Ocean CREST Alliance ~ Bahamas Hope Spot within a Hope Spot
April 23, 2014
This week we’d like to introduce our new partners, The Ocean CREST Alliance, located on Long Island in Mission Blue’s Bahamian Reefs Hope Spot. They’ve been working on ocean issues from marine protected areas to education and we’ll let them tell you all about the scope of their grassroots efforts to protect their corner of the blue, as well as to develop methods for protecting their waters that can be mirrored elsewhere. ~ Ed.
Charting a new course for sustainable MPA operations
Our Long Island Marine Managed Area (LIMMA) initiative plays a significant role nationally and internationally in the design and development of sustainable Marine Protected Areas (MPAs.) We collaborate locally with the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to help bring the Bahamas’ goal of 20% protection by 2020 to fruition. Having sailed the world’s oceans and now anchored firmly as part of the Bahamas community, the Ocean Crest Alliance has achieved national and international success beyond our expectations in our first two years.
In today’s world, participatory tools for engaging stakeholders in proposals for locally Managed Marine Areas are designed very differently, depending upon where they are carried out. Ocean CREST Alliance has initiated the development of a proposal for a 215,000 acre Marine Managed Area (MMA) on and around Long Island; one of the “Family Islands” of the Bahamas. This proposal builds on an existing network of marine reserves in the Bahamas, and represents an approach of integrating community based priorities for marine protection and management into a nationally and internationally supported network.
The proposed Long Island Marine Managed Area will represent a range of habitats including blue holes, reefs, wetland complexes and a diverse bank habitat as well as the spawning area for a commercially important species, the Nassau Grouper. The potential designation of the LIMMA would further both Bahamian and international biodiversity conservation goals, increase local population well being and aid in the recovery of depleted fisheries. These continue to be jeopardized by a variety of factors, including exploitation, global climate impacts and pollution (Pomerance et al. 2013.)
Fishermen Map Areas of Concern
In November 2013, three stakeholder meetings, initiated by OCA, the Long Island community and hosted by the Bahamas National Trust, brought together local government officials and commercial fishermen. At each meeting with the fishermen, participants engaged in a mapping exercise. In these exercises, participants were asked to specifically identify areas of concern, areas needing additional protections or management, areas for restoration and areas where existing regulations are considered sufficient.
Key issues identified by stakeholders included:
- Concern over illegal fishing by foreign vessels.
- Better understanding of what is meant by a multi-use area.
- How existing activities would be affected by the designation of the area.
Local fishermen and stakeholders on Long Island display impressive depth of local ecological knowledge concerning the resources of their island and its marine waters – knowledge that is vital to our development plan and long term success!
Locals welcomed the idea of a Marine Protected Area to increase resource protection. When the term “multi-use” was explained as a “new management philosophy” that goes beyond, and is more flexible than strict “no-take” laws, the local fishers better received –even embraced– discussions about localized fishery and marine resource management.
Daniel Cartwright, a commercial fisherman of 23 years says, “The proven success of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is a good example of how conservation efforts work to restore an area. I believe the establishment of a Long Island Marine Management Area would provide similar benefits.”
The participatory mapping exercises along with the discussions during the meetings suggested that a multi-use marine zoning plan including local fisheries management rules could be implemented for the waters surrounding Long Island.
The preliminary boundaries of a multi-use marine management area suggested by Ocean CREST Alliance generally conform to the boundaries that emerged from the stakeholder meetings; although those indicated in the stakeholder meetings were considerably more detailed. After a review of existing data and stakeholder input from the November meetings, we will determine whether, when and how to best manage the protection of Long Island.
Next steps that were discussed during the stakeholder meetings were:
- Assigning a BNT representative to Long Island.
- A Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA).
- A stakeholder survey.
- Continued formal broad-based community meetings to present REA findings and receive stakeholder input.
These early indications from the Long Island MMA stakeholder engagement meetings clearly demonstrate the importance of educating stakeholders, in particular around the use of MPA and it’s management terms, including the existing regulatory framework and ecological resources of the area. The other key element is finding and keeping a method to actively engage stakeholders in the development of conservation objectives and priorities. As a next top priority step; OCA and it’s partners will conduct a Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) of the proposed area.
Proposed Network of OCA Research and Educational Facilities
The most important component of OCA’s concept of sustainable MPA operations is to design, build and operate a well equipped research and education facility. Each facility will directly support their own respective MPA. The crowning jewel of our LIMMA initiative revolves around the opening and operations of the Ocean CREST Alliance Research & Education Facilities on Long Island, Bahamas, operating as part of the national global network of MPAs.
OCA’s vision of a new MPA facility network will work towards setting new standards for already established MPAs and to help define the guidelines for those still in the planning stages. Its primary directives will be to facilitate the various programs related to Conservation, Research, Education, Science & Technology. We like to call these programs “CREST” activities. These CREST activities will be funded through our E-Share designed program, supported by the users of the MPA area. Users will include national and territorial governments, local governments, the local community, NGOs and other community-based organizations, private sector companies, bilateral and multilateral agencies, the academic and research sector and a multitude of media related productions of the various CREST activities.
OCA is committed in the development of greater national stewardship in The Bahamas. We recognize that success is only possible with the sincere commitment and effort of a collaboration by the public, private and government sector stakeholders.
“Dedicated and sustainable funding is perhaps the most critical part of the MPA operations” says Eleanor Phillips of The Nature Conservancy, which has been involved in the Long Island project. Eric Carey of the Bahamas National Trust agrees and states; “Without adequate long-term funding, the (Long Island) MPA created will just be a Paper MPA.”
In assisting to establish this MPA network OCA is to develop two waterfront properties on Long Island, Bahamas. One in North Long Island and one in South Long Island. These facilities will become essential for funding efforts to establish CREST programs on Long Island, within the proposed LIMMA and down into the Southern Bahamas. Through the facility operations, OCA will become a leader in support of several strategic subject areas.
Initial programs to include:
- Management, operations and benefits of marine protected areas (MPAs).
- Conservation of important species, such as corals, conchs, groupers, mangroves, sea grasses, and bonefish.
- Develop a unique “economic fishery” program to address our lionfish issues.
- A nationwide focus on enforcement for Bahamas waters and fisheries utilizing technology as our partner.
OCA’s long term commitment is to be a leader, as part of a global network of MPA Environmental Facilities. We propose that the primary purpose of each facility and the network will be to conduct CREST programs to support a strategy that addresses critical threats and strategic research needs for the resources of the MPA. Through the OCA Facilities and the Long Island community, we are ready to contribute time, knowledge and experience, providing the necessary logistics, lodging, boating, diving and equipment. And furthermore utilizing OCA’s active role not only in local operations but also for securing financial solutions to sustainable MPA operations.
Ocean Literacy & Education
Within the facility framework, OCA will create an education program where as, each primary school student has the opportunity to participate in field course programs which will engage them to become educated stewards of their nation’s coastal and marine resources. These education programs will be designed and operated by qualified teachers and instructors.
OCA will establish an Education Fund to support CREST activities and to provide scholarships for local community students. The fund will help support participating field facilities supporting the operations of the activities by covering expenses for the training and education programs.
We would like to emphasize that in addition to OCA, the Bahamas National Trust, The Nature Conservancy, BREEF, Island School and many local organizations all have existing education programs for students in environmental stewardship and ocean exploration. We will look to be strategic partners in these programs and to follow their successes as models for our own.
Friends and Partners
The growth and success of Ocean CREST has developed through our vision and commitment, the dedication of our Board of Directors and through the many friendships and partnerships we have established. Along our journey “most honored” are these many relationships we build together. We wish to thank each for their support in assisting and guiding us with our growth.
Special thanks must go out to the Local Long Island fishing and business community. The knowledge gained and wisdom shared by the community is a necessary and valuable asset to the LIMMA. They clearly demonstrate their support and a desire to continue to assist OCA and our partners with our conservation efforts; and with the ultimate design, development and declaring of the proposed Long Island Marine Management Area.
Ocean Crest Alliance is extremely proud to have been part of creating a significant MPA initiative in our first two years. Sharing new ideas, building good relationships and taking action – positive movement towards success! We realize we still have a long way to navigate ahead of us and look forward to these challenges as part of the journey. We will continue to focus on projects related to Ocean Conservation, Research, Education, Science, and Technology, developing programs that Honor, Protect and Restore the Health of the World’s Oceans and the Life of Earth’s Systems. By communicating and sharing the knowledge gained, we hope that global communities and natural systems will benefit.
Bahamas “The Beacon of the World”
Speaking at the opening of the second Bahamas Natural History Conference in March 2014, Dr. Sylvia Earle stated “the Bahamas is not an island nation but is an Ocean Nation!”
“The Bahamas can be the leader in showing the way to save the oceans, and by extension, our way of life. You can do this, you can be the beacon for the world.” – said Dr. Earle.
Thank you Dr. Earle and Mission Blue for providing us such great inspiration and support in our efforts. As a Mission Blue partner, OCA is working tirelessly on the proposed LIMMA to support your TED wish of establishing “A Global Network of Marine Protected Areas, Hope Spots – Large Enough to Save and Restore the Ocean, The Blue Heart of the Planet!” — Dr. Sylvia Earle.
Ocean CREST Alliance is a US Registered 501c3 non-profit charitable organization. Donations directly support our projects and programs. Ocean CREST Alliance—With Honor and Gratitude—Joseph Ierna Jr./Founder
Feature photo: Children’s Snorkeling Programs get kids in the water and educate and inspire them about the marine environment. Photo Credit: BREEF