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General Information About Protected Areas in The Bahamas
The Bahamas is the largest small-island archipelago in the tropical Atlantic, similar in size and complexity to the entire Lesser Antilles. The Bahamas comprises over 700 low-lying islands and cays. The total land area of The Bahamas is approximately 1,394,000 hectares (3,444,649.02 acres). The size, complexity, and ecological isolation of The Bahamas have contributed to significant biodiversity and the development of several unique ecosystems. The largest and easily identifiable ecosystems include, Caribbean Pine Rockland Forests, Dry Green Forests, Island Ponds, Mangrove Forests, Blue Holes, Coastal Rock, Tidal Flats and Salt Marshes, Sea Grass Beds, Coral Reefs and the Open Ocean. read more
The Bahamas recognized early the need to establish, protect and preserve important biodiversity resources. In 1958, the first Marine Protected Area (MPA) in The Bahamas was established - the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. It is reputed to be the first of its kind in the world and became an exclusive no-take area in 1986. A National Creek and Wetlands Initiative was commenced in 1999 and forty creek systems countrywide were catalogued and inventoried for restoration, an important starting point for The Bahamas to manage effectively its creek and wetland systems. In 2000, the Government approved the creation of an initial five Marine Reserves in the north and central Bahamas and with the expansion of the Westside National Park of Andros, which was announced at the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Bahamas National Trust the total network of marine protected areas in The Bahamas has increased to approximately 550,000 hectares (ha).
The Bahamas 2020 Declaration was formally declared in Bonn, Germany at the Ninth Conference of the Parties in May 2008. The 2020 Declaration served as the Government of The Bahamas’ confirmation of its intent to preserve the country’s marine and terrestrial environments and to meet the targets established by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Programme of Work on Protected Areas. During this meeting The Bahamas also stated its intent to exceed CBD goals by effectively conserving at least 20 per cent of the near-shore marine resources across The Bahamas by 2020. In an attempt to help meet this goal the Bahamas National Protected Areas System Project was implemented. The BNPAS is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and funding for this project ends in 2014.
The Bahamas National Protected Areas System (BNPAS) project
Key threats to the protected area system of The Bahamas include invasive species, cross-boundary issues/surrounding land, unsustainable exploitation of fishery resources, climate change tourism-related conversion (e.g. ecologically valuable sites). The greatest deficiency in the system is related to marine protected areas with less than 1% of the country set aside in such areas. With financial assistance from the GEF the BNPAS seeks to build a Sustainable National Marine Protected Area Network for The Bahamas and thus enable it to meet its commitments under the CBD Programme of Work for Protected Areas (PoWPA) as well as other obligations under the Biodiversity Convention.
The BNPAS project’s design also incorporates not only key biodiversity issues, but also climate change and the impact it will have on biodiversity and conservation. While protecting Bahamian resources the project will also have global effects.
The global environmental objectives of the project are:
- to conserve globally important marine habitats and species within The Bahamas as well as those species of the wider Caribbean
that rely on The Bahamas for nesting, breeding, feeding and migration; and
- to expand protected area coverage of globally significant marine biodiversity and increase the management effectiveness of the national marine protected area network.
Additionally, a major objective of the BNPAS is to develop a sustainable financing mechanism, which will benefit both present and future protected areas into perpetuity. The issue of proper financing for the protected areas in The Bahamas is a grave one. A Needs Assessment for The Bahamas National Protected Area System which was completed in 2008, revealed an estimated total of $13.1 million was required to properly manage the then present system. The Assessment also identified that there was a financial gap of $7.1 million for 2008. The Assessment further estimated that the financial needs for the system over the next ten years would be $151.8 million with a financial gap of $93.0 million if revenue were not increased the actions such as the development of sustainable financing mechanisms and diversification of revenue streams.
In order to address the issue of financial sustainability for the protected areas in the Bahamas, The Bahamas Protected Area Fund (BPAF) Bill was drafted and it includes the vertical agreement to accommodate the Caribbean Biodiversity Fund (CBF) and other donors both local and international from whom donations might be received. The BPAF Bill is ready to be submitted to Cabinet in the first quarter of 2013 and begin the process of establishment into law.