Bahamas Takes Part in Historic Marine Protected Area Conference
By Media Enterprises
Mar 16, 2016 - 1:37:45 PM

Pictured at the Rome conference (from left) are: Eric Carey, BNT executive director; Angelique xxx, Bahamas UN Mission; Dr Ellen Pikitch, lead scientists for Ocean Sanctuary Alliance; and Craig Powell, Bahamas UN Mission.

Bahamas National Trust Executive Director Eric Carey recently returned from an important conference in Rome that addressed a “severe and accelerating crisis" which threatens human well-being.

Organised by the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance from March 7-9, the conference brought top marine scientists together with diplomats and policy makers from 50 countries,particularly those from small island developing states, to discuss concrete policy actions.

“Participants reviewed best practices for siting, developing, implementing, governing and enforcing a global network of marine protected areas, and considered how they can be made financially as well as ecologically self-sustaining,” Mr Carey said.

The Ocean Sanctuary Alliance is a partnership of UN member states and interdisciplinary scientists who seek to restore and sustain the world's ocean by securing national commitments for science-based marine sanctuaries.

According to the Alliance, "The condition of the ocean worldwide is in decline, and its future at risk. This is a global problem and it will require a global solution to bring the ocean back from the brink of irreversible decline.”

One of the main goals of the Alliance is to have countries protect at least 10 per cent of their marine environment by the year 2020. The short-term objective is to oversee a rigorous, multi-year programme to effectively implement these marine sanctuaries.

In addition to Mr Carey, The Bahamas was represented at the conference by Craig Powell and Angelique Hillebrandt from the Bahamian UN Mission. The meeting was funded by the Italian government.

Scientists have been warning for years that due to industrial fishing large areas of sea bed now resemble a desert and fish stocks are collapsing worldwide, threatening the food security of many nations. The world’s catch is going down by 2 per cent a year, which means we could run out of fish in a few decades.

Experts say the policy of subsidising fishing fleets to catch ever-diminishing stocks is unsustainable. The only way to restore fish stocks is by introducing protected reserves where all fishing if banned. And in other areas, rigid quotas must be enforced and poaching prevented.

During the three-day meeting, marine scientists and diplomats discussed strategies for better management of the world’s oceans. The lead Alliance scientist is Dr Ellen Pikitich, from the Institute For Ocean Conservation Science at New York’s Stony Brook University.

Dr Pikitch urged participants to spur action on development of a global network of marine reserves. This overall goal was underpinned by a scientific document highlighting the key paths to achieve effective implementation - governance, science and sustainable finance.

“Participants were impressed with our record in marine conservation,” Mr Carey said,“and The Bahamas was used as a case study during the conference. We were fortunate to have set up the world’s first land and sea park in Exuma in 1959, and this became the first no-take marine reserve in the wider Caribbean in 1986. This has improved fish stocks outside of the park."

The Rome conference also heard about The Bahamas' responsible management of its territorial waters, including the prohibition of long-line fishing and other destructive fishery practices in the 1990s. Sharks and turtles are also specifically protected from commercial exploitation in Bahamian waters.

More recently, the government designated 15 marine protected areas around the country,meaning that The Bahamas already protects more than 10 per cent of its nearshore marine environment on paper.

But Mr Carey noted there was more work to do: "The positive actions of multiple government administrations have achieved much. Now we have to combine the science with the experience of stakeholders to ensure that our marine protected areas are effectively managed for the benefit of future generations."

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