The Bahamas National Trust held two meetings on Abaco to get feedback from the public in its proposal of two additional national parks to be established on Abaco. d’Shan Maycock, Lindy Knowles and David Knowles met with residents in Sandy Point on December 10 and in Marsh Harbour on December 11.
These two parks under consideration were chosen for their ecological, economic or historic importance. Parks are protected areas for the enjoyment and benefit of the Bahamian people. Management plans are put in place to maintain these areas to sustain the natural environment for healthy fish stocks.
The government has made a commitment to set aside 20 percent of the near-shore and marine areas of the country with some form of protection by the year 2020 with 50 percent of this area being managed. At present only five percent has been set aside. It is important to save several types of environments in order to provide adequate habitats for all types of fish life. At present no coral reef areas or mangroves are protected, and it is in these areas where marine life starts.
• Cross Harbour Protected Area – This suggested area is on the south coast of Abaco. It is a large bay with protected mangrove areas that are the nursery for many fish. Bonefish come from the western marls of Abaco to spawn here. Tracking has shown that fish from this area migrate to Moore’s Island and to Eastern Grand Bahama. A few years ago a project opened up part of a closed area and reclaimed 150 acres, restoring channels to the sea. This has created an increase in the fish populations. The BNT studies showed an abundance of juvenile conch in the Cross Harbour area.
• Marls National Reserve – The marls on the back of Abaco, on the west, are one of the largest in The Bahamas and are critical to the marine heath of a very large area. The juveniles of many fish live in this area before going out to deeper waters. This is the second of the suggested areas to be protected.
The BNT has a variety of levels of protection. The suggestion for the marls would allow sustainable fishing, tourism and some low-impact development. There will need to be smaller replenishment areas within the marls that would have more limitations.
The five levels of zoning within Marine Protected Areas by the BNT follow:
1. Restricted Access Zone – This is the highest level of protection and are small areas where access is limited. These areas are sensitive for some specific reason or are for scientific studies.
2. Sanctuary – This is a no-take zone, but residents and visitors can enjoy the area although nothing is to be removed. It is set aside for maintaining fish stocks, allowing fish to grow to a large size which reproduce more, thus stocking the surrounding areas.
3 Habitat Protection – This allows fishing and other recreation activities that do not harm the sea-bed, mangroves of shore.
4. General managed area – These areas allow commercial fishing and other activities but with sustainable catch limits.
5. Special Purpose Area – Areas with specific activities allowed such as a port.
The BNT staff has done ecological assessments of the corals, sea grasses and mangroves of both proposed areas including 20 sites in the marls. They did not find many species in the marls but did find an absence of sea grass in some areas where bonefish were significantly smaller.
The residents of Sandy Point gave cautious approval of the BNT plans after the definitions and goals were explained. The residents wanted assurances that they would be involved with the actual management plan which details what can and cannot be done in the various areas. It was suggested that the boundaries be extended farther west to include Duck Pond, a fresh water pond that does not dry up and is home to many fowl and water birds.
The residents of Central Abaco who attended were mostly in favor of the plans. Neither meeting was well attended.
Establishing an area as a park or protected area is just the beginning of a long process. After the government approves the area as a park, the BNT consults with local residents to establish a management plan or rules.
The BNT is a non-governmental agency that works closely with government and manages all the national parks throughout The Bahamas. The Bahamas is the only country in the world where national parks are not managed by the government. The BNT manages 27 parks throughout The Bahamas with six parks on Abaco.