Green Sea Turtle in the Bahamas.
The 2009 holiday season was especially festive as the Conservancy’s Caribbean Program celebrated the announcement of more than 3 million acres of new and expanded marine parks in The Bahamas and the Dominican Republic.
In the Bahamas, Prime Minister Ingraham reconfirmed his government’s commitment to the Caribbean Challenge and “the orderly expansion of our national parks system to include up to 10 percent of the terrestrial areas and 20 percent of the near-shore marine resources of the country.”
The new parks encompass some of The Bahamas most pristine lands and waters, and include:
- the establishment of the Fowl Cays Land and Sea Park in Abaco located between Scotland and Man O’ War Cay in the barrier islands of Great Abaco
- the expansion of the West Side National Park of Andros, including Williams Island and Billy Island, site of an important and newly discovered shark nursery
- the expansion of the Conception Island National Park
In his announcement, Prime Minister Ingraham also noted, “We are mindful of the pressures of development in certain parts of The Bahamas, and equally mindful of our duty to protect the interest of our people and integrity of our resources.”
The Bahamas continues to increase conservation momentum within the Caribbean. In addition to these new parks, the government recently extended legal protection to all species of sea turtles found within its waters. They may not be hunted, trapped or otherwise harmed or harassed.
The Dominican Republic
Since its announcement in 2008, The Bahamas and the Dominican Republic have provided key leadership and support for the Caribbean Challenge. The goal of the Challenge — currently endorsed by five sovereign Caribbean nations — is to not only permanently establish a network of 20 million acres of marine parks across the territorial waters of at least 10 countries, but also to ensure that once established, the protected areas also receive sufficient, permanent funding through sustainable financing tools.
In November, the Government of the Dominican Republic added 31 new protected areas into its national protected areas system by an unprecedented Presidential Decree. The new protected areas encompass a total of 1,321,024 hectares — a little more than 3.2 million acres — of terrestrial and marine habitat.
The decree acknowledged the Government’s commitment to the Convention of Biological Diversity and the Caribbean Challenge to strengthen the existing National System of Protected Areas, particularly in near shore marine habitats. Of the new protected areas, 217,455 hectares — approximately 537,343 acres — safeguard terrestrial habitats. The remaining 1,103,569 hectares — approximately 2.7 million acres — protect marine environments.
During the official announcement of the Presidential Decree, Jaime David Fernández Mirabal, Secretary of State for Environment and Natural Resources in the Dominican Republic, thanked The Nature Conservancy for conducting the biological gap analysis that served as the scientific basis for the decision on at least 22 of the 31 new protected areas.
“The Dominican Republic is considered one of the most biologically diverse countries in the Caribbean,” said Phil Kramer, director for The Nature Conservancy’s Caribbean Program. “The recent declaration of 2.7 million acres of new marine and coastal areas lays the foundation for a fully functioning, viable marine system with coral reefs and sea grass meadows that will provide refuge for endangered species like sea turtles and manatees.”
In addition to park user fees and concessions that are constant, renewable sources of operating funds, sustainable finance tools also include dedicated conservation trusts and endowments that will — when fully funded — provide at least $10M in permanent annual funding for research, management, maintenance and the growth of the parks.
As the Conservancy and its partners continue to raise funds in support of the Caribbean Challenge, we applaud The Bahamas and the Dominican Republic for their ongoing dedication to fulfilling the commitments they made to protect 20 percent of their marine habitats.