Pedro Bank: Why It's Special
The Pedro Bank is an important commercial and biological area on a national and regional level. It is located approximately 50 miles off the southwestern coast of Jamaica and its three small, sandy islands, also known as cays, are composed of coral reefs, sand and sea grass beds. It makes up Jamaica's main commercial and artisanal fishing grounds and serves as the primary harvesting area for the largest export of queen conch in the Caribbean region. Jamaican conch exports have at times generated more foreign revenue than the country's world-famous Blue Mountain coffee.
The queen conch isn’t the only species that depends upon the Pedro Bank. The Pedro Bank is an important seabird nesting area for birds like masked boobies and roseate terns. It also provides nesting grounds for several endangered turtle species, including hawksbills and loggerheads. Jamaica's reefs have seen terrible deterioration, but even so, for many plants and animals, the Pedro Bank is the last great hope. With an estimated 99% of mainland Jamaica's reefs in danger, the healthy coral reefs on the Pedro Bank are vital to long-term reef conservation in the country.
In July of 2004, the Jamaica National Heritage Trust declared Pedro Bank an underwater cultural heritage site, as it is a veritable treasure trove of sixteenth and seventeenth century shipwrecks and artifacts. It wasn’t until 2005, however, that marine life became the focus of protection. The Nature Conservancy began its work on the Pedro Bank by conducting ecological, health and socioeconomic assessments. By 2008, the Conservancy had collected fundamental information to guide conservation activities and develop partnerships to support those activites.
Investing in Conservation
In 2008, Jamaica, along with several other Caribbean nations, committed to protect at least 20% of its near-shore marine and coastal environment by 2020. Under the Caribbean Challenge Initiative (CCI), the Government of Jamaica agreed to name the remote, offshore Pedro Cays as the country’s first offshore marine managed area. The Conservancy began co-managing the site in 2011. The CCI will help provide financial support for the preserve under the Caribbean Biodiversity Fund. The Conservancy has made an initial pledge of U.S. $8 million to the fund, and the German government and Global Environment Facility (GEF) have also been major supporters.
In addition, the Conservancy has invested in a program to raise awareness about the merits of sustainable fishing practices. The intention is to ensure that from start to finish the fishermen from the Pedro Bank community are actively involved in the research, planning and implementation phases of the project and play a key role in establishing management regulations. The Nature Conservancy helps train wardens and educate fishers on how to avoid overfishing. The result is that fishers in the area are still able make a living from the sea, and many of the fishers have even shared knowledge and best practices through an exchange that the Conservancy facilitated with a fishing community in Belize.
Working Through Partnerships
The progress that has been made at Pedro Bank is in large part due to partnerships with the government of Jamaica. Strong relationships with the main regulatory and enforcement agencies responsible for the area—the Fisheries Division, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), the Jamaican Defense Force Coast Guard, and the Pedro Bank fishermen—have been critical to the project. The Conservancy and the University of the West Indies (UWI) are providing academic, technical and applied conservation management expertise.