August 23, 2022
This weekend, the Marine Park Trust will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of its establishment. In fact, the history of the Marine Park and the Trust began in the 1970s. It took nearly 20 years of tireless work – endless plans and proposals, meetings and presentations, hours of careful diplomacy and occasional acts of outright war – to get formal legal protection and management for what is now the Marine Park.
The history of the Trust is well detailed on its revised and updated website (www.mbmpt.org). There have been some remarkable individual contributions, from the happy warriors like founding fathers Paddy O’Callaghan and Theo Smit, who were determined to save what was left, visionaries like former Science Officer and Chairman Andrew Ross, who just wanted to grow fish, volunteers like the Silsburys, for whom no job is too odd, organizers like Natasha Parchment Clarke, expert herder of cats, and iron-willed Executive Directors like Jill Williams and Brian Zane, who kept the Trust in business through some very dark days and faced the possibility that the job could (quite literally) kill them.
But it’s been mostly a team effort. Remarkably, after a quarter-century of struggle the Park and the Trust still exist, and are showing hopeful signs of health. That’s worth celebrating. There are fish sanctuaries in the Park, and some fish populations are showing promising signs of growth. The sanctuaries have forced all the overworked and underfunded organizations responsible for enforcement – the Trust, Fisheries Division, the Marine Police, NEPA and the local constabulary – to cooperate. There is still a serious shortage of boots on the ground and boats in the water, but pooling scarce resources allows more patrols and increases the chances that anyone fishing illegally will be taken into custody.
Sadly, there hasn’t been much improvement in public understanding of what the Marine Park is, why it exists, and why it’s important. For example, there is a continuing effort to make a workable zoning plan for the Park. Because of the large and growing amount of activity in and around the Park – including tourism and recreation, fishing and commercial shipping – there is a need for a set of guidelines both to protect marine life from people, and to protect people from each other.
However, this is a relatively small area. Dividing it into too many (possibly conflicting) zones is costly, labour-intensive, frustrating and ultimately not very useful. Also, IT’S WATER, constantly moving and circulating along with many of the creatures that live there. It’s simply not possible to keep “small representative areas completely undisturbed” if they are hemmed in on all sides by sources of disturbance.
So far, all the proposed zoning plans won’t work because they take a “top-down” approach, beginning with the idea that existing uses should be allowed to continue as much as possible. Growing fish and saving coral may be good things but are not primary objectives. A “bottom-up”, truly sustainable approach would begin with the (correct) idea that growing fish and saving coral are the primary purposes of the Marine Park, and that use of any part of the Park for any other purpose is a restricted privilege that has to be paid for.
Last week the Caribbean Marine Climate Change Report Card 2017 was released. “As the seas, reefs and coasts on which all Caribbean people depend are under threat, much more needs to be done to protect these resources and the authors recommend building more resilient environments to prepare for, and protect against, climate change,” the report noted.
It has recommended developing a regional network of marine protected areas designed to “future-proof” marine biodiversity against climate change and stabilise shorelines to preserve natural barriers such as mangroves, salt marshes, and coral reefs.
As we celebrate, we need to remember that without a healthy and flourishing Marine Park, Montego Bay tourism is on borrowed time and public safety may be at risk. We don’t have another 25 years to make that point.