November 19, 2014

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By Joseph Ierna Jr., Ocean CREST Alliance

We have badly managed our ocean for decades through overfishing, pollution, climate change and development. We have all been part of the ongoing decline of our ocean in some manner, and we can all be the solution to its repair.

On Long Island in the Bahamas, the “Long Islanders” are trying to restore a once-rich ecosystem while sustaining their economy and their direct ties to the sea. This delicate balance is not easy to maintain, but it is necessary to return our ocean to its former glory. In an ongoing process to establish a large marine protected area (MPA), the small 4,000-person community of Long Island Bahamas is making good progress in establishing protection for 215,000 acres of coastal waters. This region – the Long Island Marine Management Area (LIMMA) – is a multipurpose MPA that is being developed through participatory mapping discussions including local government officials, commercial fishermen, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and university researchers, and is facilitated by the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) in collaboration with Ocean CREST Alliance (OCA) – an NGO based on Long Island.

Participatory Mapping exercise with local fisherman, Ocean CREST Alliance, Bahamas National Trust and University of Florida Conservation Clinic. Photo courtesy OCA.

The creation process of this MPA currently involves meetings and discussions with the community to fully develop an ambitious marine management plan. Local fishermen, their families and the island’s economy – which relies heavily on fishing and other marine resources – are stressed by the overexploited and unhealthy ocean environment. All of the stakeholders wish to be involved in making the best decisions for their future.

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Long Island crawfisherman Angelo Constantakis preparing for the day’s dive. Photo courtesy OCA.

Long Islanders drew all of the MPA boundaries themselves. The proposed MPA protects 215,000 acres of coral reef, deep water, sand bars, wetlands, blue holes and sand banks. The proposal process, which is going on 2 years now, is moving ahead nicely thanks to the dedication and hard work of everyone involved. It is also providing a good working template not only for Long Island’s MPA development but also for other islands in the Bahamas and MPAs worldwide. Small island communities rely on healthy marine habitats for economic stability and good quality of life. The people of the islands must take responsibility to protect their ocean.

The OCA Long Island MPA story is not only one of local success. This story is part of a journal presented at the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 in Sydney, Australia, which concluded today. The journal – assembled and written at the request of the International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC) special projects committee – explores, compares and presents conclusions and challenges of:

  • Five case studies from around the world illustrating key lessons in integrating top-down and bottom-up approaches to stakeholder and community engagement in the planning and implementation of marine protected areas
  • How community resistance to MPA proposals from centralized agencies can be addressed through effective participatory processes with consistent engagement over time, transparency, and the incorporation of benefits for communities
  • How indigenous communities in particular are becoming key actors of some conservation initiatives (e.g. MPAs) and recognition of their inherent rights, traditional knowledge and deep connections to the marine environment can become the foundations for collaborative management of MPAs.
  • How true participation requires empowerment for engagement, and this in turn requires education and capacity building for local people to get involved in the process of planning, implementing, and managing MPAs.
  • How bottom-up and top-down approaches should consider the scale of the MPA, the geographic scenario (e.g. coastal vs. remote), the level of human influence, the conservation objectives (e.g. species, habitats, ecosystems), the political context, and cultural conditions such as the presence of indigenous communities.
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    Another day of diving the Great Bahamas Bank ends. Photo courtesy OCA.

 

Ocean CREST Alliance does not just visit Long Island for research, science and education programs; OCA staff live here. This is our home – our families and our friends. Through direct daily interaction, we at OCA have learned that fully engaging and inspiring the community from the start of the MPA process and throughout the life of the MPA are vital steps in producing good outcomes for everyone involved – including the ocean!

 

For more about Ocean CREST Alliance, the proposed 215,000-acre Long Island Marine Management Area (LIMMA) and how your generous donations may help our MPA efforts, please visit: http://www.oceancrestalliance.org/BahamasMPA

Featured image (top): Long Island crawfisherman Enrico Burrows showing UF research team areas located within the proposed LIMMA. Photo courtesy OCA.

 

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