Bahamas MPA Expansion
Grant Recipient: The Nature Conservancy
Project Support: Expanding Marine Protection Across the Bahamas
Term: 2011 – 2013
The Bahamas is a string of nearly 700 islands stretching 100,000 square miles from the Florida Keys to Hispaniola, home to the Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The Bahamian islands are rich in marine life and replete with pine forests and a wealth of species found here and nowhere else on Earth.
The Nature Conservancy has been working in The Bahamas for more than 10 years with the government and a variety of partners to protect its natural resources for its people to use today and into the future. The Bahamas is now embarking on an ambitious project to build political support and garner long-term financing for protected areas across the Caribbean – The Caribbean Challenge.
The Caribbean Challenge
Marine protected areas are the cornerstone of the Caribbean Challenge, a regional effort to protect 20 percent of the Caribbean’s marine and coastal habitat by 2020. The Caribbean Challenge will transform the region’s national park system and triple the amount of protected marine and coastal habitat, including nearly 21 million acres of coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds and other important habitat. Since the launch of the project, marine protected area coverage across the Insular Caribbean has increased from 7 to nearly 10 percent.
Last year, more than 3.5 million acres (about half the size of Colorado) of new and expanded regional marine parks were added to the network. Of these, more than one million acres are part of The Bahamas’ new or expanded MPAs, the most significant being Andros Westside National Park, Conception Island and Fowl Cays National Parks and the Bimini, Berry Island and Exuma marine reserves. With the addition of Andros alone, which supports some of the highest concentrations of sea turtles and juvenile fish ever observed, The Bahamas more than doubled its marine protected areas network.
These are critical conservation gains, especially within such a short period of time. Yet, the government is reluctant to add any new MPAs until the most recently declared parks have adequate staff, boundaries marked and proper management in place. Natural resource managers also need to build the connection between MPAs and successful fisheries, as the Bimini and Berry Islands reserves are starting to do. As The Bahamas holds a leadership position within the Caribbean Challenge, its accomplishments influence the actions of the other Challenge nations. It is essential, therefore, that The Bahamas not only maintain but increase its conservation momentum.
The Nature Conservancy is working with the government to make these new protected areas fully functional by employing signage, staff and infrastructure as well as implementing the science, constituency building and communication needed to continue The Bahamas’ rapid MPA expansion. To achieve these results, this project aims for the following:
1) Consolidate Management at the Recently Declared MPAs
The Conservancy has been working on Andros for many years without a physical presence, which is very inefficient. As one of the first actions, TNC will establish a formal presence in a community adjacent to the Andros MPA to build community awareness of the area’s conservation needs; develop partner skills by providing on-site experience and expertise; and implement initiatives related both to the recent Integrating Watershed and Coastal Areas Management (IWCAM) Project recommendations as well as the establishment of a coral nursery.
In Bimini (and a lesser extent South Berry) TNC will collaborate with the Department of Marine Resources to implement management plans for these two areas while working with constituents to establish stronger stewardship and outreach for effective management of the sites.
2) Expand and Secure New MPA Declarations
TNC will work with the government and the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) to create new MPAs in San Salvador, Abaco and Cay Sal Bank and, with BNT and other partners, rally support for the MPAs in the San Salvador and Abaco communities that are directly impacted. The scientific research and assessments have identified these as priority areas for conservation.
The project will be implemented by Eleanor Phillips, The Nature Conservancy’s Northern Caribbean Program Director. Eleanor is one of the Conservancy’s leading marine conservation practitioners and, according to Minister of the Environment Earl Deveaux, “a national treasure.” Since joining the Conservancy in 2003, Eleanor has worked from The Bahamas Program office in Nassau, leading a multidisciplinary team working in partnership with government and non-governmental organizations in The Bahamas and Turks & Caicos Islands to achieve effective conservation of natural resources for those countries. Eleanor is leading efforts towards implementation of a Master Plan for Protected Areas for The Bahamas Protected Areas System and is charged with supporting The Bahamas towards meeting their goals in the Caribbean Challenge. Prior to joining the Conservancy, Eleanor worked for eleven years with The Bahamas Department of Fisheries, and managed two privately-owned Tilapia farms.
Eleanor Phillips, Program Director, North Caribbean Program at The Nature Conservancy, explains the importance of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in The Bahamas.
Before leaving office in May 2012, Prime Minister Hubert A. Ingraham increased Andros West Side National Park by more than 1 million acres. He also established the Fowl Cays National Park on Abaco and expanded Conception Island National Park.
The Conservancy and its partners recently installed an in-situ coral reef nursery in Andros Island’s Small Hope Bay, located within park boundaries. The nursery houses 150 fragments of endangered staghorn and elkhorn corals. Andros Island will also soon have a permanent conservation presence as the new administration recently granted Conservancy partners Nature’s Hope for Southern Andros and the Andros Conservancy and Trust permission to renovate an abandoned public building on South Andros to serve as The Nature’s Hope Conservation Center.
Expanding the MPA network is crucial for protecting marine resources, but equally important is bringing effective management to established, but languishing, protected areas or “paper parks” including the South Berry Islands Marine Reserve. A science-based community-vetted management plan is a blueprint for this on-the-ground transformation. By the end of 2012, Conservancy consultants will have submitted final Management, Zoning and Communications plans for South Berry Island Marine Reserve. Soon after, the Conservancy will direct its efforts toward implementation of the management plan’s priority actions – including installing basic infrastructure and acquiring key protection equipment. This management plan will be used as a template for management plan development at other MPAs around the country.
About The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. They address the most pressing conservation threats at the largest scale. TNC has protected more than 119 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers worldwide — they operate more than 100 marine conservation projects globally. TNC works in all 50 states and more than 30 countries — protecting habitats from grasslands to coral reefs, from Australia to Alaska to Zambia.
Aided by more than 700 scientists, they use science to establish conservation priorities and address environmental threats. With the support of more than a million members, the Conservancy pursues a non-confrontational, solutions-based approach to dealing with 21st century environmental challenges, with a focus on freshwater, marine, climate change, working landscapes and conservation areas.