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Saving Bimini: A campaign to protect a Bahamian gem

Kristine Stump is a PhD candidate in Marine Biology and Fisheries at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS).  Her dissertation focuses on the effects of anthropogenic nursery habitat loss on juvenile lemon sharks in Bimini, Bahamas.  She was the Principal Investigator of the Bimini Biological Field Station (BBFS, or Sharklab) from 2008 – 2011 while collecting field data for her degree and has been heavily involved in the process of establishing a Marine Protected Area in Bimini.  Kristine has an M.A. in Marine Policy from RSMAS, and prior to entering the doctoral program, she spent five years working in Washington, DC at Ocean.US – the National Office for Integrated and Sustained Ocean Observations (now the NOAA IOOS Program).  In addition, she has worked for the Census of Marine Life program office at the Consortium for Ocean Leadership in Washington, DC. 

 

There is an apex predator roaming the seas.  For hundreds of thousands of years, this beast has hunted in the waters of the world’s oceans.  Relentless is it in its search along the shorelines for that which satisfies its primal urges.  Its numbers ever on the rise, the destruction in its path knows no bounds.  And now, in 2012, it wants to dominate the sea more than ever before: it wants glass-bottom bungalows.  It needs yacht dockage at its vacation home.  It craves manicured fairways.  IT MUST HAVE AN INFINITY POOL!

If you haven’t already guessed, the apex predator here is man.  Throughout history, the environment has shaped man, but now more than ever, man is shaping the environment.  In the current era of environmental awareness, however, we have learned that there are limits to the anthropogenic changes ecosystems can withstand while still maintaining ecosystem function.  Luckily, we have learned to implement mitigation strategies to offset, to some degree, the negative effects of human expansion.

Juvenile lemon sharks thrive in Bimini’s mangrove habitat. Photo credit: Kristine Stump

On a tiny island in The Bahamas – just 50 miles east of Miami -residents, shop owners, fishermen, hotel managers, tourists and scientists, along with Bahamian citizens across the archipelago, conservationists and NGOs are campaigning to fully implement a long-awaited Bimini Marine Protected Area (MPA).

A sawfish, photo credit Grant Johnson, Bimini sharklab

Bimini, Bahamas is the only mangrove and creek habitat on the western side of the Great Bahama Bank, and as such is an important habitat and nursery area for an incredible diversity of species, including the commercially and culturally important queen conch and spiny lobster (Dahlgren 2002, Afonso & Gruber 2007).   Bonefish thrive within the creeks and over the flats of the 21km2 lagoon, supporting a world-renowned catch-and-release bonefishing tourism tradition.

Grouper, snapper and lemon sharks rely on this area in their crucial early years both for the availability of food and for protection from larger predators afforded by the complex mangrove shorelines (Feldheim et al. 2002, Franks 2007, Laegdsgaard & Johnson 2001). Species such as the smalltooth sawfish, identified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Critically Endangered, have been documented and studied throughout Bimini (Jennings et al. 2012).

In 1999, the Bahamas Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries took an impressive forward-thinking step, declaring that The Bahamas would establish a network of marine reserves that would encompass 20% of the country’s marine environment.  The following year, Bimini was identified by a review panel as the highest priority site for immediate implementation of an MPA.

Twelve years later…

The highest ranked site in The Bahamas has not one sign, not one buoy, not one regulation, not one enforcement officer.  In 2009, ten years after it was originally proposed, Bimini’s MPA was officially announced by the Ministry of the Environment as being in effect.  Unfortunately, without any concurrent official boundaries, regulations or enforcement, the MPA is a paper tiger, at best.

Meanwhile…

Cleared mangroves, photo credit Kristine Stump

Immediately adjacent to the MPA, man, the apex predator, has wreaked havoc on what was once a pristine nursery habitat.  Resort development threatens the ecosystem function of the lagoon.  Over 160 acres of mangrove shoreline vital to so many species has been clear-cut and burned.  Millions of cubic feet of the seabed have been dredged to build marinas, create artificial islands, and turn wetlands into estate homes, all within meters of what is supposed to have been the highest priority marine reserve in the country.  Bimini’s lagoon, with all of its natural beauty, species diversity, critical habitat and important nursery function, is threatened by man’s unsustainable shaping of the environment.

Now, after years of waiting and at a critical time for Bimini’s unique ecosystem, a campaign that started in Bimini and has grown internationally is rapidly gaining momentum.  A formal request that the Government of the Bahamas finalizes boundaries and regulations and provides enforcement for the Bimini MPA has been sent to the newly elected administration, including Prime Minister Christie.  However, the campaign needs your support!

Here’s what you can do:

  • First, please take a second to “Like” the campaign Facebook page: Bimini’s Marine Protected Area Campaign to show your support and let the government know that there is a significant groundswell of national and international interest in making the MPA more than just a paper park.  At the group page, you can find a wealth of frequently updated information on the history of the Bimini MPA, statements from campaign supporters, photos of species in the area, updates on the legislative progress, a discussion forum and more.
  • Second, please take action by sending a letter and/or email to the government asking that the MPA finalization be an immediate priority in 2012.  You can find sample letters and email addresses For non-Bahamians and for Bahamians below.
  •   Third, spread the word!

An aerial shot of Bimini, photo credit Kristine Stump


Sample letter for Bahamian citizens:

The Rt. Hon. Perry  Gladstone Christie
Prime Minister of the Bahamas
Sir Cecil Wallace Whitfield Centre
P O Box CB 10980
Nassau, N.P., The Bahamas
[email protected]

 

The Hon. Obediah  H. Wilchcombe
Minister of Tourism
Member of Parliament – West Grand Bahama and Bimini
Ministry of Tourism
British Colonial Hilton Hotel
Bay Street
P.O. Box N3701
Nassau, N.P. Bahamas
[email protected]

 

The Hon. Kenred Dorsett
Minister of the Environment
Environment, The Ministry of
3rd Floor Manx Corporate Center
West Bay Street
P. O. Box N-3040
Nassau, N.P., The Bahamas
dianalightbourne@bah[email protected]

 

Michael Braynen
Director of Fisheries
Department of Marine Resources
Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources,
East Bay 
P O Box N 3028
Nassau, N.P., The Bahamas
[email protected]

 

Affirmed as the Highest-Priority site in all of the Bahamas in 2000, and officially declared in December of 2008 by the Bahamas Minister of the Environment, the Honorable Dr. Earl Deveaux, the Bimini Marine Protected Area aims to preserve one of the richest environments in the Bahamas.

 

Now, in 2012, we are respectfully asking for the finalization and full implementation of Bimini’s Marine Protected Area (MPA).

 

By establishing the exact boundaries, rules, and regulations for Bimini’s MPA, we will preserve the unique heritage of this precious “Island in the Stream.”  Bimini’s MPA will serve as the foundation from which this island’s economic and ecological future will grow, benefitting every individual and every business on the island.

 

As a proud Bahamian who cherishes our natural environment, I hereby offer my strong support in the full establishment of Bimini’s Marine Protected Area, and respectfully ask that the Government of the Bahamas treat this issue as a top priority for 2012.

 

For Bimini,
YOUR NAME HERE

Sample letter for non-Bahamian citizens

 

The Rt. Hon. Perry  Gladstone Christie
Prime Minister of the Bahamas
Sir Cecil Wallace Whitfield Centre
P O Box CB 10980
Nassau, N.P., The Bahamas
[email protected]

 

The Hon. Obediah  H. Wilchcombe
Minister of Tourism
Member of Parliament – West Grand Bahama and Bimini
Ministry of Tourism
British Colonial Hilton Hotel
Bay Street
P.O. Box N3701
Nassau, N.P. Bahamas
[email protected]

 

The Hon. Kenred Dorsett
Minister of the Environment
Environment, The Ministry of
3rd Floor Manx Corporate Center
West Bay Street
P. O. Box N-3040
Nassau, N.P., The Bahamas
[email protected]

 

Michael Braynen
Director of Fisheries
Department of Marine Resources
Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources,
East Bay 
P O Box N 3028
Nassau, N.P., The Bahamas
[email protected]

 

Affirmed as the Highest-Priority site in all of the Bahamas in 2000, and officially declared in December of 2008 by the Bahamas Minister of the Environment, the Honorable Dr. Earl Deveaux, the Bimini Marine Protected Area aims to preserve one of the richest environments in the Bahamas.

 

Now, in 2012, we are respectfully asking for the finalization and full implementation of Bimini’s Marine Protected Area (MPA).

 

By establishing the exact boundaries, rules, and regulations for Bimini’s MPA, we will preserve the unique heritage of this precious “Island in the Stream.”  Bimini’s MPA will serve as the foundation from which this island’s economic and ecological future will grow, benefitting every individual and every business on the island.
Bimini’s tourism industry requires a healthy environment; it is the pristine beauty and extraordinary ecology of the Bahamas that continues to draw people to these islands.  As someone who cares deeply about the Bahamas, I hereby offer my strong support in the full establishment of Bimini’s Marine Protected Area, and respectfully ask that the Government of the Bahamas treat this issue as a top priority for 2012.

 

For Bimini,
YOUR NAME HERE

References

Afonso, A. S., & Gruber, S. H. 2007. Pueruli settlement in the Caribbean spiny lobster, Panulirus argus, at Bimini, Bahamas. Crustaceana, 80, 1355-1371.
Dahlgren, C. 2002. Dahlgren_2002.pdf. Bahamas Journal of Science, 5, 41-49.
Feldheim, K. a, Gruber, S. H., & Ashley, M. V. 2002. The breeding biology of lemon sharks at a tropical nursery lagoon. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 269, 1655-61.
Franks, B. R. 2007. The Spatial Ecology and Resource Selection of Juvenile Lemon Sharks (Negaprion brevirostris) in their Primary Nursery Areas. Drexel University.
Jennings, D. E., DiBattista, J. D., Stump, K. L., Hussey, N. E., Franks, B. R., Grubbs, R. D., & Gruber, S. H. 2012. Assessment of the aquatic biodiversity of a threatened coastal lagoon at Bimini, Bahamas. Journal of Coastal Conservation, 16, 1-24.
Laegdsgaard, P., & Johnson, C. 2001. Why do juvenile fish utilise mangrove habitats? Journal of experimental marine biology and ecology, 257, 229-253.