September 29, 2020

DOE appeal for public input on marine parks

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(L-R): DOE Research Officer, Croy McCoy, DOE Director, Gina-Ebanks Petrie, Laura Richardson and Dr. John Turner from Bangor University and DOE Deputy Director Tim Austin.

The Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (DOE) are encouraging the public to speak out  on the desired future state of the marine protected areas in the Cayman Islands.

In a series of district meetings the findings from the Darwin Initiative’s second year of field work are being presented to concerned citizens.

Researchers from DOE and Bangor University in Wales are conducting a three year project to evaluate the threats that local reefs and marine parks face such as rapid coastal development, overfishing, climate change and loss of mangroves.

The project led by Department of Environment Senior Researcher Croy McCoy, and funded by the UK government, has evaluated data from 60 sites around the islands and after the first two years the results are positive.

The reef research shows that the 16.7% of marine protected areas on Cayman’s shelf are functioning as anticipated and there is more coral cover, less algae and subsequently more reef fish in the marine parks as opposed to the waters outside.

“The idea of flipping the zones was part of the original concept,” said Gina Ebanks-Petrie, DOE Director “but at the time the Marine Parks as a management tool was very new and scientists have come to the conclusion that areas must be under protection for a long period of time in order to be effective, unless it becomes glaringly obvious that the zoning is not working.”

However the data from the Brac tells a different story. Mr. McCoy said, “The data from the Brac is contrary to what we would have predicted. There is less coral and more algae in the Marine Parks than outside. We have a number of theories as to why this might be occurring but at this present stage those ideas are not conclusive.”

The benefits have also been seen outside the marine parks. The research suggested that fish move across the boundaries of the Marine Parks to colonise the areas outside of them. This “spillover” of adult fish and export of eggs and larvae creates more productive fisheries, more vibrant reefs and healthier ecosystems.

Over the past 25 years there has been increasing international recognition of the ecological and economic importance of Marine Protected Areas. In the Cayman Islands, the success of the marine parks and Cayman’s reputation for healthy reefs draws millions of visitors to support our economy.

“Cayman Islands have a rich and vibrant marine environment which is well-known around the world as a conservation  that has worked.” Said Dr John Turner from Bangor University. “Other countries have gazetted and documented but not enforced the regulations. Cayman set a world class example for an effective marine parks system.

“The reefs have really benefitted from 25 years’ worth of foresight. However, the protection level is actually quite low, as only 16.7 per cent of the shelf is fully protected,” Mr. Turner said. “The aim is to get 30-50% of the shelf protected.”

Protecting the fish leads to healthier reefs and healthy reefs are more resilient subsequently giving them the capacity to recover from major impacts such as coral bleaching, disease and storms.

For example, hurricanes can catastrophically damage corals. In a healthy ecosystem, fish graze algae after a storm, clearing substrates for coral larvae to settle and re-establish the reef.

 

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