Reforesting Bahamas for Food Security & Disaster Protection
Wetlands are significant and rich natural features of Caribbean Small Island Development States. In The Bahamas, around fifty percent of the islands are covered with mangrove areas, providing a protective habitat for juvenile fish, crawfish, conch as well as other Bahamian flora and fauna.
New Providence, the most populated island of the Bahamas contains more than 70% of the total population and the capital city, Nassau. With passing time and increases in population – the need for development also rises, presenting great challenges for wetland areas on the island - many of which are protected.
One such protected area- the Bonefish Pond National Park, a marine nursery on the South side of New Providence experienced major changes when private individuals dredged the pond; packing piles of mud, sand and silt to one side, blocking the flow of water and effectively creating a dead zone.
This area of the pond rapidly declined as visibility and biodiversity decreased- leaving only eight fishes. At the same time, the area became a dumping ground for construction debris, solid waste, metals and rubber.
In addressing this challenge, the Global Environment Facility’s Integrated Water and Coastal Area Management Project- spearheaded by The Bahamas National Trust and The Nature Conservancy conducted rehabilitation of the area: strategically dredging the pond to ensure the natural flow of water, replanting mangroves on either side and removing over 50 tonnes of waste from the area.
Monitoring activities were also implemented and five years later, though the project has closed, the project team is basking in their achievements and continuing efforts to ensure the sustainability of the Bonefish Pond National Park.
One significant achievement is that visibility of the pond has improved significantly and the wildlife, too is increasing. In recent times, the team recorded 100 fishes from 10-12 species living in the pond. In addition, twenty mangrove plots have been added bringing the total numbers of mangrove trees replanted or transplanted to six hundred and thirty-five.
The project is not without the involvement of youth. Using community and school groups such as the Discovery Club, the Governor General’s Youth Award Programme and the Young Marine Explorers, local high school students are gaining valuable experience in protecting the marine environment through the replanting of mangroves and monitoring the progress of their activities.
Lindy Knowles, project representative from the Bahamas National Trust, explained how the team was working in spite of all the challenges.
‘We lost a large number of our mangrove plants initially because of where the trees were planted in relation to the water, we learnt some lessons and we have been successful in replanting 50-70% of those plants’. He added that the rate of the growth of mangrove plants in The Bahamas is not as rapid as the rate in other islands, but that the team is experimenting with other mangrove species to establish solutions that work best for the island.
Invasive species as well as local mariners and fishermen also present concerns. As a result, removal of invasive species as well as education, capacity building, outreach and awareness are some of the top priorities. The establishment of a visitors centre, improving fish life, improving the consistency of water quality and continued efforts to remove invasive species are also among the plans for the National Park.
Knowles says that the aim is to enhance the park, restore it to its once pristine condition and to continue to protect those areas that are worth protecting.
In the long-term, The Bahamas will experience greater benefits as increased fish life means greater food security and robust mangrove plants mean protection from the ill-effects of climate change and greater reduction in the effects of hurricanes and flooding.
Though there is much to do to ensure that the Bonefish Pond National Park achieves it educational, environmental and eco-tourism potential; is restored to its natural look with enhanced economic life and biodiversity- The Bahamas is well on its way to future food security and disaster risk reduction through reforesting its wetlands.