Sailing over blue waters at the helm of his 42-foot Hinckley sailboat is where Ford Reiche feels most connected to nature. This year, he and his wife Karen embarked on the first of what will be an annual seaward voyage from their home in Southern Maine to the Bahamas.
Ford and Karen spend their time in the Bahamas snorkeling and bone fishing — getting up-close and personal with the breathtaking coral and marine life they are helping The Nature Conservancy protect. Although they spend some time relaxing and enjoying the Bahamas, their dedication to preserving their surroundings leads them to also dedicate time to conservation. Specifically, Ford and Karen are working with the Conservancy on coordinating and directing funds for the Caribbean Challenge —a region wide initiative that focuses on creating and expanding marine protected areas across the Caribbean. They also hope to help create mechanisms for sustainable finance of these areas so that they can be effectively managed.
Ford, a member of the Conservancy’s board of trustees in Maine, and Karen, first learned about the Conservancy’s efforts in the Bahamas at a national meeting in Seattle. They were impressed by the organization’s work with indigenous communities and the Bahamas government to preserve the country’s coral reefs and seagrass beds while still inviting tourists to bask in the glory of the islands’ natural beauty. The information they gained at that meeting, combined with a longing to fill their sails with wind, led them to devise a plan: to depart from Maine each year in mid–December for the Bahamas and return again when each spring is born.
And now, Ford is one of eight founding members of The Nature Conservancy’s brand new Board for the Caribbean. This innovative effort will bring the collective insights and leadership of a first-ever board of trustees to bear in guiding the Conservancy’s conservation work in the Caribbean. This September, the Reiches will host the board’s first meeting at their home in Maine.
Filled with quiet, pristine islands and some of the brightest, clearest waters on Earth, the Bahamas are home to some of the Caribbean’s most famous marine species — from bottle-nosed dolphins to bonefish to sea turtles. The islands are also home to coral reefs, which are among the richest and most threatened habitats in the world.
Suffering from pollution, overuse, poor management and disease and bleaching caused by climate change, these reefs could be gone within our lifetime — with devastating consequences for the corals, fish and people that depend on them.
But with the help of volunteer leaders like Ford, the Conservancy is working with local partners in the Bahamas to protect these vital ecosystems by creating a large network of marine national parks. By working with indigenous communities to promote the growth of these parks, the Conservancy hopes protected waters in the Bahamas will eventually span more than 500,000 acres. Building these parks means conducting field research to identify and protect key areas (such as a shark nursery recently discovered near Andros Island) and working with local communities and businesses to promote best practices.
It is envisioned that when fully implemented, the Caribbean Challenge will have been the trigger for protecting up to 20% of the marine territory of the region. Currently there are eight governments signed on to the Challenge; Bahamas, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, Antigua, and Barbuda, with more countries expressing interest in being recognized on a global scale for joining this truly transformative project.
One example of how the Conservancy is expanding its work to promote the growth of local parks can be found in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, the oldest underwater preserve in the Bahamas with which the Conservancy partners. Opened in 1959, the park contains some of the Caribbean’s first protected sea floors and seashores. In 1985, the Bahamas government made the park the first no-fishing replenishment zone in the Caribbean. A network of moorings now protects the coral reefs and seagrass beds so that tourists can visit without damaging the ecosystems.
Because Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park still lacks permanent funding, the involvement of Conservancy supporters like Ford and Karen is essential. By working with local communities and governments, the Conservancy hopes to eventually secure permanent funding for the preservation of these amazing underwater worlds.
As for Ford and Karen, their annual sojourn has been offering amazing adventures while their involvement in conservation has added a deep sense of purpose.
“I am on the Conservancy board for both Maine and the Caribbean, and am eager to help any way that I can,” says Ford, “It’s an interesting time for the environment in both Maine and in the Caribbean. Conservation and preservation of both locations is crucial to taking stewardship of the planet.”August 22, 2011