‘We’ve missed marine reserve opportunity’

  • Highly critical: Chris Flook says Government’s decision not to pursue the creation of a marine reserve is a mistake

    Highly critical: Chris Flook says Government’s decision not to pursue the creation of a marine reserve is a mistake

The creation of the world’s largest marine reserve in the Pitcairn Islands represents a missed opportunity for Bermuda to blaze the trail in ocean conservation.

This is the view of Chris Flook who, in his former role as a consultant for the Pew Foundation, worked with Government to create such a reserve in Bermuda in 2013.

The reserve in Pitcairn designated by the UK Government this month has been praised by the Pew Charitable Trusts as well as the National Geographic Society, who joined with local elected body the Pitcairn Island Council in submitting a proposal calling for the reserve.

The protected area of ocean spans 834,334-square-kilometre — three-and-a-half times the size of the UK — and is home to 1,249 species of marine mammals, seabirds and fish.

A public consultation in Bermuda concluded in October 2013 suggested that 70 per cent of participants were in favour of creating a marine reserve in the Island’s waters, which would make an area of ocean around the Island a “no-take” zone banning fishing and other commercial activities.

The reserve would, it was claimed, have little or no impact on local fishing practices as the reserve would begin 50 miles off shore and most local activity lies within that.

An economic study was also conducted and, in June of last year, tourism economist Dr Tom Iverson estimated that such a reserve could result in a 2 to 3 per cent increase in tourism — a 2 per cent increase would mean an extra 14,000 visitors and $20,000,000 to the local economy.

Despite the public support evident from the consultation, along with the economic study, Premier Michael Dunkley issued a “request-for-quote to determine the cost of an independent feasibility study which will assess, forecast and quantify the potential economic activity within Bermuda’s EEZ”.

He said: “This step would ensure a more rigorous evaluation of the identified options and should provide the Government and people of Bermuda with a reliable economic profile to inform future decision-making.”

But earlier this month the Premier announced in the House of Assembly that it would not be possible to go ahead with the study as planned due to “our budget restraints and our need to prioritise what are our urgent needs as opposed to what is desirable.”

He said that Government would be reviewing the possibility of funding the study over the fiscal years of 2016 to 2017 and 2017 to 2018.

Mr Flook said that had the Government gone ahead with the marine reserve following the initial consultation and economic study, Bermuda would have been able to have created the world’s largest marine well ahead of Pitcairn.

Mr Flook told The Royal Gazette: “The majority of the public saw the overall benefits of making a marine reserve.

“It’s an easy way to kick a decision down the road to say we need yet another economics case.

“I think Bermuda is missing an opportunity right now to be the leaders in what we are known for as far as marine conservation and good ocean stewardship.

“The Premier said they needed to do a part two on the economics and then nothing happened and now they are saying there is no funding to make that study happen. Surely you could get a local NGO or a foreign NGO — there are a lot of people interested in helping this move forward. I am sure the cost of doing the economics case wouldn’t be much.

“We can still lead the way and become the biggest marine reserve in the Atlantic but we have to get moving.” A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: “The Cabinet Office dismisses Mr Flook’s assertion of a ‘missed opportunity’.

“He and the public are reminded that Bermuda has a long history of protecting its marine environment.”

Bermuda’s plans for a marine reserve was lined up to receive support from the Pew Charitable Trusts as well as the Satellite Application Catapult, which would have monitored our waters for illegal activity for two years free of charge.

Mr Flook added: “In Bermuda’s economic times I can understand why Government might have shied away from making a decision but at the same time, while we have got the support and help that we asked for, and we have some of the best in the world with interest in Bermuda — what are we going to do?

“Keep telling them we are scared of moving forward and we started the conversation with them?

“I guess they are still approachable but Bermuda has to actually do something and show some commitment to move forward.”

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Published Mar 26, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated Mar 26, 2015 at 8:24 am)

‘We’ve missed marine reserve opportunity’

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