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Marine sanctuary planned for island

Bill Curry, chief executive for the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs and Deputy Premier, and Ted Waitt, founder and chairman of the Waitt Institute (Photograph by Sarah Lagan)

A marine protected area in Bermuda’s waters looks to become a reality after the Government signed an agreement to bolster ocean industry and conservation.

The Ministry of Home Affairs signed the Memorandum of Understanding with the Washington based Waitt Institute and the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences to introduce the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme.

The initiative could see at least 20 per cent of Bermuda’s Exclusive Economic Zone, 90,000 square kilometres out of 465,000 square kilometres of ocean, transformed into an MPA while creating a plan to improve ocean industries such as tourism and responsible fishing.

Marine protected areas are designed to limit or prohibit human activity including fishing and mining within their boundaries.

Walter Roban, Minister of Home Affairs and Deputy Premier, said at a press conference in the Cabinet Office today: “This plan, which will be scientifically informed, will foster economic growth by developing an integrated approach to building sustainable ocean industries such as wind and wave renewable energy solutions, and will implement sustainable fisheries policies and programmes that create positive incentives to encourage responsible fishing.

“Over the next 30 months, stakeholders and the public can expect to be fully involved in the consultation process. This project will no doubt leave a lasting legacy of sustainability and economic growth in Bermuda for generations to come.”

The MOU, signed on World Environment Day, also aim to preserve migratory routes for marine mammals and deep-sea ecosystems like seamounts and corals while tackling challenges such as plastic pollution and issues associated with climate change. It is hoped the plan will be implemented by 2021.

Ted Waitt, founder and chairman of the Waitt Institute, said: “We have been helping countries do this for about five years and we have found a few keys to success.

“The first is to have a committed, capable government leadership and I think that we have that with Minister Roban and the Government of Bermuda. We are here to help provide the tools, provide expertise from our great coalition of partners around the world.

“Second is you have to make it inclusive and include all citizens in discussions.

“And finally, everything has to be based on science.”

Bill Curry, CEO of BIOS added: “Bermuda has a robust history of ocean management and research, starting with the protection of sea turtles in the early 1600s. The Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme will ensure this legacy lives on by leveraging current scientific understanding to preserve marine biodiversity for both its inherent environmental and socioeconomic values.”

The Royal Gazette asked whether the plan could produce jobs — and how the marine protected area could be enforced.

Mr Waitt responded: “As part of our Blue Prosperity Coalition we have a partnership with the University of California, Los Angeles and we work to develop a comprehensive economic plan to create jobs and diversify economies.

“As for enforcement, there are some great technological tools available now that didn’t exist a just a few years ago that can efficiently enforce MPAs through satellite technology less expensively.”

The Bermuda Government led an initiative in 2013 in partnership with the Pew Charitable Trust to have a marine protected area surround the island. Various sizes were explored and a consultation process took place but it never materialised.

Mr Roban said today that the current plan is preferential as it not only considers protection but also economic opportunity.