Environmentalist says bigger marine reserve is the ‘only option’
A larger marine reserve would better benefit Bermuda, according to Chris Flook of the Pew Environmental Group.
While the Government is asking the public to consider several possible marine reserve proposals for Bermuda Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), Mr Flook said only the largest of the proposals would have a real impact on the Island.
The Bermuda Blue Halo project, announced last January, proposes turning a large portion of Bermuda's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) into a marine reserve.
Supporters of the plan, including oceanographer Sylvia Earle and conservationist Phillipe Cousteau, have said that in addition to protecting the marine environment the Blue Halo could help improve tourism and the local economy.
Last September, Government approved turning Bermuda's EEZ into a 170,000 square mile marine mammal sanctuary, protecting animals including the endangered humpback whale.
“If we're doing this, we're doing it for the marine environment, for the branding and to increase interest in Bermuda,” Mr Flook said. “If we're doing that, I think bigger is better.
“The biggest option starts 85 miles out, but I think the best option is the write in box, which I'm going to fill in and say we should have a marine reserve from 50 miles off shore to 200 miles.
“Fifty miles is twice as far as the distance to Argus. The area inside actually works out to be around the same size as Belgium. We can always make it smaller as time goes on, but we will never have the opportunity to make this kind of marine reserve again.”
While he said the largest of the three proposed reserves is a fair option, he didn't believe the smaller options should be seriously considered as their benefits would be significantly lower.
“They shouldn't even be on the radar,” he said. “They shouldn't even be an option. Either we do it or we don't. If we do it, let's do it. The world is watching.”
A consultation document released last week showed three potential reserve options, the largest of which would protect three quarters of the EEZ — 346,340 square kilometres. Respondents can also suggest their own possible layout for the reserve or say they do not want any marine reserve established.
Mr Flook said yesterday that the vast majority of local fishermen operate within around 50 miles of Bermuda, and as a result none of the proposals would hinder current fishing activity.
And while he acknowledged that at least two individuals legally do longline fishing in the waters further away from the Island, he said they could be “grandfathered in” and allowed to continue fishing as they have done depending on how the legislation is handled.
Rather than hurt the local fishing industry, he argued the nature reserve would protect the Island's fish stocks from illegal fishing and improve opportunities for local fishermen.
“I have heard people say it would be difficult to enforce, but with all the marine activity around the Island people do see it happening,” he said. “Right now there's no one calling it in because there's no need to call it in.
“It's like saying you're going to get a handle on speeding, but you've got to set the speed limit first. We have to make this marine reserve because these boats are illegally fishing in our waters, and we won't be able to do anything about it unless we create this reserve.”
Along with having a more significant environmental impact, Mr Flook said it has been demonstrated elsewhere that larger reserves are more cost effective than their smaller counterparts.
Mr Flook also challenged the idea that the reserve would hinder the development of sea bed mining or an international fishing industry, saying: “The facts prove so far that they are not viable options.
“Anything that's going to be caught locally is going to be sold locally. You're not going to export. The export costs are just too prohibitive. It's the same thing with sea bed mining.
“I urge anyone, before they respond to the consultation, look at the facts, look at the websites, look at the information and make an informed decision rather than a knee jerk decision.”
Government is currently seeking input from the public on the creation of a new marine reserve in Bermuda’s waters.
A consultation document released last week suggests three potential formats of the reserve.
Option 1 — A reserve that begins 85 nautical miles from the 2,000m depth contour around Bermuda and the banks and extends to the edge of the EEZ 200 nautical miles away from the Island. The plan would protect three quarters of the EEZ, covering 346,340 square kilometres.
Option 2 — A reserve that begins 140 nautical miles from Gibbs Hill Lighthouse and extends to the edge of the EEZ.
This plan would protect half of the Island’s EEZ, around 254,023 square kilometres.
Option 3 — A reserve that begins 178 nautical miles from Gibbs Hill Lighthouse and extends to the edge of the EEZ. This plan would protect one quarter of the EEZ, around 122,503 square kilometres.
Respondents can also propose a different size and shape for the reserve, or state that they do not want any reserve to be created.
The full consultation document and a two-page summary, both of which include submission forms, are available online at the Sustainable Development Department website at www.sdbermuda.bm.
Submissions can be made to the Department’s office at 31 Reid Street, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All submissions must be received by October 31, 2013.