August 7, 2013

By Courtney Mattison

With Shark Week in full swing and beach vacation season beginning to wind down in the U.S., it’s time for an update on one of our favorite shark-loving tropical Hope Spots – the Bahamian reefs. Many NGOs, governments and other stakeholders are doing exciting work there and throughout the Caribbean Community that is good for the ocean and good for us.

With over 3,000 low-lying islands covering 1,400 square kilometers off the southeastern tip of Florida, the Bahamas are home to a wealth of marine life and host millions of visitors each year. More visitors mean more people hungry for seafood and eager to explore the reefs. It’s great that tourists want to get wet and explore the ocean both for their own enjoyment and to support the regional economy (tourism accounts for 60% of the Bahamian GDP), but as with any good thing, responsibility and moderation are key.

Sylvia Earle identifies the Bahamian Reefs as a Hope Spot. © Kip Evans

Sylvia Earle identifies the Bahamian Reefs as a Hope Spot. © Kip Evans

Luckily, thanks in large part to the hard work of the Bahamian Government, its partners and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) through the Caribbean Challenge Initiative (CCI), marine protected areas have been popping up all over the Bahamas to maintain healthy biodiversity, provide a carbon sink, generate life-giving oxygen, preserve critical habitat and allow low-impact activities like ecotourism to thrive. As the “largest coordinated, multinational conservation initiative in the region” founded in 2008, the Caribbean Challenge Initiative aims to protect 20% of the Caribbean’s ocean-based resources by 2020.

In May, TNC organized the inaugural Caribbean Summit of Political and Business Leaders on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands to bring together heads of state and corporate executives including Virgin Group Founder and Ocean Elder Sir Richard Branson and a delegation from the Bahamas led by its Minister of the Environment and Housing, Hon. Kenred Dorsett. Accompanying Minister Dorsett were Phillip Weech, Director of the Bahamas Environment Science & Technology Commission and Eric Carey, Executive Director of the Bahamas National Trust.

Although the Bahamas is not geographically located in the Caribbean, it is a member of the Caribbean Community.

Although the Bahamas is not geographically located in the Caribbean Sea to the south, it is a member of the Caribbean Community.

In all, the Summit brought together 15 Caribbean governments and 17 corporations that successfully committed to actions and large-scale funding to protect the Caribbean’s natural environment and speed up our transition into renewable energy while supporting the Caribbean region’s tourism-based economy.

“The Summit of Caribbean Political and Business Leaders will be forever etched in the history books of Caribbean conservation as a transformational event that celebrated partnerships and paved the way for sustaining and improving livelihoods for millions of citizens and visitors to this region.”     – Eleanor Phillips, TNC

Commitments by various leaders at the Summit included approximately $64 million to bolster ocean and coastal conservation efforts in addition to three key actions:

  • The urgent need to create protection for sharks and rays across the whole Caribbean region with the aim of creating a region-wide sanctuary within two years.
  • Establishing a clear regulatory framework that delivers a systemic and regional approach to conservation of the marine and coastal environment, including increasing considerably the number of marine protected areas.
  • A dramatic acceleration in the transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources over the next five years. This will be supported by the sharing of best practices, scaling of new technologies, and streamlining of regulatory processes applicable to renewable energy.
Caribbean reef sharks © Kip Evans

Caribbean reef sharks © Kip Evans

The Nature Conservancy has been working with the Bahamian Government and a variety of partners there for over a decade. During the Summit, TNC committed $8 million for the Caribbean Biodiversity Fund while the Bahamas’ delegation highlighted the establishment of six new marine protected areas and declared a national conservation trust fund that would allow the Government to support and expand its network of marine protected areas and national parks. The trust fund – called the Bahamas Protected Area Fund – is a model piece of legislation that incorporates comprehensive stakeholder input. When announcing it, Minister Dorsett noted that “The Bahamas is proud to be one of the first Caribbean Challenge participating countries to advance its protected area fund.” We can’t wait to see what comes next!

Featured Image (top): Eleanor Phillips – Director of TNC’s Bahamas program who also spoke at the Caribbean Summit – on a Mission Blue expedition to the Bahamas in 2012. © Kip Evans

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