Former Premier Dr David Saul *File photo
Former Premier Dr David Saul *File photo

Few will have missed former Premier Dr David Saul’s recent criticism of the Blue Halo concept of a no take marine reserve. He claimed that such a move would be “economic suicide” for the island cutting off future commercial prospects, including seabed mining for minerals which is of particular interest to Dr Saul.

He owns shares in the Bermudian company Ocean Projects Ltd which has an exclusive ten-year exploration licence to commercially explore Bermuda’s territorial waters. They hold about 75 per cent of rights to Bermuda’s territorial waters (12 nautical miles radius from shore) and they are pursuing rights to the entire EEZ (200nm).

Seabed mining is still in its infancy, Nautilus Minerals is the first company to explore the ocean floor for massive sulphide deposits, yet if Bermuda has the natural resources, could potentially reap huge financial rewards for the island.

Mr Ward believes that the no take reserve could be damaging to this and other future commercial opportunities.

“Bermuda should adopt a watching brief on that because the Nautilus Minerals is poised to do this in the next few years. So much will be learned from that activity we should watch that before making any firm decisions.”

Mr Flook points out that Ocean Projects Ltd has so far not announced any viable concentrations or attracted any international mining and exploration companies. “Overvaluing this asset is in the interests of a private company,” he said. 

“Take manganese modules — the highest concentrations on the planet that we know of, they are getting $75 to $400 for one ton of ore [according to the International Seabed Authority]. 

“One ton of ore you have to bring up and separate and get it to China to smelt it. It’s unlikely to benefit us within 100 years and we have real economic problem now.”

Mr Flook also stresses that if it turns out Bermuda is sitting on a gold mine with a no take reserve limiting prospecting, the legislation can be changed in favour of commerce. “Protecting the area now helps insure the area’s integrity should a viable commercial opportunity arise in the future. Fully protecting the area (a marine reserve) is simply a management tool, ensuring a strict environmental, economic and social assessment should a future opportunity arise.”

Both Mr Flook and Mr Ward agree that Bermuda has little to lose in terms of potential longline and other off shore fishing opportunities for Bermudians.

When Mr Ward was fisheries biologist for the government in the 80s, he was actively engaged in experimental longline fishing. “Then we came to the conclusion… it just wasn’t as lucrative.”

Mr Flook added: “Anything that is caught here is going to be sold here. Six frozen lionfish to Toronto cost me over $300 just in shipping. They are going to sell them here for $10 a lb but on the east coast they will get $4 to $5 a lb – it is cheaper to get fish on the east coast of the States from Africa and Oz than it is from here.” 

• Chris Flook is marine consultant for the Pew Charitable Trust, an advocacy group invited by the Government of Bermuda to help facilitate a consultation process involved in creating a no take marine reserve in Bermuda’s EEZ. 

• Jack Ward, is the former director for Conservation Services (2002 to 2009) and acts as chair for the science and policy division of the Bermuda Alliance for Sargasso Sea.


Marine reserve: Q&A

Does a reserve amount to ‘commercial suicide’?

What if opportunity knocks?

Why don’t we just use current legislation to fine illegal fishing operations?

Could a marine reserve attract an influx of eco-tourists and marine scientists?

What are the marine reserve choices?

Do marine reserves help the environment?
How can we enforce such a huge area?