September 30, 2008
By Amanda Dale
Bermuda could lead the way in preserving the marine life of the world's oceans, according to a UK professor.
Dr. Callum Roberts, Professor of Marine Conservation at the University of York, says up to 40 percent of the Island's waters could be set aside as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), enabling fish stocks and ecosystems to thrive.
"Bermuda could lead the way in conservation," said Dr. Roberts. "It has already led the way with the fish pot ban and in protecting parrotfish and coral reefs, but needs to go further."
Dr. Roberts said that due to the Island's geographic location, any overfishing made species more vulnerable to dying out — the Nassau Grouper being a prime example.
"You have an isolated reef system and so if something was to go wrong, it would go wrong badly and it would take a long time to recover from these mistakes," he said.
"So moving towards 40 percent protection through marine reserves may be warranted in the long term.
"More protection is needed to recover some of the species which have been depleted, and that protection is vital to protect Bermuda's marine life and fisheries."
Dr. Roberts gave a public lecture at BUEI last week as a guest of the Bermuda Zoological Society. His book 'The Unnatural History of the Sea' charts 1,000 years of human exploitation of the world's oceans, including modern industrial fishing methods such as trawling.
The world-renowned marine conservationist advises governments around the globe on the importance of establishing MPAs to prevent overfishing and its repercussions on marine ecosystems.
He recommends MPAs should be established to cover 20-40 percent of our oceans.
"The world's oceans are at the most dangerous levels they have ever been in the history of life on Earth," Dr. Roberts told an audience at BUEI.
"We can look back with great regret but we shouldn't beat up on ourselves for not being able to stop it. Now we need to concentrate on what we should do today. We can create the conditions for recovery of marine life by creating areas free from exploitation."
Dr. Roberts said some MPAs have seen a five to tenfold increase in species within 10-20 years.
"Reserves all over the world have shown dramatic increases," he said. "It does work — you get a very significant increase in fish, particularly within two to five years of protection."
He gave MPAs in Mombasa in Kenya, Merritt Island in Florida and in St. Lucia as examples. Eventually the growing populations spill out of the protected reserves into other areas, while fish larvae dispersal also helps to replenish fishing grounds.
Dr. Roberts told The Royal Gazette: "We've got to turn the clock back by re-establishing refuges in the sea where our fish can survive in growing numbers."
In Bermuda he recommends 40 percent of the Island's waters be established as MPAs, due to the "limited" replenishment of fish stocks.
"One of Bermuda's problems is that a lot of larvae produced on the platform is predisposed to being swept away. If you're an isolated reef system, a lot of that system may just take it out to the blue beyond and so it is not going to lead to the repopulation of Bermuda's fish."
Dr. Roberts praised the creation of Protected Areas at dive sites and Coral Reef Preserves as "good progressive legislation" but said more needed to be done.
"The focus in Bermuda needs to move towards more protection and it will take political leadership to move that forward," he said.
"There's a lot of talk now to establish MPAs out on the open ocean, so Bermuda has great potential to be a leader here, to protect larAge-scale oceanic resources with a protected area in your EEZ.
"It won't be straight-forward to implement but it is worth doing — to have such a jewel in the crown of conservation on your doorstep.
"I would say to Government be bold, be ambitious, go for something which is world-class in terms of conservation and secure your place as a leader in ocean management. Such MPAs would lead the curve in the management of marine resources around the world."
Dr. Roberts added: "Your reserve network should be representative of the full spectrum of biodiversity, from the deep sea and slopes of the platform, to shallow seagrass beds, spawning aggregate sites and coastal mangroves.
"In Bermuda mangrove forests are very scarce so they probably warrant total protection, but for the coral reef environment there's a lot of reefs out there so it would be sufficient to protect a small proportion of that."