A public meeting for fishing guides and fishermen to discuss the prospect of expanding the National Parks System in Abaco was held on July 25 at the J. A. Pinder Primary School in Sandy Point. Areas of interest for discussion were Cross Harbour, East Abaco Creeks and the Marls. Presenters were d’Shan Maycock, an environmentalist presently working in Grand Bahama, Lyn Gates, Deputy Director of the Bahamas National Trust and Olivia Patterson, Programme Coordinator with Friends of the Environment.
The meeting was opened with a very brief introduction by Lyn Gates who told those gathered that the prospect of more protected areas in Abaco and Grand Bahama was being looked at and that three years ago the Bahamas National Trust with other conservation organizations got together to form a master plan. She stated that the aim of the evening’s meeting was to find out how the fishing guides and fishermen felt about the proposals for two new protected areas.
In her presentation d’Shan Maycock stated that the National Parks are places of natural beauty and the goal is to protect their biodiversity. Of the 27 National Parks throughout The Bahamas, six are in Abaco. These are the Abaco National Park in South Abaco, Walkers Cay, Black Sound Cay, Fowl Cays, Tilloo Cay and the Pelican Cays. The two new proposed areas are both in South Abaco, one being the Abaco Marls Natural Reserve which is a large expensive area and the other being the Cross Harbour Protected Area.
Ms. Maycock informed the audience that three Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) teams have been here gathering ecological data which will help to establish a baseline for long-term monitoring activities.
- The bonefish team focused on the distribution and population of bonefish and also carried out some tagging.
- A plant team studied the diversity of plant types and some bird nesting sites.
- The coral reef team studied the overall health of the reefs.
Ms. Maycock closed her presentation by stating that the Bahamas National Protected Areas System is supported by government which protects 20% of the marine shore environment.
Olivia Patterson concentrated her presentation on the Cross Harbour Protected Area stating that it was first proposed as a National Park conservation zone by Friends of the Environment in 2006. In 2009 an application for Crown Land was submitted to the Office of the Prime Minister by AFFGA (Abaco Fly Fishing Guides Association). Ms. Paterson gave the following reasons for needing to protect Cross Harbour.
- Breeding ground for fish.
- Fly fishing and tourism
- Educational potential with cultural and historical use
- Restored wetland habitat.
“Cross Harbour is a very well rounded site and the goal is to protect it to ensure that biodiversity is maintained and to preserve its resources for future generations,” she closed by saying.
A question and answer period followed during which time fishermen expressed their concerns about the future of fishing in these areas. Fishermen were concerned that the Marls area should not be made a ‘no take zone’ since that is where the Sandy Point and Crossing Rocks fishermen make their living. Expressing his concerns, one fisherman stated that; “We are a fishing village and live off the sea. Our fishing rights need to be protected for our children and grandchildren and there will be problems if people try to stop the fishing.” In reply it was stated that the main concern is to protect the area from large-scale development such as buildings and marinas along the shoreline.
Ms. Gape stated that everybody needs to get involved and that the team wants to get the feelings of people on how the areas are being used to take into account when making decisions. She told those gathered that following this initial consultation the team will come back again to present the proposal which they will then give to the government. She further added that they will make a presentation on the results of the REA’s and also that they want to create areas to replenish fish.