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Most valuable shared resource

I want to applaud Prime Minister Freundel Stuart for his commitment to ensuring that Barbados’ marine environment will be managed as a sustainable resource for all its stakeholders.

To quote from the PM’s speech at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development on June 20: “Within the Caribbean we have recognised that an integrated management approach that involves all relevant stakeholders provides us with the best option for protecting the Caribbean Sea, our most valuable shared resource.”

As stakeholders in the marine environment, members of the Barbados Divers Association have watched in dismay the decline in our marine environment over more than two decades. Successive governments have spent in excess of $70,000 every five years for the island wide survey and have done so for the last 30 years. These show steady decline (or very small improvements after years of steady decline), but to date little has been done to reverse the decline.

It seems that the situation has reached a tipping point that cannot be seen from above our tranquil ocean. As divers we have recently witnessed an outer fringing reef rapidly become overgrown with algae when important fish species, including parrot fish or chubb that help maintain the delicate marine ecosystem are removed.

The algae soon choke the living coral and ultimately kill the reef. This is distressing for recreational divers to observe but of more immediate importance is that it is leading to the demise of near-shore fishing that many persons rely on for their living. Certainly fishermen tell of being unable to find fish species which previous generations had caught in abundance.

Recent reports of sea turtles being killed and their eggs raided by fishermen, possibly out of desperation for something to sell, may be a direct consequence of a lack of any integrated marine management.

The Prime Minister would have studied the final version of the Barbados Green Economy Scoping Study that he received in March and which outlines “a clear road map and governance framework to enable our transition to a Green Economy”, which no doubt includes implementation steps needed to reverse the decline of our reefs.

The challenge for the Prime Minister and other leaders in the stakeholder group is that these steps will be unpopular. Faced with similar challenges, Australia has imposed significant restrictions on fishing activities in their coastal waters, including closed seasons, prohibited zones and protected species in an attempt to allow their marine ecosystem to recover.

All fishermen know instinctively that some action is needed and I’m sure that a majority will accept some restrictions for the sustainability of their livelihood once the facts are clearly presented alongside education on more sustainable fishing practices.

Furthermore, pollutants such as sewage, pesticides and fertilisers that run off from the land are making the situation worse and need to be controlled. A further burden on our reef habitat will be the arrival of the Pacific lionfish to our waters. These are big, pressing problems and the answers are complex and difficult. One thing is certain — the longer we leave it, the more drastic the medicine will be.

Whatever steps are determined as the best for protecting the Caribbean Sea, our most valuable shared resource, they need to be taken with alacrity. Failure to act will certainly kill more of our reefs, the inshore fishing industry, fish and dive tourism and eventually the reef’s natural protection from the brunt of wave erosion that we enjoy as a small island in a big ocean.

— Tom Fountain

President, Barbados Divers Association

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