A town meeting coordinated by officers of The Bahamas National Trust was held at the Anglican Church Hall during the evening of August 21. The topic of the presentation was to expose the reasons why two areas of Abaco, Cross Harbour and the Marls, were being proposed as national parks as well as to get feedback from community stakeholders on how they would like these areas to be used.
Several representatives of The Bahamas National Trust participated in the presentation, including the Executive Director, Eric Carey, and David Knowles, Director of Parks.
A consultant from ECOnnect, D’Shan Maycock, began by giving a brief history of BNT which was created by an act of Parliament in 1959 to manage the National Parks System. National Parks were created to protect certain areas of ecological, economical and historical significance, in order to leave a patrimony to further generations. There are six parks on Abaco: Pelican Cays Land and Sea, Black Sound Cay, Walker’s Cay, Tilloo Cay Reserve, Fowl Cay and the National Park Forest.
The presentation focused on demonstrating that the two proposed areas were of great importance to marine life in general and particularly to bone fish and therefore to the economy of the island. The addition of these two parks would fall into the plan of the present and previous administrations to have 20% of The Bahamas’ near-shore marine resources protected and managed as National Parks by the year 2020.
According to bone fishing guides, Cross Harbour offers wetland ecology; it provides information on the connectivity between the mangrove habitat and the reefs and it is the site of spawning aggregation for bone fish.
The Marls, the largest wetland eco-system on Abaco, is a nursery for many fish; it provides carbon storage and is considered a significant Ramsar Convention site. It is important for migrating fowl and water birds and is used by hunters and bone fishermen. Last, it acts as a natural barrier protecting the coast from storm surge.
As part of the planning process to dedicate an area as a national park, a previous meeting was held in Sandy Point and more meetings will be held on Abaco to invite feedback from residents.
A scientific assessment was done by a team of National Trust scientists as well as an assessment by a conservation team, to determine the significance of these areas. The proposed boundaries have been released to invite the public’s comments.
The proposal will then be submitted to the government prior to a second round of public consultation. The proposal will then be reviewed and re-submitted to the Government.
Contrary to the previous attitude of the Bahamas National Trust Board who had issued a strict management strategy for national parks, the proposed management option for those two parks will offer a multi-zoning approach.
The Director of Parks wanted to reassure the public that the creation of these parks will be to conserve the marine environment, but it will allow sustainable fishing, tourism, transport and some development. It will allow the replenishment of marine resources without restricting their enjoyment by the public.
The parks will comprise five types of zoning:
-habitat protection zones
-general managed zones
-special purpose zones
Olivia Paterson, with Friends of the Environment, also commented on the importance of these areas. The goal, she said, was to ensure that the bio-diversity of these habitats was maintained so future generations of Bahamians and tourists continue to fish and benefit from the marine resources of these creeks.
The presentation was followed by an open discussion forum.
People objected that the creation of more national parks would take away from fishermen.
Mr. Carey pointed out that not many fishermen were present at the meeting. He assured that there will be back and forth communications with people until an agreement is reached. He reminded the audience that there had been a decline in fisheries and that something had to be done to insure an ongoing supply of marine resources.
He also pointed out that decisions concerning one’s island should not be made on a desk in Nassau, but by people living on that island.
One person commented that the area set asides in the Marls was too large as it extends as far as crawfishing grounds; it was agreed that it should be reduced.
“You are ahead of the world with your parks system,” stated Mr. Carey, “you should be proud of it”.
Mr. Knowles stressed the fact that the proposed parks will be managed as multi zones areas. He asked people to get involved in discussions on what is happening in their environment.
One of the bone fishing guide present gave his agreement of the project on the grounds that “if you do not protect what you have, you will lose what you’ve got.”
Refreshment were offered and discussions on a one to one basis continued a good while after the presentation had ended.