THE Nature Conservancy has submitted draft legislation to lawmakers that would allow for as much as 20 per cent of the marine environment to be protected.
The legislation is part of an on-going effort by Caribbean conservationists who have banded together to ensure national parks receive the necessary funding and support.
The Conservancy believes this move, along with other conservation efforts, will have a direct and lasting impact on the Bahamas – a proven conservation leader in the Caribbean.
Among these efforts are the Caribbean Challenge Initiative’s Caribbean Biodiversity Fund and the Bahamas Protected Area Fund (BPAF), which aim to give national parks a reliable annual allocation of funds for management and stewardship.
In addition to the Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, and the British Virgin Islands have joined the CCI.
All the countries have committed to establishing national systems of protected areas covering at least 20 percent of their near-shore marine coastal environment by 2020. Discussions are also under-way with the Cayman Islands and Puerto Rico regarding participation.
Shenique Albury, Senior Policy Advisor for the Nature Conservancy’s Northern Caribbean Programme, said: “The Bahamas was actually one of the initial countries to participate and to announce their commitment to this 20/20 Caribbean Initiative Challenge”
She said the programme has been working with local partners on the ground to expand marine protected areas in the Bahamas.
“One of things that we are looking at with the CCI, is more increasing protection of the marine protected areas in the Caribbean but more specifically in the Bahamas,” she said.
“The second part of that is that we want to have the financial resources in place to make sure that we can effectively manage these parks. We don’t want paper parks. We want parks that have the proper infrastructure in place, educational outreach, proper staff where the staff are properly trained, and the tools and implements they need to move with. All of this is quite expensive and it takes a lot of money.”
Ms Albury said the Nature Conservancy is now only waiting for the government to consider the draft legislation.
Three years into the Caribbean Challenge Initiative, 10 governments including the Bahamas are developing national trust funds and funding mechanisms such as tourism fees to provide sustainable revenue streams for protected area management.
The Caribbean Biodiversity Fund (CBF), a $40 million regional endowment, will provide annual matching funds.
The CBF is soon to be established as a UK-based charity and will begin grant-making in 2013, in time for a Conservancy delegation to mobilise additional CCI funding from European government donor agencies.
Speaking on the different roles various environmental organisations play, Ms Albury explained the limits of the Bahamas National Trust and the Department of Marine Resources.
The BPAF fund would close the gap between them and allow a source of funding for all organisations involved in marine protection within the proposed legislation, she said.
“Actually what’s quite interesting is that the National Trust has its specific legislation that deals with them specifically, as an entity or organisation.
“However, in terms of the management of protected areas, particularly marine protected areas in the Bahamas, the portfolio is beyond that of the National Trust,” she said.
“The National Trust has national parks that include marine protected areas, but we also have things such as the marine reserves. The marine reserves are actually under the purview of the Department of Marine Resources.”
Ms Albury said three reserves have been declared and another two or three that have been proposed to the government.
She noted that there are also several marine areas of historical importance that could come under the Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Corporation.
“So, what the BPAF is going to do is, it’s going to actually level the playing field. It’s going to level the scope in terms of, rather than the specific legislation which only covers the Bahamas National Trust, this protected areas fund is going to be generating financial resources that will be accessible to the National Trust, and also other persons.”
Ms Albury said since 2000, the Bahamas government has created the South Berry Islands Marine Reserve, a 70 square mile no-take zone in the Bahamas’ most ecologically diverse marine area.
She said over the last decade, limited financial and technical resources have attributed to the site remaining unprotected and vulnerable to over-fishing.
“So, we’re looking at it a lot more holistically, or the big picture. We realise that the Bahamas National Trust is the main person in the country who is managing protected areas in terms of the marine element and will continue to be perhaps for some time. There are other persons out there who have this element in their portfolio, so the BPAF is going to cover all of those,” she said.