Experts call on Bahamas government to live up to its promise and protect marine resources that sustain crucial local industries
International conservation experts are urging the government to fulfill its promise and protect Bimini’s unique ecological heritage and the local industries that have depended upon it for generations.
The experts, hosted on a tour of Bimini by fast-growing social and environmental advocacy group Save The Bays (STB), called for the official establishment of the North Bimini Marine Reserve. Among other important natural resources, the NBMR would protect mangrove forests that serve as a nursery for the abundant sea life that has attracted so many visitors to the island over the years in the latest Save The Bay’s release on their youtube channel (http://bit.ly/1wb4rJ4).
“From an ecological perspective, its incredibly important to maintain these mangroves in order to maintain the whole marine ecosystem,” said Rachael Silverstein, the Waterkeeper for Biscayne Bay, Florida.
“This is one of the only mangrove locations in this area and all of the important species that come from the Gulfstream, that people like to fish, have habitats here and live in the nurseries here and if we destroy that we also destroy our fishing industry and our diving industry and the repercussions can be felt across the Caribbean, across The Bahamas and certainly in Miami – we won’t be able to come here anymore to fish, to dive or snorkel.”
Like Silverstein, several of the visitors are senior members of the global Waterkeeper Alliance, a leading NGO that coordinates more than 200 stewards of the marine environment, or Waterkeepers, who are assigned to rivers, bays, lakes and coastal areas around the world.
Sharon Khan, international director of the Waterkeeper Alliance, said the NBMR is one of several key protected areas that the organization is advocating for around the world.
“I believe there is nothing more important than establishing marine reserves in ecosystems throughout this world that sustain our global life,” she said.
Alex Matthiessen, former Hudson Bay Waterkeeper, now CEO of the Blue Marble Project, said: “The (Bahamas) government’s already established that they want to create this reserve, but they need to formalize it. They need to make it a legal reserve.
“The wetlands at the north end of the lagoon are incredibly important and are therefore vital to the local businesses and industries here.”
The voices of these and other noted international conservationists have leant strength to the many concerned Biminites and other Bahamians who want to see the island’s rich ecological heritage preserved.
But Prime Minister Perry Christie has yet to respond to any of these entreaties, including a letter from Bimini’s local council requesting that the NBMR become reality as soon as possible.
The council asked that the Christie administration commit to the protected area swiftly, in an effort to ensure that developers do not construct a golf course on the island and to prevent any further development on the northern tip of North Bimini.
The letter said: “It has become commonplace that major developments occur on our island without notice to its residents or to this elected council. We therefore respectfully ask that you respond to these requests as quickly as possible.”
The golf course in question was among the plans for Resorts World Bimini’s (RWB) controversial resort and casino development which has already caused extensive damage to the island’s renowned reef system, including many of the top dive sites in the region.
Local advocacy group the Bimini Blue Coalition has issued a petition calling on the government to establish the NBMR as repeatedly promised. It has more than 600 signatures to date (http://chn.ge/1te6YzD).
Despite RWB’s insistence that the golf course is now off the table, STB director Romi Ferreira said the pattern of frequently changing plans has left many skeptical and in need of official assurance.
As for the claim by Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources V. Alfred Gray that the government is only waiting for conservationists to decide on the boundaries of the NBMR, Ferreira pointed out that its proposed parameters have long been established.
In 2012, the Bimini Marine Protected Area Campaign submitted detailed images and descriptions of the proposed boundaries to government, including precise map coordinates.
Ferreira said the ball is now in the government’s court – and a continued delay will be interpreted as a sign that the Christie administration is not serious about preserving the country’s priceless environmental resources for future generations of Bahamians.
To learn more about the conservationists’ tour, and the ongoing efforts to protect the environment and traditional way of life in The Bahamas, visit: https://www.youtube.com/user/ProtectCliftonBay. You can also learn more about Save The Bays on their website or Facebook page.