Seeing poachers abusing your national park is never an easy thing to comprehend. It happens time after time, and every single incident of poaching leads to a flood of different emotions. Sure; as you suit up, fire up the engine, and race offshore together with an RBDF Marine you feel the excitement, thrill, and suspense of another potential bust. However, the feeling of sadness and despair that comes from what these fishermen are doing, how they are blatantly disregarding the Marine Protected Area that you are tasked with protecting, tends to overcome that initial adrenaline rush.
A week ago, we intercepted a 42’sports fishing vessel that was poaching in our waters. A beautiful day- glass calm, a gentle breeze, and not a cloud in the sky. I suppose the poachers figured it was a great opportunity to take their chances in what is one of the most bountiful and beautiful land & sea parks in the world.
The Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park was the world’s first protected area of its kind when it was created in 1959. The park is 176 sq miles and encompasses what very well may be the most breathtaking marine environment on this planet. It’s an incredible place, and as the Park Warden, I am responsible for patrolling and regulating this park on a day to day basis. Most everything I do deals with either enforcement, conservation, and education- the 3 ‘points’ of the MPA triangle.
As a Bahamian, and a Park Warden, It’s disheartening that we still deal with poachers on a near regular basis; that despite the park boundaries being marked on most every electronic chart, a chartbook, and cruising guide, people still take their chances; abusing the law for a shot at a great catch. The story always plays out more or less the same- the crew pleads ignorance, says they didn’t know the rules. I’m sick of that story and becoming less and less tolerant to hearing the same old tune.
We need to do better. As Bahamians, as users of the park, as ambassadors of conservation and sustainable fishing. We need to spread the word on why our MPA’s are important and what they do for the future of marine conservation, and for promoting sustainable fisheries.
Marine Protected Areas promote species diversity and ensure a steady supply of fishery resources for future Bahamians. Giving these organisms a chance to thrive, mature, and reproduce is vital to the well-being of the ocean in general. MPAs are important in protecting unique marine habitats and preventing the further loss of productivity within marine ecosystems. Furthermore, MPAs provide a natural laboratory for scientists to study and examine various species in a thriving and healthy habitat. Allowing marine species to have a safe and protected area to breed, nurse, and feed leads to the potential reversal of declining local fish populations. Furthermore, the health, beauty, and diversity of MPAs provide a template for what our oceans could, and should, look like, and what we strive to protect every day.
But perhaps one of the most important reasons to protect our park is to provide a location where young Bahamians can experience the importance of MPAs for themselves- where they can see first hand the benefits of what a protected area can do for a country. Our future generations are the key to ensuring our MPAs and parks continue to achieve successes and grow.
Let’s all make an effort to spread the importance of our MPAs to everyone we meet. Let’s work hard to make potential poachers aware of the rules, as well as the consequences of disregarding said rules. Let’s take pride in our National Parks and educate Bahamians and foreigners on their significance. We need to protect our crown jewels within the Bahamas, and the ECLSP might be the very best jewel we have.
– Brent Burrows II , Park Warden ECLSP