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Our priceless marine environment

The Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme represents an unprecedented opportunity for the island to have a formalised plan in place to govern the sustainable use of its marine resources via the Marine Spatial Plan component. Just as we have a Bermuda Plan governing the use of our limited land resources, the MSP represents an opportunity to have something similar for our marine resources. This is long overdue and would highlight how the resources need to be used in a sustainable manner and protected for future generations.

Given global economic and political volatility, as well as the devastating effects of global warming, we now more than ever need to take stock of our own resources to make sure they are protected. It is paramount that we have a prevailing focus on sustainability and resilience whenever we consider our natural resources. For Bermuda, our marine resources include our fisheries, coral reefs, sea grass and mangrove forests. They are vital for our food security and protection when facing the new reality of global warming. But they face numerous threats from illegal fishing (foreign and local), ocean acidification, pollution from plastics, pesticides and fertilisers, invasive species (lionfish), coral-bleaching events, algal blooms, ocean-borne viruses, sea-level rise, more severe windstorms and changing ocean currents.

The BOPP has the Government’s formal commitment to enact legislation to support our Blue Economy and Marine Spatial Plan, and also to protect 20 per cent of our exclusive economic zone as marine-protected areas. For the most part, there is stakeholder agreement that Bermuda’s marine resources need to be protected and, to that end, local stakeholders have come together to express their views and have input into an extensive plan for the conservation and sustainable use of our marine resources.

The Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce supports the BOPP in principle, but there are some underlying issues that we feel need resolution concerning fisheries management, including:

• The unmeasured impact of recreational fishing

• The significant threat to fisheries from the lionfish invasion and from pollution

• The lack of data collection and enforcement of existing legislation, which remains woefully inadequate

Significantly greater resources need to go into policing and enforcing existing and future regulations. Technology can assist, but greater visibility of the fisheries wardens and/or Bermuda coastguard on the waters is critical to maintain adherence to the regulations.

The BOPP has openly engaged with all stakeholders regarding its two main components – the Marine Spatial Plan and the Blue Economy Strategy. In February, the commercial fishing group represented by the Fishermen’s Association of Bermuda put forward its own “Bermuda Fisheries Management Plan” which outlines its view of “co-operative management of our fisheries resource”.

The fishing community, as a major stakeholder, has a vested interest in the wellbeing of our fisheries stocks, and its plan states there needs to be increased trust between fishers, local authorities and the scientific community, and more collaboration in general. It espouses co-management principles when it comes to our marine resources, where fishers can share their first-hand observations, experience and long-term knowledge about things such as spawning activities of commercial fish and external influences on our marine ecosystems — which are more important now given the new and unprecedented impacts of global warming.

As a major stakeholder in our marine resources, we believe that constructive engagement with the local fishing community is essential to developing MPAs that are relevant and effective for Bermuda, and more collaboration can engender a “culture of compliance” to remove friction between the fishers and regulatory authorities.

The creation of MPAs in Bermuda’s waters is key to the sustainability and resilience of not only our fish stocks, but also our entire marine ecosystem. As stated above, the threats to our ocean environment are numerous and unprecedented in human history. In 2023, the United Nations reached an historic agreement via the High Seas Treaty to preserve 30 per cent of our oceans by 2030. Countries worldwide are recognising that the establishment of MPAs can help maintain healthy marine ecosystems that can mitigate climate impacts. Although Bermuda has a lower target of 20 per cent protection, if these MPAs are situated in the right areas and have full protection that is actively enforced, they can be effective at allowing nature in these pockets to thrive unhindered, which would have beneficial overspill effects on the surrounding areas.

The location of Bermuda’s MPAs should be derived from the most up-to-date scientific data we have to hand, together with input from the fishers, who have real-time knowledge about the spawning and feeding grounds of commercial fish. In the absence of any relevant data, we must rely on fishers’ observations to fill the gaps so that we can avoid any delay in establishing our MPAs and ensuring our 20 per cent area is targeted, is worthwhile and will yield results. Nature needs time to reset, and the time to act is now.

We understand that an independent panel is reviewing the extensive public feedback and submissions made to the BOPP, with the intent for final recommendations to go to Parliament before it breaks for the summer. We believe Bermuda needs to follow other countries with the establishment of MPAs and, like others, should leverage the expertise of the fishing community in achieving that goal.

• Adam Farrell is a board member of the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce

Adam Farrell is a board member of the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce

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Published July 05, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated July 04, 2024 at 4:36 pm)

Our priceless marine environment

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