Why Caribbean Marine Reserves Matter

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The importance of marine reserves in the region

By Shenique Smith
CJ Contributor

Effectively managed marine managed areas in the Caribbean are life-sustaining for both people and wildlife. They protect critical habitats like coral reefs and mangroves.

They harbor and nurture sharks, turtles and other endangered wildlife, and they support tourism and fisheries that provide livelihoods for millions of people in the region.

Currently, ten Caribbean governments have made commitments to triple the protection of marine habitats by 2020 as part of the Caribbean Challenge Initiative through new marine protected area declarations—a tremendous step towards conserving our natural heritage.

I’m proud that in my country, The Bahamas, our government just recently declared more that 11 million acres of new marine managed areas. These unprecedented advancements represent a tangible demonstration of the government and people of The Bahamas’ commitment to not only protecting our marine resources, but also our way of life.

However, protected area declarations alone won’t get the job done to conserve our seas for future generations.

Ongoing investment in the management of these areas is essential. For instance, the South Berry Island Marine Reserve in The Bahamas – which spans 70 square miles – is one of several marine managed areas that The Nature Conservancy has supported with the larger goal of strengthening the protection of the Caribbean’s marine habitat. The Reserve is in one of the most ecologically diverse areas in The Bahamas, but it needed resources for regulation and enforcement to ensure that the reserve could be properly protected.

Through the support of the Government of The Bahamas and of individuals (including nearly 1500 Summit Series community members who took a thought leadership cruise through the area in 2011 and were inspired by both the beauty and fragility of the marine environment), a strong foundation has been laid for the transformation of the South Berry Island Marine Reserve.

Management funding has allowed the reserve to develop a formal management and zoning plan to ensure regulations can be enforced and followed. Additionally, a finance plan was created to help make the reserve self-sustaining in the future.

These are important steps for the reserve towards becoming a fully functioning and regulated protected area.  The Berry Island Marine Reserve serves as an important example for how other protected areas should be managed.

It is among the first within a network of 51 protected areas in The Bahamas, encompassing more than 13 million acres, to employ a formal management process.

By following this example of collaboration from a diversity of individuals, organizations and governments, critical Caribbean marine resources can continue to be protected for all who depend on and enjoy them.

Shenique Smith is the Senior Policy Advisor for the Bahamas with The Nature Conservancy.