THE establishment of 18 new Marine Protected Areas is being hailed as an important victory in the ongoing fight to protect the unique ecological heritage of the Bahamas.
Vanessa Haley-Benjamin, CEO of social and environmental movement Save The Bays (STB), praised the Christie administration for fulfilling its promise to establish Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in environmentally significant areas around the country. She also highlighted the value of conservationists and government working together to preserve the country’s natural resources for the benefit of future generations.
An MPA is an offshore area where human activity is placed under clearly defined restrictions in order to protect the marine environment, and often any cultural or historical resources that may exist within its boundaries. The new additions take the number of marine and terrestrial reserves in the Bahamas to 50.
“This is a huge step forward,” Ms Haley-Benjamin said. “Save The Bays congratulates the government for living up to its commitments regarding MPAs and would like to thank Minister of Environment Kerned Dorsett in particular for spearheading this effort.”
She noted that the country has signed on to the Caribbean Challenge Initiative (CCI), a commitment to conserve at least 20 per cent of the country’s near-shore marine environment in MPA systems by 2020.
“These new MPAs represent great leap forward in terms of fulfilling our international obligations and maintaining our position as a frontrunner in the region when it comes to conservation,” she said.
“We are particularly pleased by the announcement of the Southwest New Providence Marine Managed Area. STB has long campaigned for this ecologically significant and diverse area to be protected against the many threats it currently faces due to industrial pollution and unregulated development.”
STB is a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, a leading international non-governmental organisation that co-ordinates more than 200 stewards of the marine environment, or Waterkeepers, who are assigned to rivers, bays, lakes and coastal areas around the world. Ms Haley-Benjamin said that a Waterkeeper licence has already been granted for southwest New Providence – specifically Clifton Bay. She said she looks forward to working with the government to preserve the integrity of the new MPA.
“We also have a Waterkeeper licence for Bimini and would encourage the government to add to this recent success by moving swiftly to establish the much-anticipated North Bimini Marine Reserve (NBMR), which was not included in the 18 MPAs announced,” she said.
The NMBR was another specific promise of the Christie administration and the ecological importance of north Bimini has been recognised by local and international environmentalists, with Waterkeeper referring to the area as “incredibly important”.
“Mangroves forests and spawning grounds that are vital to our national fisheries resources are currently under threat in north Bimini due to encroaching development,” Ms Haley-Benjamin said. “We remain eager to work with government to establish NMBR as soon as possible. In this case in particular, time is of the essence.”