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Govt In Talks For 'United Research Department' For Bahamas-Based Studies

By NICO SCAVELLA

Tribune Staff Reporter

nscavella@tribunemedia.net

PRIME Minister Perry Christie yesterday announced that the government was in discussions over the creation of a “United Research Department” that would “crisscross” the various institutions in the country and grant Bahamians access to Bahamas-based studies performed by international organisations.

He said he has asked officials from the College of the Bahamas, Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald and officials from the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Sciences Institute (BAMSI) for their recommendations.

Mr Christie made the announcement during the launch of the Atlantis Blue Project Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to “saving sea species and their extraordinary habitats throughout the Bahamas and surrounding Caribbean seas”. The foundation was launched after having partially funded a five-year study on the health of coral reefs in the Bahamas. The study revealed that the decline of the coral reefs in Bahamian waters is reversible.

However, rather than depending on various local and international organisations to highlight the significance of the country’s marine resources, Mr Christie said Bahamians needs to have a “co-ordinated and integrated approach” in recognising the importance of natural resources in the country.

“I have asked COB, the Minister of Education and the leaders of BAMSI to present a recommendation to me of creating a United Research Department, crisscrossing the institutions in this country, where we would be able to bank the results of research worldwide from other institutions that have been given licences to research in the Bahamas, with a view to educating ourselves as to what assets we have in our country, whether they can be used,” he said.

“The work that we are doing now in the country requires a greater effort on the part of all of us to integrate it to what we’re doing to people who are so qualified and who are able to make defining contributions even if it is simply in giving the perception that we are deeper, broader in who we are. Not just the government, the PLP, Atlantis, but this is reflective of where we want to be in 20 years or 100 years, and that every one of us must have a say in making it happen.

“This represents for some people pretty pictures, but we have to give it life. But it can’t be done on a one-shot basis. This country is too small to have resources driven by goodwill, meaning people who contribute for a good outcome but they don’t have to do it. We must have a co-ordinated and integrated approach into all of these matters.”

The coral reef study, conducted by researchers from the country’s key environmental agencies and conservation groups, showed that the negative impacts the reefs have endured over the last 40 years could be reveresed by implementing “proven conservation methods”.

The study showed that there was a great amount of “variability in reef health” throughout New Providence and Rose Islands, as well as “irregularity in the coral species composition”. However, the reefs on the western side of New Providence were healthier than those on the east side.

Despite their “poor overall health” nonetheless, some reefs off of Rose Island still featured “important, but now rare species” such as staghorn coral, one that used to common throughout the country, according to officials.

The study also showed that all of the reefs surveyed from 2011 to 2012 showed signs of “human impact and stressors” that negatively affected their health.

As such, the Coral Reef Report Card offered recommendations for methods that would reduce “human pressures” on the reef, such as the establishment of “the first coral reef Marine Protected areas around New Providence and Rose Islands, protecting parrotfish to reduce algae coverage which helps coral grow, improving fisheries regulations for Nassau grouper and other grouper species, and increasing the scope of in-country coral reef restoration programmes.”

“We are very hopeful and optimistic now that we have concrete data that shows that the coral reefs in The Bahamas are resilient and can recover with proper care,” Atlantis Blue Project Foundation Executive Director Debra Erickson said. “We plan to continue to fund efforts to ensure that Bahamian coral reefs regain their health and continue to provide economic support to those that depend on it.”

Those that participated in the study included the Bahamas National Trust, the Nature Conservancy, Department of Marine Resources, COB students and the Bahamas Reef Environmental Educational Foundation.

The Coral Reef Report Card was written by Dr Craig Dahlgreen, Senior Scientist for Perry Institute for Marine Science, in conjunction with two Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) scientists, Dr Judith Lang, Dr Patricia Kramer and Ms Krista Sherman of the BNT.

Earlier this month, the government and the Inter-American Development Bank launched feasibility studies towards the implementation of a programme that would seek to protect the country’s coastline and coastal infrastructure from the impacts of climate change and natural disasters.

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