribbean Challenge, has committed to protecting 20 per cent of the near shore marine environment of the Bahamas by 2020.
The government has also committed to other components of the challenge, including development and implementation of ecosystem-based projects aimed at adapting to climate change and development of sustainable finance mechanisms to fund protected areas.
“In the Bahamas, we continue to work toward achieving our 2020 goal by declaring new protected areas and in some cases expanding existing national parks.
“However, for us to truly achieve our goal of effective protection of natural resources, the next major step after declaring a protected area, is putting in place the resources needed for these areas to be properly managed.
“One way of doing this is to ensure that protected areas are properly resourced, financially and otherwise. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has identified that globally protected area financing needs to be improved at both site and system level, and that developing long term financing systems is a key element for protected areas sustainability,” he added.