On Monday, 13th May, 2013 Government Ministers met with representatives of the Pew Environment Group’s Ocean Legacy Fund to discuss a proposal to establish a Marine Protected Area within Bermuda’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

The Pew Environment Group was represented by Alistair Gammel and Andi Pearl of their UK and Washington, DC offices respectively, and from Pew’s Bermuda Office, Chris Flook and Leanne Hinton.  Pew invited Dr. Andrew Baker of the University of Miami, Dr. Ashley McCrae-Strub of the University of British Columbia, and Tony Long to discuss with Government the potential benefits of creating a large “no-take” Marine Reserve for Bermuda.  Representing the Government were the Minister of Environment and Planning, the Hon. Sylvan Richards JP MP, the Minister of Tourism Development and Transport, the Hon. Shawn Crockwell JP MP, the Minister of Public Safety and Deputy Premier, the Hon. Michael Dunkley JP MP and the Minister of Home Affairs, Sen. the Hon. Michael Fahy.

The Pew team, advocates for establishing the largest possible “no-take” marine reserves wherever possible, stressed the potential tourism benefits that could be realized from the establishment of what could be the largest Marine Reserve in the Atlantic.  They referred to increased interest in other territories that had already established protections and foresaw similar opportunities for Bermuda.  In addition, they emphasized the positive benefits that a no-take zone could have on fish stocks closer to shore.

Dr. Baker, whose research focuses on the health of corals, indicated that overfishing, climate change, habitat destruction and poor water quality were the biggest threats to healthy oceans.  He advised that isolation combined with protections can make a big difference in reversing these negative effects.

Dr. McCrea-Strub, a Research Fellow with the University of British Columbia’s Oceans Around Us project, stated that fully protected marine reserves represent less than one percent of the world’s oceans.  While much effort has been focused on the protection of reefs, little protective measures have been developed for highly migratory species of fish such as tuna.  She noted that a country such as Bermuda could get a bigger impact for its investment by creating a larger area when compared to the benefits of creating a smaller area.

Mr. Long emphasized the need to establish laws to ban fishing in a protected area combined with cooperation with other nations as the best means to enforce a protected area.

Ministers were unanimous in their belief that the implementation of a Marine Protected Area had merit, but recognized that this proposal must be considered in the context of Bermuda’s overall priorities to grow the economy and increase jobs. 

Minister Richards said “Government will soon commence  a public consultation process, involving all stakeholders, to gauge the views of the wider community on the concept of a marine protected area for Bermuda.  Through this process Government will seek input from the wider community in order to ensure that all Bermudians have an opportunity to contribute to the discussion.  Following a review of the results of the consultation, Government will determine if protections are desired, and if so, will determine the size, shape and location of the protected area, and the nature of the protections to be imposed on the area.” 

Minister Richards added: “We need to emphasize the importance of finding the balance between protecting our EEZ while not stifling potential future economic activity.”  Minister Richards encouraged all Bermudians to participate fully in the consultation, which he anticipates being launched in the very near future.