Conservation win for Abaco fishermen

Cross Harbour is 1 of 15 new protected Bahamas national parks. PHOTO CREDIT: Friends of the Environment.
Cross Harbour is 1 of 15 new protected Bahamas national parks. PHOTO CREDIT: Friends of the Environment.

Grassroots Movement

[dropcap]G[/dropcap]rowing concern for an area of near pristine tidal creeks and flats in South Abaco prompted a group of fishermen to take a stand for the area’s protection. Cross Harbour is one of the most isolated wetlands on Abaco, and a highly sought-after fly-fishing location. One of many logging camp sites utilized in the early to mid-1900s across Abaco, Cross Harbour currently sees little traffic aside from those hunters, fishermen, or naturalists seeking to enjoy its amazing natural resources.

In 2009, the Abaco Fly Fishing Guides Association (AFFGA) applied for government protection of the tidal creeks and adjoining land at Cross Harbour. In partnership with Friends of the Environment, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust and the Bahamas National Trust, AFFGA advocated for Cross Harbour’s protection and followed the proposal along its winding bureaucratic journey ensuring that it was never far from the thoughts of those who had the means to ensure its protection.

Environmental Capital

An interest in sustainable fisheries, Bahamian livelihoods, and ecological health has inspired numerous research projects investigating coastal habitats and species over the last decade. Many of those studies can be applied to Cross Harbour, while some were even conducted there. Scientists working in Cross Harbour identified over 70 species of fish in its creeks and used knowledge gained there to build our understanding of local marine ecology. Locals and researchers alike have observed numerous juvenile conch, and spawning populations of snapper, bonefish, and mating sharks. Perhaps most notably, a 2010 study found the value of the Bahamian fly-fishery to contribute approximately $141 million to the Bahamas gross domestic product. To add to this, Cross Harbour has been cited as “possibly the most important spawning ground for bonefish in The Caribbean”. While research is still ongoing, it has become clear that Cross Harbour is a significant natural treasure that, if developed, would be a loss to Bahamians.

The Way Forward

AFFGA and its partners had their victory on August 31, 2015 when the Minister of the Environment announced new national parks for The Bahamas. Cross Harbour would be one of 15 new protected areas helping the country achieve its Caribbean Challenge commitment: protecting 20% of nearshore marine habitats by the year 2020. The Marls of Abaco were also declared protected, for that is where the bonefish which spawn in Cross Harbour live on a day to day basis. While this is a major win for fishermen and conservationists, indeed for all Bahamians, the work is not done. Moving forward it will be very important to come together to formulate effective management for these areas. Stay tuned to learn how you can become involved.

Friends of the Environment is a non-profit environmental organizations devoted to preserving Abaco’s fragile environment and working towards a more sustainable future. For more information, visit www.friendsoftheenvironment.org, call (242) 367-2721 or email info@friendsoftheenvironment.org.

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