North Eleuthera Member of Parliament, the Hon. Ricky Mackey giving opening remarks at the Harbour Island community meeting. (Image by: Bahamas Protected)

Since 2016 the Bahamas Protected team and representatives from key government agencies, have reached out to Family Island communities for input on marine areas proposed for protection, as well as areas community members think should have protection.

The team recently lead lively community meetings in Spanish Wells, followed by meetings on mainland North Eleuthera, Harbour Island and Barraterre, Exuma.  Residents provided input on proposed areas, verified species that live in or move through these areas and expressed concerns about the need for effective management of existing and proposed areas.

Prior to the North Eleuthera community meetings, the team visited South Andros and South Abaco to gather input on proposed areas. As the consultation phase of the Bahamas Protected project wrapped up, the final community meeting was planned for June 14 in New Providence. The New Providence community meeting was held from 6 pm to 9 pm at the Harry C. Moore Library Auditorium at the University of The Bahamas. The public was encouraged to come out and share their feedback on areas being proposed for protection throughout The Bahamas and to learn about the Bahamian Marine Protected Area Network expansion.

“Some people, initially when they hear the word (protection) they get cautious, but this meeting has been a good meeting in dispelling a lot of the myths that are associated with what is allowed in protected areas,” said Ricky Mackey, North Eleuthera Member of Parliament, while attending the Harbour Island meeting. “A lot of the questions that I asked tonight were questions that are put to me as the Member of Parliament by fishermen and residents of North Eleuthera. I’m glad and enlightened by a lot of the things that I’ve learned this evening and so that information will be imparted to the constituents of this area.”

Spanish Wells residents providing feedback at the community meeting. (Image by: Bahamas Protected)

Eleuthera resident and former fisherman James Munroe expressed his support for protecting the industry that supported him as a fisher and supports him now as an entrepreneur. “It’s important to protect our marine environment so that we can have a substantial amount of fish in our country and that there can be fish for me and for other generations to come.”

With vibrant fishing communities in North Eleuthera, including Spanish Wells, concerns were expressed that some proposed areas are in the same place as existing fishing grounds. Fishers also explained problems they’ve faced with illegal fishing by foreign poachers and locals, and shared their desire to work with management agencies to properly manage these areas.

To ensure that his community’s concerns are heard, Robert Roberts, Chief Councilor for Spanish Wells intends to gather further information from his community and pass that information on to the Bahamas Protected team.   “We’re going to set up and go around and get everyone’s opinion on the island, as many as we can and we’ll send you that opinion,” said Roberts.

“How these areas will be managed has come up at many of the meetings that we’ve had,” noted Bahamas National Trust’s (BNT) Conservation Planner, Lashanti Jupp. “We want to ensure that existing and proposed marine protected areas that get assigned to BNTare effectively managed and we are getting better at working with communities to do just that.”

“This project is also exploring ways  to improve management of protected areas by creating management plans for some existing areas, piloting the concept of communities lending greater support via co-management and determing ways of getting  greater levels of funding to support consistent management,” said Marcia Musgrove, Policy Advisor at The Nature Conservancy’s Bahamas Office.

Casuarina McKinney-Lambert, Excecutive Director of BREEF,  also drew attention to the benefits of MPAs, and particularly that higher levels of protection result in more fish that eventually move out of protected areas to replenish fish stocks in surrounding areas and support our commercial fisheries.
Bahamas Protected is a joint effort between The Nature Conservancy, the Bahamas National Trust, and Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF) in collaboration with key government agencies and other national stakeholders, with major funding support from Oceans 5.

“With about 13 million acres (10%) of the Bahamas marine environment being declared a protected area, there is still much to do to reach the 20% protection goal by 2020,” says the Bahamas Protected team.  They encourage the public to visit the Bahamas Protected Facebook page for more information (@242protected), and sign and share the petition to get involved in protecting The Bahamas for today and the future.