Dec. 12, 2002 – Communication is the key when it comes to developing marine protected areas, according to several panelists and participants at a discussion Thursday on "Challenges to Developing and Implementing Marine Protected Areas."
The discussion was part of a five-day fishermen's workshop titled "Virgin Islands Reef Fish Spawning Aggregation and Marine Protected Area Workshop for Fishermen." The event, sponsored by The Ocean Conservancy and The Nature Conservancy, began Monday at the V.I. Environmental Resource Station on St. John. It will wrap up Friday.
The panelists were Janice Hodge, who serves as director of the Coastal Zone Management Program in the U.S. Virgin Islands Planning and Natural Resources Department; Joseph Smith-Abbott, who heads the National Parks Trust in the British Virgin Islands; and Seon Ferrari, who is an extension agent with the Soufriere Marine Management Area on St. Lucia.
In discussing the communication problem, Ferrari said that a representative from the Soufriere Fishermen's Cooperative attends meetings, but does not disseminate what he's learned to his fellow fishermen.
Hodge said that a similar problem exists in the Virgin Islands. When the St. Croix East End Marine Park was in its planning stages, Hodge said she learned that representatives from various groups did not always share information with other members. And those members often didn't agree with views expressed by their representatives. The organizers also failed to include a representative from HOVENSA, the oil refinery that fronts on the ocean and has a huge impact on the marine environment.
Hodge said the planners used the name "marine park" instead of "marine protected area" because the marine protected area appellation has negative connotations to some people. "Marine park is easier to digest," she said.
Ferrari said that if more people had been involved when development of the Soufriere Marine Management Area began, even the name might be different.
He said that the planners failed to include land-based people like pig farmers and coconut growers. "Waste from the pig farms is quite toxic," Ferrari said.
Ferrari said that he discovered fatty acids at the coconut farms adjacent to the ocean were stored without any way to keep them from seeping into the sea.
He said that after the Soufriere Marine Management Area was established in 1994, fish stocks increased. However, the coral reef has not recovered, thanks to land-based pollution, he said.
Additionally, uses like snorkeling and diving are allowed, which impact the reef. This use is hard for fishermen to swallow because they're banned from the area.
"The scale is not balanced," Ferrari said.
He said that while younger fishermen are adapting to the new scenario, thanks to loans that allow them to buy bigger boats so they can fish farther from shore or have switched career to tourism, older fishermen are not about to change their ways.
"They don't want to go out and brave the waters," Ferrari said.
Smith-Abbott said that it's also important that agencies talk to each other. He said that the National Parks Trust and the BVI Conservation and Fisheries Department are both involved in mapping their areas. It's crucial that they work together so people using the areas know how they're to be used.
Protecting the BVI's marine resources started when diver operators installed moorings at the Wreck of the Rhone, which was named a marine park in 1979. Smith-Abbott said there are now six National Parks Trust employees with vessels who make repairs and patrol the Rhone and its surrounding area.

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