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Environmentalists want more aggressive policy

Throne Speech gaps: Jonathan Starling believes more should be done on climate change (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Environmentalists have highlighted a string of issues missing from the Government’s Throne Speech that could offer greater help to Bermuda’s marine life.

Jonathan Starling and Thaddeus Murdoch claimed there was room for more to address the challenges facing the island’s coastal waters.

They welcomed a move to address the scourge of single-use plastics but suggested this was an “easy” option or that the time frame for eradication could be shorter.

John Rankin, the Governor, delivered the speech on behalf of the Government last Friday and said: “In the era of the manifested impact of climate change, Bermuda must consistently act to preserve its oceans.

“To this end, single-use plastics will be eliminated by 2022 and the intervening years will be spent educating the community about recycling and reusable items and encouraging greater sensitivity to the ocean and its importance to our lives.”

He said a charge on single-use plastics would be in place within the next two years.

Dr Murdoch, a marine scientist, said: “Single-use plastics is a big Facebook environmental plan, it’s a popular Facebook thing so I’m sure that’s where they figured they would get a lot of credit.

“It’s easy to say they’re going to do it because it’s a low-hanging fruit. It’s easy to enact without really changing much in government.”

Dr Murdoch, who has been studying coral reefs for 25 years, added: “The bulk-waste dump at the airport would be a better thing to tackle if they were worried about the marine environment.

“We’ve been dumping all our cars, all the large metal objects that we imported to Bermuda all end up in the ocean.”

He believed government priorities were “finding more money and finding more jobs” and claimed: “When the economy was booming they said money and jobs were important to grab and we shouldn’t let the environment impede our growth ... but now they’re saying the same thing.”

Mr Starling said in terms of sustainability, the Throne Speech contained some “interesting” points.

He added: “Of course, one always wants more, however what is there is a good start and worth celebrating.”

Mr Starling said: “This year has seen a global push to address the challenge of single-use plastics and the environmental organisations in Bermuda have been advocating on this issue for several years now.

“Indeed, both political parties included addressing this in their 2017 election platforms, so I’m happy to see this being addressed now.

“The timeline proposed could be shorter, however it’s a welcome first step.”

He continued: “What is disappointing is that the Throne Speech doesn’t really address climate change.”

Mr Starling added: “It’s certainly implied, especially around energy matters, however this needs to be a national focus and it touches every ministry’s responsibilities.

“A focus in particular will be in climate-proofing our national infrastructure.”

He also believed attention could have been paid to marine spatial planning — a tool that allows interested parties to share information and address challenges for the ocean — as well as sea-life sustainability.

Mr Starling, whose background includes studies in biology and ecological economics, said: “Aquaculture, with a focus on shellfish rather than fish, could provide local jobs and improve our food security, however without marine spatial planning the development of this industry is hampered, and similarly as regards marine based renewable energy.

“Beyond that, we know that our marine ecology is under threat, especially around reef predators. In particular our grouper populations appear to be at problematic levels and need addressed.”