A closer look at the Bimini Marine Protected Area campaign

Aerial view of the mangrove system in Bimini. PHOTO CREDIT: Oceanicallstars.

By guest columnist Jillian Morris Brake

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n 2000 the proposed Bimini Marine Protected Area (MPA) was affirmed as a “highest priority” site and in December 2008 it was declared official by the Bahamas Minister of the Environment. As I write this, the exact boundaries, rules and regulations have yet to be finalized. The tiny islands of Bimini are nestled alongside the Gulf Stream and are home to the only mangrove ecosystem on the Western Great Bahama Bank. The establishment of the marine protected area is not only vital for the economy and environment of Bimini, but for the surrounding islands and ecosystems. The North Sound alone is home to at least 370 different species of animals with 11 of those listed as either, “threatened,” or “endangered.” Conch, lobster, snapper, sharks, stingrays, reptiles and birds all rely on these mangrove habitats as do the people of the island for food and tourism.

I recently sat down with Grant Johnson, Vice Chairman of Bimini Tourism Advisory Board and founder of Bimini’s MPA Campaign. He is also a former Bimini Biological Field Station (Sharklab) manager and currently works as the co-activities director at Bimini Sands. Grant has been integral in the push to make the MPA a reality, educating the community, local businesses and visitors as to why it is so critical in order to keep Bimini beautiful and healthy for generations to come.

JM: Why did you start the Bimini Marine Protected Area Campaign on Facebook?

GJ: Well, in 2007, I was invited to a Strategic Planning meeting on North Bimini with over 100 other Biminites in attendance from all walks of life and almost every business on the island was represented. We were tasked with coming up with a 5-point plan to improve two main things on the island; the quality of life for those that worked here, and the tourism product for those that visited here. Finalizing the North Bimini Marine Reserve was something that everyone agreed would strongly benefit both of those things. I was asked by the people in attendance to be “in charge” of finalizing the NBMR (MPA) because of my history at the SharkLab and my involvement with other conservation initiatives on the island. The campaign has gained and lost and regained momentum over the years, and eventually evolved to its current state. I basically see my involvement with this campaign as following up with something I was asked to do by the people who live here. I have had some unbelievable experiences on this island, and my participation with this campaign is simply my attempt to return the favor.

JM: Do you think it has been effective?

GJ: Hopefully. I’m not a Facebook user myself, but I’ve contributed to the Facebook page for the MPA campaign, and I do think that it’s been very helpful in re-energizing people about this important issue. I get asked about the progress of this campaign a lot when I’m out and around the island, and it’s been like that for years. With the strong online presence we have way more people getting involved, both here on Bimini and far beyond.

JM: Why is an MPA in Bimini so important?

Grant shows a snorkeler a sea horse in the mangroves of Bimini. PHOTO CREDIT: Duncan Brake.

GJ: The North Bimini Marine Reserve (North Sound area to be declared as MPA) is literally the foundation for Bimini’s entire tourism industry. Everything that people love about Bimini revolves around the water in some way, and every business here depends on these ecosystems staying healthy. The restaurants, hotels, resorts, fishermen, and tour operators all directly benefit from the marine resources here. Even businesses that seem less directly related are supported by the guests that the waters of Bimini attract.

If you have ever been to Bimini then you know how incredible the water is. Flats fishing, deep sea fishing, snorkeling and diving on coral reefs and shipwrecks and wild dolphin encounters are just a few of the activities that locals and visitors alike enjoy. The mangroves make all of this possible and are truly the soul of these little, “Islands in the Stream.” The official establishment of the MPA will ensure that the people, economy and wildlife of Bimini continue to thrive.

For more information on how you can help keep Bimini beautiful:

  • Bimini MPA http://www.facebook.com/Bimini.Marine.Protected.Area 
  • www.savebimini.org 
  • Bimini Blue Coalition http://www.facebook.com/BiminiBlueCoalition 

Jillian Morris Brake, an ocean educator, advocate and explorer, may be reached at sharkyjillian@gmail.com.

To learn more about Jillian, visit www.shark-girl.com.