Casuarina cleaning at Lucayan National Park
Bahama - Enclosed is a speech to the Rotary Club of Lucaya by Gail
Woon, member of the Sustainable EcoTourism Committee, member of the
Coastal Awareness Committee and Founder of EARTHCARE 17th April, 2012.
Awareness for the Northern Bahamas
Speech By Gail
Woon, member of the Sustainable EcoTourism Committee, member of the
Coastal Awareness Committee and Founder of EARTHCARE
17th April, 2012
The Ministry of
Tourism asked me to come this afternoon to talk to you about Coastal Awareness
Prime Minister, Hubert Ingraham has declared April Coastal Awareness month and
also has rung the bell for election on May 7th.
The Bahamas has
signed on to several International Conventions related to the environment. In 1992, The Bahamas Government signed the
Convention on Biological Diversity recognizing the importance of marine
biodiversity and the need to develop mechanisms for the sustainable use of
coastal and marine biological diversity.
In June, 1997 The
Government of The Bahamas signed the RAMSAR Convention which provides for the
protection of wetlands including shallow coastal and marine ecosystems.
There are 5
threats to coastlines highlighted by the National Coastal Awareness Committee.
Rocky Gold Rock Creek Beach
determined that the planet is going through a warming period. One of the main causal agents for climate
change is the increase in the release of industrial and automotive gas
effluents into the atmosphere. The
predicted effects of climate change are
1 Sea level rise
2 Changes in
rainfall and weather patterns
3 More intense
and frequent hurricanes
4 Changes in
patterns of ocean circulation
atmospheric and sea surface
marine environment, particularly coral reefs are very important to the economy
of this country. We depend on coral
reefs for recreation, for the tourism industry, and commercial fishing. The coral reefs assist in generating millions
of dollars into our economy each year.
Increasing temperatures and sea level rise are having serious impacts on
our coral reefs. Reefs act as our first line of defense against storms and
floods. They support amazing
biodiversity, grouper, conch, crawfish, snapper to name a few. When the seawater gets too warm for too long
corals release the microscopic microalgal cells that live symbiotically within
their tissues. This gives the coral a
bleached appearance. When high
temperatures are sustained the coral becomes susceptible to diseases and may
even die. We have documented several
coral diseases off of Grand Bahama Island that are directly related to warming
Prior to the
1980s bleaching events were relatively rare but in the last 30 years they have
become more commonplace. Do any of you
remember the long spined black sea urchin, Diadema, that used to be abundant on
all of our shallow water areas when I was growing up? They were almost wiped out in the 80s by the
warm water coral bleaching periods.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
1 Use CFL bulbs.
2 Drive less or
drive fuel efficient cars.
3 Turn off lights
and appliances when not in
alternate energy sources.
5 Plant trees.
6 Recycle more.
7 Check tires.
Use less hot water.
Avoid products with a lot of packaging.
Adjust your thermostat.
Turn off electronic devices will save
1000s of lbs of CO2 per year.
Another threat to
coastal areas is
Martin Marietta Bahama Rock proposed expansion into Eight Mile Rock
Is occurring all
over the world’s oceans. Some scientists
have predicted that if we keep fishing at the rates we are currently extracting
marine resources that world fisheries will disappear globally over the next 50
That cheap fish
sandwich that you pick up at the drive through is not that cheap. A few short years ago the fast food chains were
touting a “new” fish called the orange roughy.
It was native to New Zealand. A
deep water fish it was not too pretty but they found an abundance of this fish
in certain areas. The gold rush was on
and everyone wanted to feature orange roughy on their menu. They even gave it new names and marketed it
so cleverly that you probably did not even realize you were eating orange
roughy from New Zealand. Well, the slick
marketing worked wonders. The fishermen
made a killing. The restaurants were
happy. Then the bottom fell out. The sizes of the catch got smaller and
smaller. I mean the individual fish
caught were smaller and smaller. Then
the actual size of the total catch per day got smaller and smaller until it was
no longer profitable to fish for orange roughy.
They fished the fish until the stock of orange roughy collapsed. They fished until they almost caught the last
one and paid no attention to the life cycle or the time it takes for orange
roughy to reproduce and grow again to marketable size.
fisheries have not been managed well over the past 50 years, the Bahamas is one
Last Stands for Queen Conch
and Nassau Grouper. I went on an
expedition to the Dominican Republic to learn about the humpback whales. I was astounded to see reefs and marine
habitats totally devoid of edible fish and conch. We had children to feed on the
expedition. We thought we would be able
to catch enough fish to feed everyone.
We ended up having to send someone in to the D.R. to buy chicken and meat
so we could feed the kids! We, as a
country need to embrace some of the fisheries management techniques used in
other countries in order to preserve what is left of our once abundant
fisheries resources such as elimination of certain types of fishing gear,
expansion of closed season, limited access, and most importantly
enforcement of regulations.
THINGS WE CAN DO
1 Obey fishing
regulations, size limits,
gear restriction, closed seasons.
2 Harvest only
adult conch with well formed
3 Catch only as
much fish as you need.
4 Do not catch
spawning fish as you will
limit their capacity to reproduce.
boundaries of marine parks and
They act as replenishment zones
for fish conch and crawfish.
6 Protect our wetlands,
they act as
nurseries for commercially important
7 Protect coral
reefs which are more
productive than agricultural farms acre
8 Support the
Dept of Marine Resources and
non governmental conservation agencies.
coastal threat. Sad to say, The Bahamas
has not done a great job of minimizing habitat destruction.
projects” that were once pushed by one of the previous Governments are a great
Unsustainable Development. We know that jobs are needed and many of them
however the sheer size of these projects would have inundated some of the
islands they were planned for and would have changed their quaint “island”
flavour forever not to mention that many of them would have become gated
communities where the expatriates would have outnumbered the indigenous
Just take a look
at once was the healthy, extensive mangrove nurseries of Bimini that charmed
the late Martin Luther King Jr. and you will see a disaster occurring before
your very eyes. Already scientists have
reported a significant reduction in the larval (baby fish, crustaceans,
mollusks etc.) recruitment in and around the islands of Bimini. Their natural habitats, acres and acres of
vibrant mangroves have been bull dozed and dredged to make a playground for
second home owners.
The likelihood of
damage from storms and hurricanes is greatly increased when clear cutting land,
mangrove, wetland areas contributes to coastal degradation. In 2000 it was announced that North Bimini
would be the first MPA or Marine Protected Area for the country. In 2008 the MPA was officially announced
however, to date it is still not finalized.
Biminites do not know the boundaries or the rules that would be in force
re the MPA and enforcement is lacking.
The developer is stripping away the mangroves at an incredible rate
while Government is failing on the oversight of the project that they promised.
On Grand Bahama,
everyone remembers the huge production of the Pirates of the Caribbean II and
III movies in 2005/2006. Here,
unfortunately we have an example of how not to do a project involving habitat
destruction. A “tank” was created to
accommodate the filming. A square was
cut out of the coastline, dredged to 25-30 feet deep, to install a gable system
that would enable the film crew to rock the large pirate ship from side to side
for a particular scene in the film.
were not able to complete the work within the deadline so Disney brought in two
dredging companies to complete the tank.
The problem is an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) was not done
before the work was started. After the
work started and residents near by complained a cursory EIA report was done but
as far as I know it was not posted on the BEST Commission website for public
review. By then the damage was being
done and continued.
7 years later the
Bahamian and second home owners are suffering.
The beach is strewn with rocks so much so that they have to wear shoes to
go swimming. Soft corals and hard corals
dead from the siltation; covered
in an inch of silt. I snorkeled the reef
east of the tank where the residents live in 2010 and witness the dead corals
myself. The remnants of the tank are
disintegrating. The ocean is reclaiming
the fill that was put on the land because the tank was never bulkheaded
Also on Grand
Bahama moving west, Martin Marietta Bahama Rock has been harvesting our land
literally. Enlargement of the harbour is
completed and their plan is to advance their operation to cross the Warren J.
Levarity Highway into the community of Eight Mile Rock. Residents there and in Queen’s Cove
years of the damage
to their homes and to the wetlands to no avail.
Recently Government commissioned a report that has come to the
conclusion that MMBR is responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars of
damage to homeowners in the affected areas.
This report has not been released for public review as yet.
In Abaco the
court case regarding the Wilson City power plant is another example of what not
to do. BEC is being accused of blue hole
destruction and not engaging in proper public consultation with stakeholders as
well as starting a project without the government issued permits in place. Abaconians have let Government and BEC know
that they want their energy as sustainable as possible and that they want to be
consulted before huge projects like Wilson City Power Plant or Baker’s Bay
Development on Guana Cay are begun.
Which is a
subject close to my heart. EARTHCARE has
been participating in and supporting International Coastal Cleanup Day for the
past 24 years. Marine Debris is trash
that gets into the marine environment due to careless handling or disposal. Buoyancy, and ability to be blown around
affect how easily trash becomes marine debris.
The time it takes to degrade dictates how long it will remain in the
includes all the objects found in the marine environment that do not naturally
occur there such as plastic, glass, rubber, metal, paper, wood and cloth.
ingestion are problems caused by marine debris.
Marine Mammals, turtles, birds, fish and crustaceans all have been
entangled in or have eaten marine debris.
Most of the species most vulnerable to the problems associated with
marine debris are endangered or threatened species.
marine mammals die each year from entanglement or ingestion of marine debris. All of the 5 species of sea turtles found in
the Caribbean are endangered and all have been found entangled in different
types of marine debris like fishing line, rope and nets.
million seabirds are thought to die from entanglement or ingestion of marine
debris annually. All seabirds are now
considered endangered due to mainly longline fishing killing many out at sea.
An aluminum can
takes 200 to 500 years to decompose in the ocean.
Here are some
Boater tips for keeping our coasts clean:
loose items, plastic bags and cans so that they do not blow overboard.
trash bags and never throw your garbage overboard.
you take out, bring back!
recycling facilities are available use them.
your marina to provide recycling bins and trash bins.
discard fishing line overboard.
taking plastic products on board, such as six pack rings and bags that are
harmful to marine animals, can damage boat props, clog intake valves and litter
In 2007 the Grand
Bahama Coastal Awareness Committee under the leadership of Fred Riger targeted
the removal of an invasive species, Casuarina, Australian Pine. Many volunteers worked tirelessly that year
from April through December to remove Casuarinas from our Lucayan National
Park. Native vegetation was planted in
place of the Casuarina.
are all over Grand Bahama. Many are
doing so well that we have grown to think they are native but they are out
competing the indigenous plants and animals, e.g. raccoons, Brazilian pepper or
Florida holly, rats to name a few.
plants tend to overgrow native plants species and are less effective in
maintaining the dune ecosystem such as the Hawaiian Scaevola.
A relatively new
invasive species is the venomous lionfish from the Indopacific. All of the fins
contain venom which causes severe pain swelling and numbness and occasionally
respiratory distress, muscle weakness or temporary paralysis. Lionfish are carnivores who compete with our
commercially important fish for food. Analysis of gut contents revealed juvenile
Nassau Grouper so they pose a direct threat to our grouper and other finfish
stocks as well as crustaceans and mollusks.
With few if any predators lionfish populations have increased. Breeding females have been caught in our
waters each bearing up to 20,000 eggs per spawn. They have been found to spawn every four
rates and lack of predators allow the lionfish to outcompete native marine
species. We must encourage a commercial
fishery of lionfish in order to help keep their populations in check. At the recent AgriExpo my Uncle, David Rose
and his daughter, Sam were demonstrating how to prepare and cook lionfish. Their samples went quickly and were very well
Ballast water that
comes in ships from other countries/regions poses a danger in that the
creatures that are non-native can stay alive in the ballast water. Most ships once they reach a destination
release their ballast water. This can
pose a chance for introducing invasive species into our waters. We should look for ways to remove potentially
damaging living creatures from the ballast water before ships are allowed to
release it into Bahamian waters. My
Uncle, David Rose, has done commercial diving in and around the harbour and has
come across a borring mussel native to the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea
living in the harbour in Freeport. There
are probably more invasive species there that have not been detected yet.
You can help by
should avoid non-native species
and take care to prevent their release
2 Take measures
to prevent the release of
pets into the wild as they may become a
threat to our native species.
3 Purchase native
plants such as cocoplum
and sea grapes for use in landscaping.
4 Remove invasive
species from your property.
If I have left
you with nothing else please keep in mind
little thing that you do has an impact.
The impact will be felt by our children and their children. What sort of world do we want to leave to our
kin? Let’s join together and see that
our kids have a bright future with sustainable resources that they can hand
down to their children and their children’s children.
Thank you for
inviting me and your valuable time.