A consortium of representatives met with North Abaco Member of Parliament, Renardo Curry on August 22 seeking his support on proposed parks at Cross Harbour and The Marls.
The group consisting of d’Shan Maycock, Environmental Education & Outreach Consultant to the Bahamas National Trust (BNT), David Knowles, Director of Parks for the BNT, Olivia Patterson, Program Coordinator at Friends of the Environment and Buddy and Cindy Pinder representing Abaco Flyfishing Guides Association (AFFGA) presented support for the proposed parks.
Mr. Knowles noted that there are 27 national parks throughout The Bahamas and as well as many more proposed parks. Abaco has six national parks which are the Abaco National Park in South Abaco, Walkers Cay, Black Sound Cay, Fowl Cays, Tilloo Cay and the Pelican Cays.
The National Parks are places of natural beauty and the goal is to protect their biodiversity. The two new proposed areas are both in South Abaco, one being the Abaco Marls Natural Reserve which is an extensive area and the other being the Cross Harbour Protected Area.
Mrs. Maycock noted that the government of The Bahamas, through the Caribbean Challenge, has committed to protecting 20 per cent of the near shore marine environment of the Bahamas by 2020.
The Caribbean Challenge is an initiative that The Bahamas and Grenada launched in 2008 at the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (UNCBD). Mrs. Maycock said the challenge is to set a goal to protect certain critical habitats within their country.
The 2020 Declaration sets out to protect not just the marine environment but the terrestrial as well, she said. Out of the twenty per cent The Bahamas is looking to have about fifty per cent declared as marine protected areas.
She said The Bahamas is surrounded at every turn by our marine environment and much of these areas remain unprotected. Mangroves act as nursery for a lot of our juvenile marine species and BNT’s goal is to protect these areas.
The Marls is the largest wetland ecosystem in Central Abaco covering a large portion of the southern side of Abaco reaching as far north as the Bluff Point and as far south as Crossing Rocks.
Mrs. Maycock noted that this area has been identified by previous governments to be considered for conservation and that Cross Harbour is one of the only wetland areas on the southern part of the island.
Mr. Knowles emphasized that the proposal for protection is not for the proposed parks to be no take zones, but for these areas to be protected from large scale and commercial development.
Ms. Patterson added that while Abaco has six protected areas that they are very small and do not cover all the important habitats. “Now that we know a lot more about the science and the marine animals in our environment we found that they require more than one habitat for their whole life span.”
She said that the focus now is on wetlands because they are trying to fill the gaps in the habitats that are protected.
Ms. Patterson said that Cross Harbour is unique because not only is it the only wetland system for miles in the south, but it is also located very close to deep water and it ultimately supports the fishing community.
Mrs. Pinder added that the two proposed parks are interconnected especially as bonefish are concerned and they have been able to determine this as a result of their bonefish tagging program which has allowed them to track the fish from the Marls to Cross Harbour where they spawn and back again.
They have even been able to determine that bonefish from Abaco make their way as far as Grand Bahama and are also important to fishermen there.
Mr. Curry said he is supportive of the proposed parks and also sees the value in protecting these areas for the sake of visitors coming to Abaco being able to enjoy our environment sightseeing, bird watching, kayaking and fishing. He sees the potential for entrepreneurship for nature based activities.