Marine sanctuaries continue to restore hope, preserve livelihoods
Dive boat spotter and master diver at Sandals Ochi beach resort Kemar Gordon explores a section of the reef as the dive team from the Water Sports Department, along with the Sandals Foundation, did a reef clean-up on World Oceans Day 2022.

OCHO RIOS, St Ann — In an effort to conserve and sustainably use the sea and marine resources, particularly the protection of fish stocks to support the livelihoods that rely on them, Sandals Resorts International, through its philanthropic arm the Sandals Foundation, manages two marine sanctuaries and provides support to others across the island.

This conservation effort aligns with this year’s World Oceans Day theme, ‘Revitalisation: Collective Action for the Ocean,’ which encourages businesses and organisations to mobilise citizens to participate in the sustainable management of seas and oceans.

Marine sanctuaries, also known as fish sanctuaries, are marine protected areas that run along the island’s coastline and include mangroves, sea grass, and nearshore reefs. These are also no-take zones, allowing for safe breeding grounds for species recovery and an increase in marine biodiversity.

Through the Sandals Whitehouse Special Fishery Conservation Area and the Sandals Boscobel Special Fishery Conservation Area, marine wardens actively engage fisherfolks, community members, students, team members and guests at Sandals and Beaches Resorts in public outreach and awareness activities to educate them on the benefits of maintaining and protecting the sanctuaries and the surrounding environment.

Diego Salmon, manager of the Sandals Whitehouse Special Fishery Conservation Area, said a part of their roles as marine wardens is to provide assistance to the fisherfolk to support them in adhering to stipulated legislations.

“As marine wardens, we interact with the fishers and try to let them understand that we are not here to stop anyone from making a living. Instead, we are here to help them to protect the marine space and its surrounding so that their livelihoods can be preserved.”

“As the possession of a fishing licence is required by law,” Salmon continued, “we plan and host licensing sessions for the fishers to walk them through the application process. We’ve also given them fishing equipment and supplies, as we did for Fisherman’s Day last year, when we distributed items to various fishing groups.”

In the north of the island, Jerlene Layne, manager of the Sandals Boscobel Special Fishery Conservation Area, shared how they have gone a step further and formed two fishers’ association.

“Since we began operating (2010), we were able to form two fishers’ associations. Boscobel Fishers’ Association is currently in the process of being registered, while the other, Stewart Town Rio Nuevo Fishers’ Association, has been a registered body since 2016.”

Said Layne: “The aim of these associations is to provide leadership and effective communication amongst the fishers and the communities at large, as well as to improve the fishers’ livelihood.”

With the increased awareness of the sanctuaries’ presence, the short- and medium-term benefits are growing exponentially. The team at Boscobel has observed a more than 80 per cent decrease in algae, over 50 per cent increase in coral cover and close to 2,000 per cent increase in the fish biomass. All of which is beneficial to the surrounding fishing communities.

In September 2015, the Sandals Boscobel Special Fishery Conservation Area started its coral restoration programme, providing additional employment for fishers and other community members. A year later the programme was expanded to the southern coast of the island at the Sandals Whitehouse Special Fishery Conservation Area.

Since 2016, the team at Boscobel has out-planted over 12,000 Acroporoid corals from the nursery onto the reefs in and around the fish sanctuary, assisting in the restoration of habitat for many fish and species, while improving the health of the reef.

Ryan Johnson, boat captain and open-water scuba instructor at Sandals Ochi Beach, said the sanctuary’s inclusive approach to collective action allows everyone to participate in the protection and enjoyment of the marine space.

“Whenever residents learn of the benefits of protecting the sanctuary they will eventually become the biggest supporters of the mission. This will provide benefits for eco-tourism, increased fish population, snorkelling, scuba diving and providing a healthy reef,” said Johnson.

With Sandals and Beaches Resorts being major tourism players in support of a blue economy, the Sandals Foundation said it will continue to support operation of the marine sanctuaries.

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