Friends of the Environment hosted its 8th Biennial Abaco Science Alliance Conference (ASAC) on Jan. 4-5 at New Vision Ministries.
The aim of the conference is to raise awareness about the importance of our environment, and to encourage more research in The Bahamas by using the findings in management decisions and community education.
Lianna Burrows, FRIENDS Education Officer, greeted those in the audience before outlining several rules for presenters to abide by during their presentations. Burrows then invited Wynsome Ferguson, manager of the Abaco Tourist Office and president of FRIENDS, to deliver the welcome address.
Ferguson acknowledged special guests namely James Albury, MP for South Abaco and Parliamentary Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister; the Hon. Romauld Ferreira, Minister of Environment and Housing; and South Abaco Island Administrator Donald Rolle. During her remarks, she encouraged everyone to work together to protect, sustain and enhance our product offering for Abaco.
For this year’s ASAC, James Albury was the keynote speaker. Noting that it was Friends’ 8th successful Biennial Abaco Science Alliance Conference, he recognized the guests, researchers and presenters in attendance as he congratulated the organization as well as their community sponsors.
This year, Albury said, marked the 30th year of FRIENDS as an organization. Formed in 1988 in Hope Town, FRIENDS grew exponentially from there as it strives to preserve and protect the environment. He shared how his family has been involved with FRIENDS since its inception, and how he would work there at annual summer camps.
“FRIENDS has worked hard to reach the community in many ways,” he stated. “In addition to education programs, they also have fundraising activities like the Reef Ball and Turtle Trot.
“I would like to commend them as a force of good that continues its mission of educating Bahamians. I’m thankful to them for providing a forum where information could be freely exchanged and to highlight Abaco’s importance.”
Albury added that we all have a shared responsibility to safeguard what we have as he again thanked and congratulated FRIENDS and its partners and speakers.
“Conch: Shaping a Sustainable Fishery Through Science”
During the morning portion of the conference on Jan. 4, Natalie Miaoulis of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) was the first speaker, and her topic was “Conch: Shaping a Sustainable Fishery Through Science.” After giving a description of the problem, Miaoulis gave a breakdown of the KAP Survey Methodology, and its findings and recommendations for building a sustainable conch fishery.
According to their research, the largest exporters of conch between 1992 to 2001 were Honduras, Haiti and the Dominican Republic accounting for 73 percent of conch exports, while the United States and France remain the biggest importers of conch with a whopping 97 percent of imports attributed to these countries.
This led those at TNC to ask if the demand for conch has led to its decline. A survey methodology, data on knowledge, attitudes and practices collected through focus group meetings, expert interviews and a National Phone Survey were used to come up with several findings.
Findings from the focus group meetings indicated that conch populations have decreased over the past 25 years. The top threats to the conch fishery include poaching, harvesting of juveniles and degrading conch habitat, and suggestions were made that there should be a no-take zone and a closed season to allow juvenile conch to mature.
From the National Phone Survey conducted in 2015, 73 percent of respondents thought that conch are over exploited, and that top threats to the conch fishery include, harvesting of juveniles and harvesting of female conch. A high percentage of respondents said that the government should take action to protect conch.
Unfortunately, 70 percent of respondents were not knowledgeable about TNC’s Conchservation Campaign, 68 percent stated that they would be very likely not to buy conch from a vendor if the conch is undersized, and 65 percent stated that they would be very likely to sign a petition to protect conch.
Based on research through the Conchservation Campaign, the question of why conch is so important was put forth. The answer was that conch is an integral part of Bahamian culture and our identity as it is found on restaurant menus, currency and used to advertise to tourists.
Sadly, 60 percent of our conch fisheries are depleted. The response to this depletion was the Conchservation Campaign in 2013. The goal of the campaign was to provide education and outreach to the community by educating Bahamians on the declining stock and put management in place to protect what exists.
Therefore, meetings were held in Grand Bahama, New Providence and Abaco. In TNC’s three-phased approach, they reviewed Queen Conch data and literature for The Bahamas and Caribbean region and developed a literature review in Phase 1, whereas in Phase 2, they conducted a stakeholder analysis to assess the local economic market and consumption rates of Queen Conch.
In Phase 3, they performed an evaluation of The Bahamas’ management structure for the Queen Conch. Phase 3 also focused on sustainable target fish stocks, and the environmental impact of fishing and effective management of the conch fishery.
Overall, the recommendations made in terms of advocacy were to inform elected officials of the overwhelming support for conch conservation, and work with elected officials and resource managers to craft a comprehensive management scheme.
TNC’s messaging approach was to pilot additional conservation messages framed to identify which are most effective and conduct further analyses to understand how framing conservation messages may promote or suppress support for conch conservation.
Miaoulis shared that in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), conch has been listed as “commercially “threatened” since 1992. She emphasized that government support is needed to regulate the amount of conch exported.
Presently, there is only an account of what is exported, but not on landings. For example, the conch that a fisherman harvests and sells to a local restaurant, a vendor, or those harvested for personal consumption, are not accounted for.
Within the current management of conch, Miaoulis explained that The Bahamas’ conch fishery is governed primarily by national legislation and by international agreements by Caribbean-based management organizations and CITES.
Additionally, there is also The Fisheries Resources Act and Regulations in place as the national law to govern conch fisheries in The Bahamas, and also the Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment in the Wider Caribbean Region called the Cartagena Convention.
Answers regarding the value of conch were also sought out. Despite gaps in data on conch, Miaoulis said that it is estimated that the national conch market is worth between $2.5 million to $7.7 million. Nevertheless, management of this resource is low, and The Bahamas is viewed as doing a poor job of managing and protecting conch based on international standards.
During the question and answer segment, Cindy Pinder suggested getting tourists to come to The Bahamas to eat conch instead of exporting it. Others asked about a conch farm to increase conch populations, and some also liked the idea of a closed season but questioned the best time to do so. Another suggestion was made to utilize the marine parks and protected areas in The Bahamas as management tools for our conch fishery.
“Microplastics, Marine Mammals,
“Microplastics, Marine Mammals, and Us” was the next presentation given by Diane Claridge and Catalina Albury of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO). According to Claridge and Albury, marine debris is one of the biggest conservation issues facing marine life today.
Described as the worst debris by far, a definition of plastic and its origins was given, and the audience was also informed that plastic trash is killing marine life primarily through direct ingestion and secondary ingestion or by them becoming entangled in trash. Other effects of plastic on marine life were given showing how our lives are affected as well.
Bioaccumulation and biomagnificator were topics also addressed revealing how harmful chemicals become more concentrated as they move from one trophic level to another. Regrettably, chemicals bio-accumulate in the tissue leading to high concentrations of these chemicals, which cause tumors, liver damage and reproductive failure in top predators.
So how does this affect humans? Well as consumers, we eat many of the same fish as dolphins and process contaminants and pollutants in the same way.
Albury cited plastic as a global crisis, and based on data collected from Abaco coastal clean-ups, 68 percent of the waste collected on our island is plastic. Globally, she said that 80 percent of ocean plastic comes from the land, and when we don’t properly dispose of trash, it ends up in the ocean as microplastics or nano-plastics that fish consume.
Claridge added that marine animals accidentally ingest plastic, and they also ingest plastic through secondary ingestion through the prey that they eat. An image of a snapper was shown with its stomach contents exposed and showing a large content of microplastics after it was dissected. Plastic absorbs chemicals that are put into the ocean because they attach to the surface of the plastics.
Research has shown that there has been a population decline of bottlenose dolphins in the Sea of Abaco although various factors other than plastic can be the cause of the decline. Other species of marine animals were found with high contents of chemicals used to process plastics and other pollutants in the marine environment. Dumpsites in our mangroves are also leaching harmful chemicals into our marine environment.
Wrapping up their presentation, Albury reasoned that if we as humans are the problem then we are the solution. She urged everyone to become active participants in the fight against plastic; become a scientist; help their peers understand plastic; and get involved in policing and law enforcement. Overall, the bottom line is to decrease our dependence on plastics particularly single-use plastic bags.
Albury used that time to reveal that plastic has been completely banned in Kenya, and the country is now 100 percent plastic free. During the Q & A session, Min. Ferreira said he is looking to introduce legislation to ban plastic bags as well in The Bahamas.
“Education and Outreach: Making Natural Science Accessible Through Exhibition”
Prepared by Nancy Albury, Adrianna McPhee and Kelly Delancy of the Antiquities, Monuments & Museums Corporation (AMMC), the next topic to be addressed was “Education and Outreach: Making Natural Science Accessible Through Exhibition,” which was presented by Delancy.
She explained what AMMC is as the National Museum of The Bahamas and its mission; the difference between conservation and preservation; and areas of overlap in their line of work for instance with caves and blue holes, whereas blue holes are actually flooded caves.
Her talk extended to that of extinct species of bats and speleothems commonly known as cave formations. Getting to the heart of her presentation, Delancy explained that because of its established presence at the FRIENDS office, AMMC already had its foot in the door and decided to undertake the development of a natural history museum exhibit on Abaco as a measure of cultural resource management for The Bahamas.
Called “Shifting Tides: The Ever-Changing Plant and Animal Communities of The Bahamas,” it is The Bahamas’ first natural history museum exhibit. The inspiration for the museum stemmed from the discovery of well-preserved fossils of pre-historic wildlife found in The Bahamas.
On display at the FRIENDS office foyer are animal fossils like that of the terrestrial Cuban crocodile, Albury’s tortoise and Ingraham’s Hutia, which are either eradicated from Abaco or extinct.
The development process for the exhibit began in November 2016, and they incorporated natural and cultural heritage activities that take place throughout our country.
A museum education approach was taken throughout the process to include brainstorming, front-end evaluation to gain public opinion on project themes and goals, an exhibition brief, and an interpretive plan to develop thematic areas that were transformed into a three-dimensional reality with coordination and design followed by a formative evaluation and so on ending with remedial evaluation.
Delancy explained that the main message of the exhibit is that the natural history of The Bahamas continues to change with the arrival of people and so does its stewardship. The goal is to educate visitors about The Bahamas’ natural environment, and how it has changed over time because of cultural practices. Sea levels rises have also impacted our environment greatly over time.
She commended their fearless leader – Nancy Albury – for all the graphics done in house as well as Danny McIntosh and his crew for the installation of the exhibit.
Future plans for the natural history exhibit are for it to develop into a traveling exhibit moving from island to island, and to be used as an educational tool for teachers to supplement their curriculum. They are also looking to include an augmented reality as part of the exhibit to transport visitors to virtual worlds like cave diving explorations just by simply putting on virtual reality glasses. Invitation to get involved.
All in all, it is hoped that the museum project will bring awareness about the uniqueness of our Bahamian ecosystems and the importance of conservation and preservation of natural and cultural resources.
For those interested in visiting AMMC’s Shifting Tides natural history museum, it is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday.
Teacher Michelle Bailey expressed interest in AMMC providing a syllabi for non-formal education groups like the Discovery Club or Girl Guides, so that the students can earn badges etc. as they learn the material.
The morning portion of the conference concluded with a poster session and two video presentations. The first video was called “Bahamian Sperm Whales: Smaller Than Average” by Charlotte Dunn of BMMRO, and a FRIENDS Board Member.
The final video presentation was that of “Using Environmental Education as a Catalyst for Youth Activism around Plastic Pollution: A Case Study of the Plastic Pollution Education and Ocean Conservations Summer Camp” by Kristal Ambrose of the Bahamas Plastic Movement.
The Abaco Science Alliance Conference (ASAC) was sponsored by Aliv, while community partners were comprised of: J.S. Johnson Insurance Co. Ltd., the Elbow Reef Lighthouse Society, Abaco Chamber of Commerce, Pete’s Pub & Gallery, AMMC, and The Abaconian newspaper.
Apart from the conference itself, field trips were organized to Manjack Cay, Cherokee Sound and Little Harbour for participants.