Writer: Tosheena Robinson BSc, MSc
A leading marine scientist from The Bahamas returned from a once-in-a-lifetime voyage last week, sailing from Havana to Nassau as part of the One Ocean Expedition, a United Nations-backed initiative to highlight the ocean’s crucial role in fostering global sustainability.
Dr. Krista Sherman of the Perry Institute for Marine Science spent several days on board the Norwegian state-of-the-art research vessel, Statsraad Lehmkuh. Deemed a “floating university,” the ship unites diverse groups of marine scientists, students, trainees and professionals as it circumnavigates the globe.
“It was an incredible opportunity to be part of the One Ocean Expedition,” Dr. Sherman said. “It was also inspiring to see how integrated conservation research and advocacy is in Norway and it’s something we can definitely learn from.”
The 107-year-old ship departed from Arendal, Norway on August 20, and will continue sailing throughout 2023, spanning 55,000 nautical miles and 36 ports worldwide. Equipped with modern instrumentation, the vessel will collect high-quality data continuously from a wide range of environments, including CO2 levels, ocean acidification and micro-plastics.
“The expedition is a recognized part of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. Its goal is to create attention and share knowledge about the crucial role of the ocean for a sustainable development in a global perspective,” said Sissel Rogne, CEO of the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research (IMR) in a news release.
“We will inspire people to engage in the work of creating a clean and healthy ocean. We will build new knowledge about the use and preservation of marine resources and share this with the rest of the world.”
On Friday, December 3, Dr. Sherman co-moderated an Ocean Health and Seafood seminar for participants on board the One Ocean Expedition while it was docked in the Nassau Harbour. In her presentation, she provided an overview of fisheries research and conservation efforts in The Bahamas.
“Approximately 30% of fish species have been overexploited representing significant losses to biodiversity, ecosystem services and socioeconomic contributions,” said Dr Sherman, whose doctoral research assessed the status, population structure and dynamics of Nassau grouper spawning aggregations, and was crucial to the development of the first Nassau Grouper Conservation Management Plan for The Bahamas.
“Improving our understanding of fisheries is critical to facilitate effective management and conservation initiatives. This is particularly important for The Bahamas, a small island developing state where fisheries products account for 10 percent of the protein for the population.”
The commercial fisheries sector employs 9,300 people and has an estimated export value of US$90 million. Recreational fishing sector provides 18,000 jobs directly and indirectly $527 million per year, Dr Sherman informed her audience.
Pointing to the critically endangered Nassau grouper and the near-threatened bonefish, she said trade of these species must be regulated to ensure their very survival.
In The Bahamas, she explained, fishery resources are managed through gear restrictions, quotas, size limits, closed seasons, bans and marine protected (no-take) areas.
Indeed, The Bahamas has more coral reef area than any other nation in the region including one of the world’s largest contiguous coral reefs, the Andros Barrier Reef. Eleven percent of the nation’s marine environment is currently protected within national parks.
According to the marine scientist, however, emerging fisheries – that is, bycatch, or species unintentionally caught by fishermen – “have the potential to expand the fishing sector, improve food security and provide income to a greater number of fishers.” Even so, emerging fisheries present new challenges for management due to lack of data on landings, population dynamics and the ecological function of these species.
“Fisheries research and conservation programs are crucial to reduce scientific knowledge gaps, provide guidance for fishery regulations and to promote behavioral change for ongoing conservation management in The Bahamas and Caribbean,” Dr Sherman noted.
Other Bahamians participating in the Havana to Nassau leg of the One Ocean voyage included representatives from Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF), the Bahamas National Trust and the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organization.