Profiles in EBM: Sustaining Ecosystems, Supporting Human Well-Being in The Bahamas

The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

[Editor's note: Ecosystem-based management is as much a process as an endpoint. It does not require a single giant leap from traditional, sectoral management to fully integrated, comprehensive management. Rather, it can be achieved in a step-by-step, adaptive manner. In our new "Profiles in EBM" feature, MEAM will briefly highlight places where important steps toward EBM are being taken - recognizing ecosystem connections, protecting ecosystem services, integrating management, and pursuing multiple objectives.]

The Caribbean nation of The Bahamas consists of 29 principal islands and has a population of 330,000. Although most of the country's income is tourism-related, fishing is an important economic activity as well - feeding the local populace (and tourists) as well as providing significant export revenue. Efforts to protect the Bahamian environment have begun taking these ecosystem services into account.

"In earlier years when conservation efforts were implemented in The Bahamas, a lot of focus was placed primarily on maintaining healthy ecosystems and biodiversity," says Felicity Burrows, marine conservation specialist in The Nature Conservancy's Northern Caribbean office, located in The Bahamas. "In more recent years, conservation strategies have been designed to incorporate the maintenance of human livelihoods and sustainable use. It is important to have that balance."

A selection of some of the country's ongoing or recent conservation and sustainable use initiatives is below. Each initiative has involved a diverse mix of partners including government departments, local and international NGOs, stakeholders (particularly fishermen), funding organizations, and more.

Andros West Side Protected Area Project:
This project promotes good management on the nation's largest island (Andros) through the Andros West Side National Park, which the Bahamian Government expanded in 2009 to include connected, critical marine habitats. The project also promotes sustainable use of the area through ecotourism activities like fly-fishing, the primary source of income on Andros. An economic valuation of the island has determined Andros habitats generate as much as US $260 million per year in net economic benefits, a figure that could rise substantially with expanded sustainable use.

Spiny Lobster Fishery Improvement Project:
This project encourages sustainable fishing practices and improved management of the nation’s spiny lobster fishery. The goal is to secure Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification for the fishery. MSC certification is an ecolabel that rewards and promotes sustainable fishery management to global markets: following certification, a fishery's market value typically increases, which benefits fishermen. Spiny lobster production in The Bahamas is significant, averaging US $70 million annually.

The Caribbean Challenge:
Through this initiative, The Bahamas aims to expand its MPA network to cover 20% of its marine waters by 2020. A new master plan for the country's protected areas has identified priority sites and outlined funding, training, and policy actions to ensure the network's long-term sustainability. The planning process has incorporated analyses of the future effects of climate change on Bahamian coral reefs and mangroves, as well as those habitats' anticipated resilience.

Belize and Bahamas Fishermen Exchange:
This project shared lessons among fishermen from Belize and The Bahamas on addressing the mutual threat of invasive lionfish in their marine ecosystems. The exchange involved a visit of Belizean fishermen to The Bahamas where they attended a workshop with classroom training, field networking with fishermen, and the capture and preparation of lionfish for consumption.

"Through outreach efforts, we have educated the community on how all these initiatives connect in order to continue to provide and support our quality of life well into the future," says Burrows. "The goal is to take care of Nature so Nature can continue to take care of us."

For more information: Felicity Burrows, The Nature Conservancy, Nassau, The Bahamas. E-mail: fburrows [at] tnc.org

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