SAVE The Bays (STB), the fast-growing environmental movement dedicated to the protection of marine resources, has joined forces with Bahamas Waterkeeper to praise Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell for remarks to the United Nations last week detailing what leaders of the two organisations called “the most important, powerful commitment yet by the current government to preserve that which makes The Bahamas the magical country it is – our waters”.
The plaudits for Mr Mitchell came after his statement indicating the government would push for 20 per cent of the vast geographical area of the country to become part of a network of marine protected areas by the year 2020.
“The 20 per cent by 2020 is an ambitious target that has been adopted by environmental groups and many who depend on the oceans for their survival, including Disney cruise lines, but this is the first time that the government of The Bahamas has publicly stated that it is committed to expand marine protected areas covering up to 20,000 square miles and we want to offer congratulations and 100 per cent support,” said Joseph Darville, an STB director and the Bahamas Waterkeeper.
The push for adding marine protected areas is not new. The Nature Conservancy and the Bahamas National Trust, community partners of STB, have urged the expansion of such areas, noting protected areas have been proven to lead to greater fish, conch and crawfish stocks, opens doors for jobs and eco-friendly businesses and improves health of nearby communities.
The positive reaction followed Mr Mitchell’s hard-hitting, specific three-minute address that touched on a wide range of subjects involving the waters that constitute 90 per cent of the country’s make-up – international accountability and co-operation, sports fishing, the battle against invasive species, The Bahamas’ progressive role in shark and sea turtle protection and ultimately, the archipelago’s vulnerability to the rise in sea level and the impact of climate change.
“We have one of the first established marine protected areas in the Western Hemisphere in what we consider the most beautiful place on earth: the Exumas,” Mr Mitchell said. “It has existed since 1958 and its no-catch zone is under the superintendence of the Bahamas National Trust. It has been scientifically proven as a fisheries replenishment area. We have set aside other marine parks and ‘no take areas’ to sustain our fisheries. We are expanding the marine protected area network to 20 per cent by 2020.”
More than a dozen sites have been suggested for marine protected areas in The Bahamas and days before Mr Mitchell’s remarks STB urged the government to act on the one it believes is most critical – the North Bimini Marine Reserve, home to giant sea turtles, mangroves and coral reefs, a microcosm in one spot of the underwater habitats found in various places around a country that stretches over 500 miles and 100,000 square miles of open ocean. That North Bimini area with its underwater treasure trove of natural gems, environmentalists fear, could be lost to the construction of a golf course as part of the expanding Resorts World Bimini development.
“We agree with the Minister completely when he says the sea is the lifeblood of The Bahamas and we are thrilled that the government has made this public commitment to protect it,” said Mr Darville.