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Greenrock Says: Code Blue — Time to speak up about protecting our marine life

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‘Chicken of the sea' was the brand made famous by an unaware celebrity who confused tuna with (swimming) poultry. Thankfully, the disconnect between the spoils of the ocean and consumers is not nearly as great in Bermuda. Interestingly though, the Blue Halo public consultation initiated by the Government of Bermuda has evoked a wide range of opinions.

The Blue Halo on its own is a fairly simple concept — creating a marine resource protection area in the outer reaches of Bermuda's territorial waters, while taking a ‘business as usual' approach for all locals and residents using the ocean around Bermuda (almost entirely within 25-30 miles from shore).

The framework of volunteers and organisations that support the concept is less obvious. The three main pillars of support for the Blue Halo are:

• Sargasso Sea Alliance — a partnership between marine scientists, international conservation groups and the Bermuda Government.

• Bermuda Alliance for the Sargasso Sea — a collaboration of ten local conservation and scientific organisations supporting the Blue Halo concept and greater marine protection in the Sargasso Sea more generally.

• PEW Global Ocean Legacy — a global charitable trust with the goal of making large marine reserves around the world, many of which have already been formed.

The knock-on effect of the creation/implementation of the Blue Halo is that the above organisations will be able to pursue the larger goal of protecting the entire Sargasso Sea, an ambitious project made more achievable with help from Bermuda.

The potential benefits of creating some form of marine protected area around Bermuda are manifold: the economic windfall from increased tourism (scuba-divers, scientists, whale watchers etc); increased fishing yields for local fishing operations, environmental benefits; benefits from greater scientific research; international reputation for progressive conservation; and finally a legacy for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren who will be able to enjoy the natural offshore environment as much as or more than previous generations. Unfortunately, ‘keeping our options open' as some have suggested, just means keeping our waters open; open to foreign commercial/industrial fishing fleets plundering our resources.

Concerns about the enforcement of a protected area have also come up during the consultation. Arguably preventative legislation is frequently put in place before enforcement. Take, for example, US legislation banning the importation of illegal narcotics. The US has and will continue to implement differing strategies to apprehend drug smugglers, but will never be able to stop the practice entirely. The legislation has the effect of dissuading some, and providing the legislating body with a starting point to develop effective enforcement over time.

A future partnership between the US and British Navy, commercial shipping and the Bermuda Regiment is not entirely unrealistic and would be a very good starting point. As mentioned in other articles on the topic, apprehending one illegal fishing vessel per year may present an economic windfall and would potentially cover some of the costs of operating a Bermuda Regiment Marine Unit while providing seafaring skills to those involved.

With 28 days left in the public consultation period it's important that we continue to discuss the concept and convey to the Government what we feel is the best way to use/protect this part of Bermuda both for the present and future generations.

Greenrock firmly believes that the greatest benefits accrue with the greatest protection. On this basis we implore the public to provide feedback to the Government through Option 5 in the survey (Option 4 online) that a marine protected area starting 50 miles from shore and extending to the outer limit of our EEZ (200 miles) is best for Bermuda (web address for the survey below). This covers over 90 percent of our EEZ without having a significant impact on our current use.

This protected area would be larger than the Great Barrier Reef (99 percent of which is protected under Australian legislation) without any impact on current fishing or recreational use.

So what is the fourth and most influential pillar of support for the Blue Halo? Bermudians. It's time to step up and do what our predecessors did for the cahow and turtles of Bermuda: protect what is important to us — our natural environment!

Go to http://www.sdbermuda.bm/ to take part in the consultation.

The Sargasso Sea Alliance is a partnership between marine scientists, international conservation groups and the Bermuda Government.

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Published October 03, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 03, 2013 at 2:34 pm)

Greenrock Says: Code Blue — Time to speak up about protecting our marine life

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