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Bangor scientist to help protect Marine Biodiversity in the Caribbean

Cayman Island Governor Mr Duncan Taylor listens as Dr John Turner, School of Ocean Sciences speaks at the launch event.Cayman Island Governor Mr Duncan Taylor listens as Dr John Turner, School of Ocean Sciences speaks at the launch event.The School of Ocean Sciences collaborating with the Government of the Cayman Islands and US partner The Nature Conservancy have launched an £817,000 project to protect the marine biodiversity of the Cayman Islands, a UK Overseas Territory in the central Caribbean.  His Excellency the Governor Mr Duncan Taylor of the Cayman Islands hosted the launch of the Darwin Initiative to Enhance an Established Marine Protected Area System, at Government House in Grand Cayman  today (27.10.10).  The project has been awarded a £274,000 grant from the Darwin Initiative through DEFRA, the UK Government’s department responsible for policy, regulations on the environment, food and rural affairs.  This funding has leveraged additional and in kind funding from the collaborating organisations.

The objective of the Darwin Initiative is to draw on UK expertise relevant to biodiversity to work with local partners rich in biodiversity, but poor in financial resources to achieve conservation of biological diversity.  Darwin projects are collaborative, have real impact on the country, represent high quality science and may be a catalyst for larger initiatives, as seen in Cayman. They address institutional capacity building, research, training, education and awareness.  Projects help a country to meet their obligations under the 3 major conventions: the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals and CITES (The Convention on Trade in Endangered Species).

Mr Duncan Taylor Governor of Cayman Islands welcomed guests and highlighted the fact that the majority of the UK’s biodiversity is to be found in the Overseas Territories, and that the marine diversity of the Cayman Islands was important and spectacular. 

Croy McCoy,(Senior Research Scientist,Department of Environment, Cayman) James Byrne,(Marine Program Director,The Nature Conservancy US) and Dr John Turner (School of Ocean Sciences Bangor University) underwater in the Cayman Islands. Croy McCoy,(Senior Research Scientist,Department of Environment, Cayman) James Byrne,(Marine Program Director,The Nature Conservancy US) and Dr John Turner (School of Ocean Sciences Bangor University) underwater in the Cayman Islands. Dr John Turner, Senior Lecturer in Marine Biology in the School of Ocean Sciences, and Darwin Project leader said that: ‘It was at Government House 2 years ago during the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum that the then UK Minister for Biodivesity, Huw Irranca Davies, announced that £1.5 million would be earmarked for projects in the Overseas Territories, and it was at that meeting that the project partners from Bangor, Cayman and the Nature Conservancy planned this successful Darwin project bid.’

Gina Ebanks Petrie, the Director of the Department of the Environment (DoE) of the Cayman Islands Government  announced that:  ‘Come April 2011, it will be 25 years since the establishment of the Caymans Marine Parks System  – back then we were one of the first to establish such a system and we remain very proud of that.  However, DoE is increasingly challenged to respond with timely and appropriate targeted interventions in the marine environment – it is not easy to deal with coral bleaching and climate change – we have to hope that our reefs are in good enough shape to cope.  There is now an urgency to undertake a scientifically robust assessment of the Cayman Marine Parks in order to enhance the system to cope with a growing number of global and local issues.  Earlier this year we were very fortunate to partner with School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor University, UK and The Nature Conservancy of the US, which is the largest international conservation organisation, to obtain funding through the UK Government funded Darwin Initiative.

Dr John Turner said: ‘The Cayman Islands present a rich marine environment, benefitting from over two decades of world class in situ conservation.  However, over this time, global, regional and local changes have occurred, threatening biodiversity and the livelihoods of island nations, and conservation initiatives need to keep apace.  Increased sea temperature, coral bleaching and other climate change impacts such as storm frequency, rising sea levels and ocean acidification are global threats.  Regionally, coral and urchin disease, widespread overfishing, reduced water quality from land based pollution have degraded the Caribbean, and locally the resident population has doubled, tourist numbers increased four- fold, and coastal development has accelerated.’

Coral reef of the Cayman Islands Coral reef of the Cayman Islands ‘We must ensure that marine ecosystems such as coral reefs maintain their capacity to recover from major impacts.  If these systems lack resilience,  then economic losses incur as property and critical infrastructure become insecure, fish catches reduce, other species and habitats such as turtles, seabirds, sea grasses and mangroves decline, and tourism revenue is lost. ‘

The Government is well aware that after 25 years of change, a review of the Marine Protected Area system is important, to assess whether protection zones are still optimal in area, appropriately located and provide maximum resilience.  Fully protected zones today cover about 17% of the shelf area of Cayman, but it is widely accepted that 30% or more of all representative habitats should be protected to be effective.  Such a goal is only possible with detailed knowledge of the habitats, their uses, and a clear vision of a desired future state.  The aim of the Darwin Initiative project is to provide scientific evidence of reserve effects, an assessment of options for protected area enhancement, a mechanism for stakeholder involvement and public consultation, and plans to promote and enforce an enhanced Marine Protected Area System in Cayman.

The objectives  of the project are (1) To assess the current level of resilience of reefs around all three islands in Cayman; (2) To assess how habitats can be best  represented by protected areas, using habitat mapping conducted during a previous Darwin Initiative project – In Ivan’s Wake; (3) To quantify reserve effects of protected zones, and their ability to spill over fish and juvenile organisms into non protected areas; (4) To quantify the impact of recreational, artisanal and illegal fishing; (5)To use this scientific data alongside state of the art Marine Protected Area planning tools to produce options for an enhanced Marine Protected Area system involving stakeholders and full public consultation.

Large territorial fish on Cayman reefs Large territorial fish on Cayman reefs The long term benefits from resilient reefs will be protection of biodiversity, people, property and coasts, enhancing sustainable use by residents and visitors, and therefore development of the economy.   The project is timely as a rapidly developing Cayman pursues a National Conservation Bill and at a time when there are changing priorities arising from an increasing need to respond to issues relating to climate change.  The project will demonstrate that after 25 years, the Cayman Marine Protected Area System can adapt to new stresses, and remain an excellent model for the wider Caribbean.    

James Byrne, Marine Program Director, The Nature Conservancy stated that: ‘The Convention on Biological Diversity has important goals that were supposed to be met this year, but will be missed.  This week, the Convention met in Nagoya Japan to look at how successful it has been in protecting biodiversity on a global scale. Leaders from the Caribbean region have agreed to go beyond the 10% protection goals of the Convention, and have created the ‘Caribbean Challenge’ to challenge each other to go beyond the goals to further protect biodiversity and have a lasting effect.  The Cayman Islands is a leader having set up a marine protected area system 25 years ago but now must make sure that the system is relevant for today and the future, and this where this Darwin projects fits. ‘

Jennifer Ahearn, Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Health, Environment, Youth, Sport and Culture said:  ‘The impact on the marine environment is not always considered with the significance it deserves, and so hopefully this project will help bring back that importance.  On behalf of the Minister and the Ministry, we congratulate DOE and their partners in moving this project forward we are very excited about its future results.’

Publication date: 28 October 2010