THREE marine protected areas -- Sandy Island, Woburn Clarke's Court Bed and the Molinere/Beausejour Marine Park -- will be launched in Carricou and Grenada in the next few weeks, as part of regional efforts to strengthen the establishment and management of these resources in the Caribbean.
"We are planning to launch in another week or so," said Roland Baldeo, the marine protected areas officer in the Fisheries Division of the Government of Grenada.
He was part of a team visiting Dominica to see how the Soufriere Scott's Head Marine Reserve (SSMR) there was being run. The team was led by Dr Patrick McConney from the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI).
McConney was an important figure in a UWI research project on the SSMR and the lessons that other Caribbean islands can learn from it, as it is one of only two marine areas with legislated local area management authorities in the Eastern Caribbean. The research was done in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a leading US conservation organisation with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
During last week's meetings, McConney stressed that while the SSMR was ecologically sound, there were some management issues that needed improvement. He made specific recommendations for Dominica, including restructuring the Local Area Management Authority (LAMA) to have a small executive board of core stakeholders supported by a broader stakeholder advisory group, both of which have clear terms of reference.
At the meetings many community members agreed with McConney's research findings and recommendations, including the need for more systematic and continued communications between themselves, the managing body of the LAMA and other critical stakeholders.
"I see many things that I can learn from and do when I get back home," said Baldeo. "One of the things I would really like to do, though, is to have exchanges between the fishermen in the marine protected areas here in Dominica and Grenada. That way they can also learn what works and what does not in the different islands."
In turn, McConney said that the exchange of information between islands was one of the key recommendations in his study. The study was done over a nine-month period and will be completed by September 2010. Following the workshops, research fieldwork and communication analysis in Dominica, the application of lessons to Grenada is the next phase of the project.
The findings of the Local Area Management Project (LAMP) will ultimately be used to advance the work being carried out by TNC's Marine and Coastal Biodiversity Threat Abatement in the Eastern Caribbean Project, which is being funded through a grant from the USAID.
The TNC's primary strategy is to help countries meet and then exceed their commitments to the Programme of Work for Protected Areas (PoWPA) under the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) that will result in an effectively managed network of marine protected areas.
A marine protected area is a protected area whose boundaries include some area of ocean. During the discussions in Dominica, it was clear that the LAMA still had to do a fair amount of public education to get people to understand the value of the marine protected areas.
One fisherman, who did not give his name, said that there needed to be more public education for other fishermen so that they could, for example, understand why some areas were declared no-fishing zones.
"We have explained things to them over and over. The fishermen need more education to learn what is the meaning of LAMA for them," he said.
With the growth of tourism, fisheries, and other development in coral reef areas, marine protected areas are an important tool for safeguarding coral reefs. According to a study called Reefs at Risk published in 2004, more than 285 marine protected areas have been declared across the Caribbean, but the level of protection afforded by marine protected areas varies considerably. The Reefs at Risk Project found only six per cent of marine protected areas to be rated as effectively managed and 13 per cent as having partially effective management. Marine protected areas are but one tool available to reduce stress on coastal resources, but are by no means a shelter from all threats.
TNC has said that to improve the management of marine biodiversity resources, there must be increased capacity for managing the marine environment in zones of use; policies and regulations that support management of marine biodiversity; economic development, benefit sharing, involvement of users in biodiversity management; and educational outreach to involve the public, business interests and policy decision-makers.
Indi Mclymont-Lafayette is the regional director community, media and environment at Panos Caribbean, an international information and development agency.