According to Lakeshia Anderson, Bahamas National Trust’s (BNT) Grand Bahama National Parks Manager, Abaco Management Planning Meetings have been held since 2012 with community stakeholders to discuss how BNT will manage four marine parks on Abaco.
The four marine parks include: Walker’s Cay National Park; Black Sound Cay National Reserve on Green Turtle Cay; Fowl Cays National Park; and Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park.
Anderson explained that once they have received feedback from the meetings, they will incorporate it into a management plan, provide a draft and have it circulated for 30-40 days to allow people to review it, provide comments and participate in the decision-making process.
The purpose of BNT’s management plan is to develop day-to-day operations for how the park will be used. The plan takes into consideration the type of staffing it takes to manage these areas, visitor use as well as how people use the reef system.
“It intimately involves the key people that actually benefit from the parks, so the boat operators [and] the fishermen who would fish outside of the boundaries, and how they connect with the park themselves,” Anderson explained.
Anderson said they are intent on continuing partnerships with the fishermen, fishing guides and with partner agencies like the Department of Marine Resources, Friends of the Environment and the Ministry of Tourism in ensuring that the marine parks remain clean and pristine to provide benefits for the local communities here on Abaco.
The recent meetings were made possible by a project funded by the Gulf & Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Earlier on, Anderson confessed that there were issues particularly with the Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park because fishermen were using condominiums (condos) to trap lobsters within the park.
“It was important that we started to communicate with them that the park is a no-fishing zone, and for them to know that fish don’t know boundaries,” she shared. “The key importance of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) especially if it’s a no-take area is the spillover effect when fish tend to move outside of the boundaries to the different locations that’s where the benefits really take place for those fishermen.”
Another issue was that some fishermen did not know the boundaries of the marine parks. BNT officials soon realized that they need to provide demarcation buoys and also provide signs and material throughout the communities and within the parks.
Certainly, the project is ongoing and costly at times, so a portion of the management plan is to cost out what is needed within those areas like the placement or maintenance of moorings, and signs. Anderson said they have a document that is “costed” to present to donors, so that they have a better idea of how they can assist with funding to have those priority items implemented.
Overall, however, Anderson said they have gotten great reception from the fishermen, who have been educated in sustainable fishing practices that greatly benefits their livelihood.
Joining the BNT team last month was Zaidy Afrin, an Environment Management & Development Consultant from the Fiji Islands. Afrin is currently residing in Grenada and working with the Fisheries Division there. She has previously worked in The Bahamas at the Perry Institute for Marine Science in Exuma helping to educate fishermen on sustainable fishing practices.
Beyond their existing partnerships, Anderson said they are looking to expand their partnerships to the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and Royal Bahamas Police Force for assistance with enforcement. She added that a partnership with the Bahamas Customs Department can also assist BNT with sharing information with boaters who stop at their nearest port of entry.