Column: Protecting Our Marine Environment

September 24, 2018

[Written by environmental charity Greenrock]

How fortunate we are that the powerful Hurricane Florence took a more Westerly route on its recent course.

While our thoughts go out to those impacted by the storm on the US mainland, Hurricane Florence can serve as a good reminder of the importance of ocean health, and reducing our impact on oceans. It is well established that warming global temperatures give rise to stronger and larger hurricanes, which in many cases lead to other natural catastrophic events, such as flooding.

One of the externalities of Hurricane Florence on our shores, aside from erosion, is the arrival of masses of plastic waste that has washed up on local beaches.

Plastic waste in the ocean is something that has made the news a lot lately – and with good reason. One story described Henderson Island, a tiny landmass in the eastern South Pacific which is untouched, though far from pristine.

When they arrived at Henderson, marine scientists found it to have the highest density of human-made debris recorded anywhere in the world, with 99.8% of the pollution plastic. The nearly 18 tonnes of plastic piling up on an island that is otherwise mostly untouched by humans have been pointed to as evidence of the catastrophic extent of marine plastic pollution.

In Bermuda, even without the passing of a major storm, it’s easy to see evidence of the plastics pollution issue as each high-tide delivers more and more plastics on our coastline in all shapes, sizes and colours.

Our regular and conscientious effort to clean our coastlines has a huge and positive local impact. KBB’s coastal clean-ups, corporate clean-ups, the newly implemented marina strainers [at RHADC and Hamilton Princess, for example], our Parks Department teams and others keep our coastlines from turning into permanent debris fields.

Importantly though, this regular effort in and around our coastal areas does not negate the host of pressures that we exert over our marine environment [some obvious and some not so obvious], for example:

  • Sewage outflow which includes grease, chemicals used to clean toilets, sinks and bathrooms;
  • Seepage, spillage and leakage of fossil fuels [for example from the Rubis leak at Ferry Reach];
  • Ship traffic and related sediment on our coral reef system;
  • Trash both plastic and other types;
  • Over fishing of predatory reef species and bait fishes [this is now well documented, for example see the report by Bermuda Reed Ecosystem Analysis and Monitoring [B.R.E.A.M.]– Baseline Condition of the Coral Reefs and Fishes Across Three Depth Zones of the Forereef of Bermuda [2016]];
  • Developments like new marinas, islands [i.e. Cross Island], waterfront buildings and hotels;
  • Runoff of pesticides and other chemicals [boat-bottom paint from boatyards for example]; and
  • Treated and or heated water run-off from the incinerator, BELCO, hotels and sewage treatment plant.

Add to the above list the external pressures, coming from outside Bermuda, for example pollution, over-fishing of pelagic and bait fishes, introduction of invasive species [i.e. lionfish] and these equate to a very formidable and real threat the health of our marine environment.

“What now?” some may ask.

In relation to what we can do to protect our marine environment from local and international pressures, a handful of suggestions are offered below,

  • i Create new and expand existing ‘no-take’ marine zones;
  • ii Solicit private funding for additional fisheries officers patrols in an aim to reduce illegal fishing practices;
  • iii Extend seasonal breeding ‘no-take’ areas so as to stop over-fishing immediately before or after breeding of reef fishes;
  • iv Enforce no littering laws by checking in on those fishing from our coastline and using our beaches;
  • v Contemplate creating a marketable conservation area encompassing a portion of our EEZ;
  • vi Ban the distribution of plastic bags by retail operations on-island [or reduce same by imposing a fee] and robustly support businesses that opt to go plastic bag free, for example Makin’ Waves;
  • vii Focus on a sustainable plan for our fisheries;
  • viii Work with the Sargasso Sea Commission to further protect the Sargasso Sea [in which we reside]; and or
  • x Look into the use of self-powered drones that clean the ocean for use in our EEZ.

Regardless of whether the above suggestions are taken up, it is respectfully implored that both the Government and citizens of Bermuda take action now. Ask questions, offer suggestions, demand action and set a course for change.

Let’s not be the generation who is held accountable by those to come for turning a blind eye to our marine environment when it faces more pressure than ever before.

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Comments (2)

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  1. nameless says:

    Good points, we really should take more time to protect our beautiful surrounding waters

  2. Kim Smith says:

    Is any testing of local fish being done to measure the impact on their health from all the plastic pollution in the ocean which they are nibbling on or inadvertently eating… thinking about the consumption of fish locally.