By Joseph Ierna Jr.
As an update on the proposed 215,000-acre Long Island Marine Management Area, the conservation efforts of the Ocean CREST Alliance (OCA), and construction of the OCA research and education facility here in the beautiful Bahamas, I offer the latest news.
Well, despite being ravaged by the effects of climate change in the form of 220+ mph winds and a 20-foot tidal surge from Hurricane Joaquin on November 1st, 2015, our progress to build a financially sustainable MPA has been growing steadily with local, national, and international support. If what you are embarking on creating is the right thing to do, not even Mother Nature can halt these good actions for people and planet.
Through a generous donation from Kim and Jay Kitchen, we are under construction with the first OCA facility structure, aptly named the Kitchen Kottage. This is the first living-quarters building to go up on the OCA southern Cabbage Point compound. It is to be completed and ready for use later in 2016.
Along with Palm Island Resorts in Placida, Florida (US), OCA hosted our first fundraiser - “Your Life, Your Legacy, Adopt A MPA” - while launching a website that provides a financial vehicle to support the financing and operation of a global network of MPAs. The keynote speaker at the fundraising gala under the moon and stars on the beaches of Knights Key was Dr. Sylvia Earle, with guest speakers Greg Jacoski of Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, Dr. Bob Hueter of Mote Marine, Dr. Billy Causey of NOAA's National Marine Sanctuaries, Sharon Kwok Pong of Hong Kong's Aquameridian and a very special tribute to Dr. Eugenie “Shark Lady” Clark by her son Tak and daughter Aya Konstantinou. This represented a new, unique, and multidisciplinary collaboration of organizations, consisting of a grassroots NGO (OCA), international NGOs (Sylvia and Mission Blue / Sharon and Aquameridian), scientific NGO (Mote Marine Laboratory), recreational / sport fishing NGO (Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation) and government agency (NOAA-NMS) as well as the Palm Island Resort, a for-profit business entity. These organizations are all working together toward a common goal: to educate, repair, protect and better manage our natural environment. The event, which offered a menu of locally grown foods and the invasive lionfish as the main entree, was well-received by all in attendance.
During the OCA fundrasier event, we had on-site the two-person Triton submersibles owned and operated by our new supporter and partner Project Baseline www.projectbaseline.org and the 146-foot research vessel Baseline Explorer. This relationship with the Baseline team brings the latest technology of manned submersibles to our Nassau grouper spawning aggregation research and science programs. This will be a first for the study of the fish's spawning aggregations. To date we have raised US$518,300 toward this program and are seeking an additional $740,392. This program will include Dr. Earle and Dr. Harvey and will feature an historic expedition - the first time that this level of technology has been used to study what may be the largest Nassau grouper spawning aggregation remaining on the planet. Parties interested in participating or helping to fund this program should contact me directly to discuss the opportunities (jijr-oca [at] oceancrestalliance.org).
In collaboration with our national partner the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) and local partners Long Island Chamber of Commerce, KRS Car Rental, Stella Maris Resort, Annies Car Rentals, and NGM Major High School, OCA sponsored the first Long Island - BNT Navigators Club outing to Conception Island National Park on May 14th. This was the first of a series of BNT Navigators Club programs being introduced to Long Island with OCA. The Navigators program is the secondary-school level of BNT's youth program Discovery Club. The Discovery Club exists on nine islands with 60 clubs in total - this is the first on Long Island. It involves youths 13 years and older in national park conservation through theoretical and practical conservation education. Each module in the course of study develops an array of academic and field skills to produce a well-rounded participant. The first module to Conception Island focused on mangrove and wetland conservation, and engaged 27 students from the graduating class at NGM Major High.
The purpose of the program is to allow participants an avenue to apply what they've learned in the classroom and field activities. The activities have a tangible impact on the national park system of The Bahamas through furthering education, science and/or site maintenance in a park in the students' area. This model gives students hands-on experience with the work of the Bahamas National Trust.
One final and very exciting news update: the proposed 215,000-acre Long Island Marine Management Area (LIMMA) has been included by the Bahamas National Trust as part of its Oceans5 Project, which is actively supporting the planning of new MPAs toward The Bahamas' commitment of 20% MPA coverage by 2020. With this support, plans are now moving forward under Oceans5 to conduct meetings with stakeholders on Bahamian islands with no existing MPAs, which includes Long Island.
OCA would like to show great respect to all who believe in and continue to support our conservation efforts. Thank you to all the scientists and trailblazers who support OCA. Together we can turn the ocean's health around, for the good of people and planet and the prosperity of our economy for generations to come. It happens through passion – toward inspiring everyone to take action to accelerate positive change.
For more information on how you can support and catch the Ocean CREST Alliance “wave of action” and become part of financially sustainable solutions in MPA operations through our unique E-share programs, please visit www.oceancrestalliance.org or contact me directly at jijr-oca [at] oceancrestalliance.org.