Marine park expansion needed now

| 16/09/2015 | 36 Comments
Cayman News Service

DoE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie at the West Bay meeting

(CNS): The Cayman Islands needs to act and implement expanded and enhanced reserves now because threats to the local marine environment are increasing and becoming more severe. The current marine parks have served Cayman well but they are no longer enough to protect against the global as well as local pressures on the marine habitat surrounding all three islands. Gina Ebanks-Petrie, the director of the Department of Environment, told a small meeting in West Bay last night that the department has done the research and said, “We know what needs to be done and know it needs to be done soon.”

Stresses such as climate change, coral disease and invasive species are now adding to the existing pressures from development and mangrove destruction, stretching the current management of Cayman’s very limited marine habitats.

Explaining why Cayman needs more protected areas and an expansion of no-take zones, Ebanks-Petrie noted that the existing marine parks were implemented almost 30 years ago. At that time the concerns were mainly about the decline in conch and lobster numbers, the damage and decline in reefs and coastal development, and while those issues still exist, over the last three decades many more stresses have emerged.

Pressure from line fishing on the reef was barely considered in 1986 but is now posing a serious threat to the marine habitat. With more than 15,000 reef fish being taken from the waters around Cayman every month by around 70 people, she warned that different species are now being taken, which is undermining the health of the reefs.

Research undertaken by local experts as well as data from the marine science community around the world clearly shows that marine parks work. The limited protection offered by Cayman’s own parks has served to protect the marine habitat here from significant decline but they now need to be far more robust.

“We have a fragile and finite area that we are trying to manage so everyone can have fair and equitable access to the resources,” Ebanks-Petrie explained, as she stressed the pressing need to increase the diversity of marine habitat under protection. From the mangrove nurseries around Barkers to reefs on the north coast, the creation of no-take marine reserves will simplify the rules and enforcement and give the local environment a fighting chance for the future.

It is critically important to create areas where fish can grow, reach maturity and then reproduce to refill the waters and act as a reservoir for areas that are open to fish, the DoE director said. Without protection, Cayman’s reefs will decline, as they have in other parts of the region, and the coral will disappear, as it has in Jamaica. With fewer fish to clean the reefs, algae builds up and destroys the coral, and as coral declines, fish numbers fall until the reefs are pure algae and no fish.

Under the proposed new plan, fishing will now be more tightly restricted but Ebanks-Petrie explained that the marine reserves will feed the open fishing areas and ensure that Caymanians will still be able to fish, not just today, but in the future. One the greatest success of the existing marine parks has been the spill-over from the protected areas of fish into open waters.

Only a small number of local fishermen came to the meeting and some raised concerns about where they would be able to fish and catch sprats for bait under the new regime. West Bay MLA Captain Eugene Ebanks, who was the only district representative at the meeting, said he was concerned about penalizing local fishermen and the hardship it would create as they would have nowhere to fish.

When Ebanks-Petrie pointed to the open areas around the district’s coast, the North Sound and the line fishing zones in the marine reserves, Capt Ebanks said there were no fish in those places, serving to illustrate the point made by the environment director. “We are trying to help you and address that,” she said, as she explained that there were no fish because of the pressures.

Unless action is taken to preserve the areas where there still are healthier stocks of fish, those areas will also decline and soon there will be no fish or coral reefs anywhere and nothing to rebuild from — a fate that has befallen marine environments the world over.

The current proposals for the new parks are rooted in scientific evidence, Ebanks-Petrie explained. Research conducted in Cayman and elsewhere has demonstrated that marine reserves and no-take zones are the most successful conservation methods to not only preserve but enhance fish stocks. She said that the boundaries have been drawn based on extensive and repeated public consultation that began in 2012 and included input from all stakeholders, including the fishing community in most of the districts.

Nevertheless, she said, the DoE will still be taking on more comments and submissions as the process for creating the new marine reserves moves forward. This latest consultation will end in December, when the National Conservation Council will present its findings on the recommendation to enhance the marine reserves to Cabinet, which will have the final say. If the government approves the expansion, the law will then be changed.

The goal which the DoE has had for several years now to improve the marine protection will still take time but it is hoped that this will be the last round of public consultation before the new legislation and Ebanks-Petrie urged everyone to submit their final thoughts on the proposal before 18 December.

See full details of the proposed enhancement of marine protections

The next meeting will be at the town hall in George Town, this evening, 16 September, at 7pm. See full schedule here

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Category: Marine Environment, Science & Nature

Comments (36)

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  1. Sharkey says:

    I think that we need to stop and realize what DOE is doing, they are trying to protect , and replenish what fish, conch, lobster, turtle, we have left into our waters around Cayman Islands. We need to understand that the Cayman Islands population is not 30,000 now , it’s now about 60,000 people, so if we leave everywhere open to fish and take marine life , and everyone to take it , how long would it be before everything is completely gone and no more seafood for no one , when you might really need it . I say we all should be in favor of what DOE is doing and help them whenever you see someone who is violating the laws.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Try sending the officers out in unmarked boats. Once a doe boat hits the sound the coconut telegraph goes and everyone knows what they look like. Police boat is the same. Can spot it from a mile off cruising like a gray missile with all engines at full throttle .100 dollars fuel burnt across the sound. Leave the zones and try to properly enforce what you’ve got in place

  3. Anonymous says:

    What has been the actual results of the DoE’s current marine park zones?

    And which data (Hard Facts) is available for us to examine which demonstrates that expanding marine parks directly produce increases in fish, conch, lobsters population?

    In other words can the DoE provide us supporting data that the DoE’s measures actually work and have been working because it sure seems that it HASN’T Especially considering that poaching and/or disregard of the marine parks has been without and real enforcement… Or are they just pulling these new zones and law of their backsides? while the rest of us that actually OBEY the laws, end up penalized from fishing/conching/lobestering in our favorite areas.

    • Anonymous says:

      My house faces a marine zone and there are lots of big conch all around. A half mile down the beach outside the park you’re lucky to find one 5 inches long. But I don’t think you are really interested in hard facts at all.

  4. Anonymous says:

    There are not enough good DOE officers enforcing what is already in place. Make it mandatory for officers not to be able to moonlight. There are at least 3 that I know of who spend most their time in uniform running businesses of their own

  5. Anonymous says:

    Enforce what you have. Implement and enforce slot, catch, and possession limits on all species regardless of catch method. Stop fishing in known spawn areas during the spawn. Prohibit breaking conchs at sea. Protect or at least patrol the dredge cut areas in the North Sound where lobsters are concentrated at certain times of the year. Prohibit commercial sales of locally caught conch and lobster (Require proof of import). Introduce heavy fines for restaurants and supermarkets that buy illegally caught conch and lobster. No need for additional Protected areas if you would just enforce what you have. Check out any state in the U.S. for guidance on how to effectively protect wildlife. Oh yes, one more thing…replace the Boards that have presided over Marine environmental protection for the past umpteen years as they have failed miserably.

  6. Sunrise says:

    The proposed expansion areas now known as Marine Reserves, which was Marine Parks before, is essential for the repopulation of fish to enhance the reefs. I applaud the efforts by DOE, however we have to apply all rules to everyone if we are going to have a healthy ecosystem. For example, let us elaborate on the proposed changes in the West Bay area. The Marine Reserve for the West Bay seven mile beach area, which starts at Northwest Point and extends to North of Casa Luna condominiums. This proposes that no line fishing from the shoreline up to a depth of 150 feet, except for a small area by the cemetery reef. There are no areas in this entire section where there are a No Diving Zone. Someone at the meeting asked, ” what is a No Diving Zone and why are they being implemented?” The answer was, “that they are being implemented to help protect the reefs due to the damage that is caused by divers as studies had shown in the past.”. The same person asked, ” why does that entire Marine Reserve, not have a No Diving Zone?”. The answer given was, ” this is where 85% of the diving in Grand Cayman happens and it was not economically feasible to set up No Diving Zones in that area. I thought the whole purpose of this ‘Enhanced System of Marine Parks’ was to protect the ecosystem, instead of being economically feasible. If we are going to protect the reefs, we have to protect them in all areas. This area definitely need a few of the ‘No Diving Zones’ added to help preserve the reefs. As for the Barkers area, they definitely need to stop all activities there. I am talking about horseback riding, jet skis, windsurfing, kite boarding, etc. Any activities that will damage the reefs and ecosystems, has to cease!! You cannot have a double standard that say, well you can’t throw a cast net for sprats but it is OK for horses to go for a swim destroying the ecosystem. You can’t line fish from shore, but the divers can do whatever they wish to destroy the corals; and it does happen in different ways quite often.
    What about coastal development? The reason the Parks are now Reserves, is for the reason of breeding areas and feeding areas to be left untouched. Well who gives a shit about the ecosystem, once Cabinet gives the approval for development, they can destroy it all.
    I have a lot more to say, but I think you are getting the picture.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Time to buy some drones with cameras and some officers on jet skis.
    In fact forget the jet skis just buy some armed drones.

  8. Bear Baiter says:

    Expansion YES! – but enforcement of what we have now, FIRST! Come on Government, extract the diget and provide for and insist on thorough enforcement – day in and day out. No exceptions for brother Joe, cousin Sam or uncle XYZ!

  9. Anonymous says:

    What the director of the Department of Environment really needs to worry about is how the boats and trucks that the tax payers buy for her department are being abused by her employees. After that is dealt with then we can move on to other matters.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I swim for Lobster often in season and I stick to the rules religiously, I too want them to be back next year just like the DOE does. But not once has anyone shown the faintest interest that what I am doing is right (or wrong).

    In 9 years!!

    In Australia, fisheries enforcement is massive – take them seriously or else. They don’t stuff around. Not much point having a Marine Park when the majority don’t care or know the risk of being caught is one in a million.

  11. Yo No Soy Marinero says:

    Eugene has time to go fishing? Shouldn’t he be busy legislating?

  12. Anonymous says:

    There is definitely at least one of the member of the National Conservation Council who poaches lobsters and has pipe traps set for them. Imagine the hypocrisy there.

  13. Marine Expert says:

    They don’t need expansion, they need enforcement. Plain and simple.

  14. Anonymous says:

    We can’t even patrol our roads much less the ocean. She has the wagon in front of the donkey on this one. Get enforcement right before you think about expanding the marine parks.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Won’t happen until for new port deal is signed….

  16. Anonymous says:

    Expanding marine parks will be of no use whatever unless there is better enforcement.

    The existing parks are being raided at will. The park that I live close to is a conch shell graveyard. We have recently found an abandoned turtle shell with a spear hole in it. This was handed over to officials. Nothing more heard.

    • While the Department of Environment (DoE) does not normally comment on operational or ongoing enforcement measures we can add some additional perspective to this particular incident.

      In March 2015 the DoE did receive a turtle shell with what was clearly a spear hole in it. We assume this is the incident referred to in the original post and, we hope, our officer thanked the citizen for calling us. While we want people to call us with all information, especially anything related to turtle poaching there was obviously no information to be gleaned from a cleaned turtle shell that would allow us to identify the perpetrators. DoE Conservation Officers continued patrols of that area (as they patrol all coasts of the Cayman Islands) and area residents were especially asked to report any suspicious activity. In April of this year two persons were reported and our enforcement officer arrested them for suspected turtle poaching in the area. (No evidence of relation to the first incident.) These persons are in custody and the case is being processed. DoE Conservation Officers continue to patrol that and all other areas regularly. If anyone sees any suspicious activity they should call DoE Enforcement (916-4271) or call directly to 911 (easier to remember). As in the case in April your vigilance helps us catch poachers.

      DoE logs all incidences of turtle mortality, regardless of reason, so please call in any dead or injured turtles, or turtle parts, found to our turtle hotline Tel. 938-NEST (938-6378). This allows us to identify threats and areas or situations requiring additional enforcement or other response.

      • Anonymous says:

        Vigilance is fine, but skilled and experienced enforcement officers would be better, and more of them!

      • Anonymous says:

        Perhaps Ms Ebanks-Petrie should start kicking the backsides of her staff, especially those who think that driving around in trucks will guard Marine Parks. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the DOE have limited (at times zero) access to serviceable and capable enforcement/interdiction boats. They need them urgently and they need to keep them serviceable by employing real boat mechanics and service personnel, instead of those who spend their time repairing and cleaning their own and other private boats in the DOE yard, (Yes, it hasn’t gone unnoticed).
        Then they need to employ officers who find no fear or favor when it comes to stopping, searching and arresting the bad guys.
        Most officers are first class, but they are impeded by poor management and a lack of appropriate equipment. There just isn’t enough of them and morale appears low.
        It’s all very well expanding Marine Parks and changing the laws, but researchers don’t arrest law breakers, competent and motivated Conservation Officers do.
        Poaching is a very serious problem on Cayman, perhaps the DOE should spend a little less on telling us the obvious and invest in more staff and equipment to crack down on the criminals who are destroying our future.

      • Anonymous says:

        how can there be 8 thumbs down to a report of catching turtle poachers?

  17. Anonymous says:

    More enforcement bobo. You could make the whole ocean a no take zone and no one will abide unless it is enforced. Look how many speeding cars there are now that there are no traffic cops. That’s just an example of how it works.

  18. Anonymous says:

    How about we start enforcing the existing marine park rules?

  19. Anonymous says:

    No matter what size or number the marine parks are it will make absolutely no difference until DOE is able to get out there and actually enforce the laws that they already have.

    I have heard and seen tons of people that take conch, lobster and fish illegally, many times out of season, many times in restricted zones. Nothing happens to them. When someone does finally get caught they get a mere slap on the wrist even after multiple offenses.

    DOE needs to petition for more officers, harsher penalties and they need to push for greater budget so that they are more effective.

    You can paint the whole island in marine park but if they aren’t willing and able to carry out the enforcement it makes no difference in the world.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Just make the whole island a marine park. Then we can preserve the two-legged land sharks in addition to the finned ones.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Government needs to give the DOE more financial backing so they can employ more enforcement officers. There should be one or two officers for each district who are on the water every day doing spot checks on catch size and limits. This would be a lot more effective than increasing the park size and leaving them un checked for poachers to continue taking whatever they want.

    I regularly snorkel in marine parks and it breaks my heart to see the numbers of dead “popped” conch shells laying on the sea floor. They are often very freshly popped too. Poachers never take a day off and I believe that many of them are now opting to dive conch and lobster under the cover of darkness.

    I know there are serious fines and possible prison sentences in the laws for those caught poaching but how often are they handed to culprits once caught? More often than not nothing but a slap on the wrist is handed out. We need to start locking these guys up so they can think about what they’re doing to the environment from the comfort of a cell in Northward.

    • Teary-eyed Indian says:

      I too regularly see fresh popped conch and discarded lobster carapaces strewn along the seafloor in the marine park, well out of season. Plus, many tour boats/jet skis are dropping anchor into/onto coral or using non-DOE buoys with their foundations planted in coral while they take their tours out snorkeling. Then there is the “Lobster season? What’s so wrong with the bigger tips I’ll get by catching a lobster or three for the tourist family to enjoy?”

      I have contacted the DOE and to their credit they have sent out patrols when poachers were still undertaking their dirty work, but more often than not, only the evidence of their deeds is all that remains in the area. The DOE has often advised they know or suspect who is poaching, but not being able to catch them in the act or trying to sell their ill-begotten gains leaves few options to halt it. Especially disheartening, was being told that often the fines waged on poachers force them to go back to poaching just to pay them.

      So while I am all in favor of expanding the Marine Parks, like many commenters, I also echo the need for better enforcement in the current protected zones and at least some consideration given on how patrolling an expanded area could be done successfully.

  22. Capt. Haddock says:

    “We needs to fish. But de fish gone. So we needs to fish more…….”

    The planet’s marine life stocks are down by 50% in the last 30 years.

    We have fished out EVERYWHERE.

    If you want to eat fish you had better develop a taste for farmed tilapia. Or Lionfish.

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