Local conservationists are stressing the importance of protecting the marine environment as The Bahamas joins in marking World Oceans Day, an annual event focused on sustainable development goals for the protection and management of the ocean’s natural resources.
This year’s World Ocean’s Day theme, “Lives and Livelihoods.”
This is timely as The Bahamas, comprised of limestone and white sand banks, relies heavily on its surrounding waters as a key marketing tool for the tourism industry.
“I believe that our priority as a nation should be, how should we ensure that every single Bahamian has the skills necessary to take advantage of the economic opportunities that the ocean has to offer” Principle Research Scientist at the Cat Island Conservation Institute, Nikita Shiel-Rolle explains.
She says that although we are all familiar with how the ocean provides food, nutrition and sustenance, this World Oceans Day, its important for us to keep in mind a few things that we can be doing as a nation.
“Ensure that every Bahamian learns how to swim and has access and opportunity to develop these skills. Unless we can swim, unless we are comfortable enough to be putting our heads underwater and even going down scuba diving, we are going to miss out on the magic of our country.
“If we don’t know what’s in the ocean we’re not going to be able to appreciate it, were not going to be able to benefit from it; and this is really important because people are in our country benefiting from our resources and we should be befitting from them. We can and we will but that first requires us to – one, know how to swim.” she says.
Shiel-Rolle believes that in order to advance an understanding of the ocean, a concerted effort must be made in funding ocean research in The Bahamas.
“The next thing we need to do as a nation is to invest in ocean science. The only way we are going to benefit from our oceans, the only way we are going to effectively protect our oceans is to know what the ocean has.
“The best way – really the only way for us to do that – is to make sure that there is money being invested into driving ocean research. It is critical right now. Our country does not have a research budget.”
The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 led to restrictions being made by the government which, in many cases banned all beach activity. However in 2021 as most of those restrictions have been eased, people can now freely spend more time in and around the ocean.
“The best thing for the well-being, of every single person who lives in our nation, the best thing for our individual well-being is to spend time in nature; to connect with ourselves and there really is no better way to do that than by spending time alone listening to the waves putting in your head looking at the sea grass, looking at the fish” she says.
On this World Oceans day, the Principle Research Scientist says that it is her wish that all Bahamians would be able to see their future in the ocean.
“That is a future, that is flourishing, thriving communities where all of us are living at the highest quality of life; we all have access to quality education, quality healthcare beautiful nutritious food to eat and we get to play in the most beautiful country in the world, which is our home.
“I think the only way we really get to appreciate that will be when we prioritize and we celebrate and we invest in our ocean future” she says.
Dr. Ancellino Davis is a Bahamian environmentalist, researcher and CEO of Science and Perspective. His organization aims to encourage the community to observe and understand how each issue is connected to the bigger picture.
This World Oceans Day, Davis says a strong focus should be on properly valuing our natural resources.
“Now we need to really take an objective view and say to ourselves how much those are worth, not just today or this year, but for generations into the future.
“When we do that, we can properly advance legislation and the public discussion against things like oil exploration or coastal development that could seriously impact those habitats and communities.
“We have these developers who are able to flash these large sums of money that really don’t compare in the very least to the amount that we get from our crabbing, lobster conch, bone fish, grouper, snapper, recreational tourism and even the passage of cruise ships through our waters.
“We need to know who we are and we need to work to put our own value on our natural resources” he says.
Davis adds that environmental education is possible through integrating current and pertinent issues to the school curriculum.
“In our geography classes we could have students mapping and learning to map the Bahamas and our natural resources or even mapping emergency resources for when we have hurricanes.
“Let them read about The Bahamas and the new research that is going on right now, that is going to affect them tomorrow.
“Let them read the newspaper articles where someone’s talking about oil exploration positively or negatively – plus these things in our social studies classes.” Davis says.
The Bahamas Reef Environmental Educational Foundation, BREEF, is celebrating the whole month of June as World Ocean’s month. Executive Director, Casurina McKinney-Lambert, says that they are seeing more schools, churches, businesses and community groups want to get involved with marine conservation.
BREEF in response, has created a guide on their website for holding a beach clean-up. Anyone can use it and McKinney-Lambert says an arraignment can be made to have a BREEF representative give an outdoor presentation free of charge.
“We encourage everyone to get involved with BREEF and other organizations that are protecting the environment and the livelihoods that depend on it.” she says.
Oceans are especially vulnerable to climate impacts, and as we brace ourselves at the start of another hurricane season, McKinney-Lambert points out that the scale of our carbon footprint should be taken into consideration for the preservation of the marine environment.
“Especially at the start of hurricane season we need to be mindful of what we can do to mitigate – and that’s reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and also adapt to the effects of climate change especially given that we are a small low lying island-nation in the the hurricane zone” she added.
The ocean faces many threats regularly. However, besides the typical environmental issues like climate change, pollution, over-fishing and loss of habitat, Senior Scientist at the Perry Institute for Marine Science, Dr. Krista Sherman says that in recent times stony coral tissue loss disease has been a challenge in waters here and around the region.
“It’s a really aggressive disease that impacts reef-building corals like we have here in the Bahamas and essentially we are facing an underwater crisis, a coral pandemic if you like, if we are unable to act to protect some of these species and some of the reefs.
“And we know, and we’ve talked about in the past the importance of reefs to the Bahamas in terms of coastal protections, in terms of food security, livelihoods and ecotourism value so its really important that we are able to act to protect these really important ecosystems” Sherman says.
In efforts to combat the issue, the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease Task Force was created to raise awareness about this ongoing issue. The goal is to prevent the transmission of the disease through teaching the public how to identify and report any sightings. Additionally, information on how to disinfect dive or swim gear before going into other areas, and causing a spread, can be found on their website and social media pages. Currently the group is working on distributing material to the community.
“Moving forward we want people to take action, get involved if you see something report it you can report it through the ‘BEST app’ you can report it through our online reporting mechanism and help us stop the spread of stony coral tissue loss disease so we can protect Bahamian reefs.” Sherman says.
The Centre for Ocean Research and Education (CORE) in North Eleuthera promotes the conservation of biodiversity through involving Bahamian students and the community in data collection processes for research.
CEO and Principle Research Scientist, Dr. Owen O’Shea says there are many issues that need to be brought to the attention of the public and the global science community. How we treat and interact with the environment and how we can consider the marine environment as a resource that does so much for so many.
“I think we should be focusing really on promoting and educating, not just the sustainable use of the marine resources of the Bahamas but we need to reconsider how we interact with the environment as well.”
“After this sort of strange 2020 of pandemics and lock-downs and restricted travel, certainly in Eleuthera we are seeing huge volumes of people coming to the island for their long awaited vacations and these breaks after these really sort of awful 12 months that we’ve had as a global community.”
O’Shea says that he is a huge advocate for the sensible and sustainable use of the marine environment.
“So I really think we need to consider the role the ocean plays in so many people’s lives and how we must respect it, we must protect it and we have an obligation really to be custodians really of this resource and to promote its sustainable use.
“Lets think about trash, lets think about over fishing, lets think about misuse of the environment and how we can better be custodians and stewards for this finite resource.