Global impact, local decision
A marine reserve in Bermudian waters would have international implications, according to Global Ocean Legacy director Matthew Rand.
Mr Rand said a large reserve in Bermuda's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) could be significant on a global scale due to its location in the heart of the Atlantic and connection to the Sargasso Sea.
“There was a call for ten percent of the world's oceans to be protected, but unfortunately right now less than one percent are protected,” he said. “It's a big step in forming what could be the largest marine reserve in the Atlantic and helping to protect the Sargasso Sea.
“This would be one of the largest marine reserves in the world, and the fact that it would be in the Atlantic makes it even more important. The Atlantic has suffered marine depletion from fishing more than the Pacific, so a large marine reserve is a substantial development in marine conservation globally.
“In terms of protecting the marine ecosystem, it would be a huge step. We couldn't be more excited.”
During a recent visit to the Island, Mr Rand said the PEW Charitable Trusts, who run the Global Ocean Legacy campaign, were contacted by the Bermuda Government around two-and-a-half years ago to assist with the marine reserve proposal.
The Sustainable Development Department recently released a consultation document to both educate the public about the proposed reserve, branded by some as the Bermuda Blue Halo, and seek the public's input.
Those who respond to the report are asked to consider three potential marine reserve layout which range in size from 25 percent to 75 percent. They can also suggest a different layout or say they do not want any marine reserve established.
Mr Rand said he is pleased the proposal has reached the public consultation phase, and excited that the reserve may come to fruition.
“We were honoured when the Government asked us to be a part of the process, and we are excited about what is happening now,” he said. “I think the fact that the Government has reached this big step where they are starting the public consultation process is great.
“The Bermuda Government has been a champion of this effort to protect the Sargasso Sea on the international stage, and I think that once Bermuda protects its waters, they are going to have the credentials and standing on the international level to call for the protection of the greater Sargasso Sea.”
He said that the Island's EEZ is currently an “underperforming asset” providing little in the way of economic gain for the Island, but creating a marine reserve will both protect the Island's fish stock and provide a new avenue for tourism.
He described the Sargasso Sea as a hugely important ecosystem teeming with life, and said it should be protected for the sake of future generations.
“This is not just for our generation, but it's for our children and our grandchildren,” he said. “I've seen what's happening to our ocean around the world and it's not good. We have seen declines in our fish species to the point where my children might not be able to see these species.
“It's something that would be discussed around the world in the global press and at the UN. This is going to be a huge accomplishment and something that we believe ultimately the Government and the people of Bermuda should feel very proud of.
“We think it's a great idea, but ultimately this is the decision for the Government of Bermuda and its citizens.”
The Sustainable Development Department has released a list of frequently asked questions as it continues to seek public input on a proposed marine reserve.
A recently released consultation document asked the public to consider three potential layouts for the reserve, the largest of which would protect three quarters of the Island’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The public can also suggest their own layout, or say they do not want any marine reserve established.
The results of the survey will be conveyed to the Minister of Environment and Planning as a part of a package of information to be considered by Government. A final decision is expected to be made by the end of the calender year.
On the topic of how the reserve will affect fishing, the document says: “It is hoped that creating a no-take marine reserve will help fish stocks to remain strong, benefiting both the environment and fishermen.
“Currently the vast majority of fishermen fish in waters close to the island. However, there is some long line fishing in waters further from shore. This current activity and any future development of offshore fishing could be curtailed by a marine reserve, depending on the size and shape of the area to be protected.”
And regarding enforcing the reserve, the document says: “A collective approach and cross-ministerial initiative would be most valuable to the
enforcement and management of a marine reserve.
“It is likely that additional resources will be required to maintain effective management if a marine reserve is established.”
For more information, or to submit your thoughts on the proposal, visit the Sustainable Development Department’s website at www.sdbermuda.bm.