Bermuda can lead the way
The Bermuda Blue Halo initiative has the potential to put Bermuda at the forefront of conservation, according to celebrated oceanographer Sylvia Earle.
She said the project, which aims to turn a vast section of Bermudas 200 mile exclusive economic zone into a marine reserve, would do more for the Island than simply protect fish.
It would be a boom for the economy, Dr Earle said. Bermuda would be the only place in the whole world with this protective zone that protects not just the fish and the reefs, but the health of the entire ocean.
Bermuda is poised to be the leader to inspire other nations, especially islands, but all nations about protecting the blue part of their countries.
Now an explorer-in-residence for National Geographic, Dr Earle served as chief scientist for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from 1990 to 1992. She has also authored more than 125 publications and was in 1998 named by Time Magazine as a Hero for the Planet.
She took part in an educational event for middle and high School students at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute this week, and led a lecture on the importance of the Sargasso Sea and the efforts to protect it.
If put in place, the Blue Halo would become a haven for marine life, giving fish populations an opportunity to recover from decades of heavy fishing, she said.
Because so few areas in the ocean are safe for fish and other wildlife, having this haven around the Island that would go from about 50 miles out to the edge of the economic zone, would create the greatest marine safe haven for fish in the Atlantic Ocean. The facts speak for themselves. Ninety percent of the sharks, the tunas, the swordfish, the groupers most of the big fish have been really over exploited to the point where a small fraction still exist.
The ocean is the last place where we are taking wildlife on an industrial scale. Its no wonder weve lost 90 percent of many of the things that were around in full when I was a child.
This would give them a chance to recover, and give the ocean the chance to enjoy the benefits of a full suite of creatures present.
She said establishing the reserve would also help support the Islands tourism industry by bringing media attention to the Island and making Bermuda more attractive to visitors.
People want to see healthy reefs and healthy fish, Dr Earle said. They dont want to see degraded reefs and no fish. Im one of those who would pay big bucks to come here to enjoy the pleasure of seeing fish. I dont care about them swimming in lemon juice and butter, I want to see them swimming in the ocean.
Its big money, and you can translate that into the economy.
While the act of enforcing the protection of the reserve appears to be a difficult task due to its vast size, Jay Nelson believes policing the reserve would only get easier in time.
In the short term, I think its a challenge, but in the long term I think its solvable, said Mr Nelson, director of the Pew Environmental Groups Global Ocean Legacy Project which includes the Blue Halo initiative.
One of the things we have done here is we have opened up discussions with the Coast Guard. The US Coast does come to Bermuda and does various overflights, and they have an interest in working with Bermuda.
We are also looking at different satellite mechanisms. Fishing companies actually buy information that will show them, based on various information, where the fish will be. They buy them on a daily basis. You can buy those kinds of things, find out where boats might be fishing. There are a lot of things you can put together, and we are putting a lot of time into it.
Dr Earle added: Theres also peer pressure. When you see someone out there whos not supposed to be there, taking whats yours legally, you are going to say something about it.
Mr Nelson said that he hopes the initiative will move foreword within the next year but its the Government that decides when the project is given the green light.
I think our job right now is to educate the public, he said. After that, Government needs to do some sort of consultation, to make sure the public support the idea. We hope that will be complete in the next year. Perhaps much less.
Then its up to Government to see if the want to implement protection.
And while the creation of the Bermuda Blue Halo would be a major step, it would not be the last.
Richard Rockefeller of the Sargasso Sea Alliance said they hope to bring representatives of 30 different countries to Bermuda next summer to protect an even larger area of the Atlantic.
The Sargasso Sea Alliance will bring other nations together, here in Bermuda, a year from now to finalise and sign a declaration to protect about a million square miles, possible more of the larger high seas portion of the Atlantic, beyond national jurisdictions, Dr Rockefeller said.
We need each other, the Blue Halo effort and the Sargasso Sea Alliance. A protection effort of this scale has never been undertaken to my knowledge, and it will set examples.
If we can get a stake in the ground or a flag on the water here and really do this, I think our timescale is about a year. It sets precedents of a moral kind and of a legal kind as we move forward.
He said he was excited to be involved in the project, calling it a chance in a lifetime.
By beginning with a small nation like Bermuda, it has the capacity for a variety of reasons to draw in other nations, Dr Rockefeller said. It not only has the capacity to protect Bermudas exclusive economic zone, but it can set an example for other nations around the world.
It highlights Bermuda. You will get earned media free for this. Its up to Bermudians how to use that to the benefit of the people and the economy, but it has the opportunity to make Bermuda much more visible than it otherwise might be.
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