Barbados needs to act now to save its coral reefs!
Marine Biologist at the Coastal Zone Management Unit (CZMU), Angelique Brathwaite, said the reality is that the situation regarding the island’s coral reefs is now "dire", and all sectors need to come together to save them.
"Our coral reefs are in serious trouble. Most of the ecosystem services provided by coral reefs such as protection and reef fish habitat could be lost in as few as another 70 years unless something is done," she said, noting that while still beautiful, many reefs were already showing increases in algae and declines in coral and reef fish abundance.
The Marine Biologist noted that coral reefs were deteriorating for a number of years, due to both anthropogenic and climate-related causes. Land-based sources of marine pollution such as general runoff, sewage, gray water, pesticides and fertilisers, coupled with physical damage from boats, divers, and unsustainable fishing practices, have led to approximately half the corals on the bank reefs being lost in the space of a decade.
Added to these impacts now are those associated with Global Climate Change (GCC), such as coral bleaching, ocean acidification, increased storm surge activity and sea level rise.
However, the Marine Biologist said that the battle was not lost. Ms. Brathwaite explained that research now showed corals which were less impacted by man were able to withstand the stresses of GCC. "That is something I think we all know on an instinctive level," she said.
Ms. Brathwaite noted that while Barbados could not manage or control GCC impacts on its own, if the island controlled the level of nutrients and toxins that bathe coral reefs, and prevent against physical damage, then they would have a chance.
And, she is suggesting that the only way this can be achieved, is for all the sectors to come together and develop ways of protecting the reefs.
Those expected to give an input on the issue include people involved in tourism, farming, diving, those managing golf courses, boating and fisheries. In addition, the CZMU will also be seeking to educate members of the Barbados Coast Guard and Marine Police who will be called on to enforce the legislation on issues related to protecting the island’s coral reefs.
She explained that if members of the public were engaged, educated about the issues being faced, and had opportunities to share their issues, along with possible solutions, then the island’s reefs might be saved. "If we don’t, they are gone," she stressed.
"It will all come down to knowledge. For example, it is important for farmers’ crops to get the necessary nutrients to grow and be protected from pests, but I don’t think most farmers know how excessive use of fertilisers and pesticides impacts reefs, in the same way that I know very little about farming.
"So we have to talk to each other, understand the different issues and look at how they could reduce the use of fertilisers and pesticides, which would also benefit them financially," Ms. Brathwaite said.
She added that nobody was saying "don’t farm, fish, don’t go out there and dive, or keep the sewage in your house", because the sewage had to go somewhere.
"But what we are saying is that we need to do more, and we are going to do more collectively than we are doing now to manage the situation.
"People from the different sectors can come up with their own solutions. We [CZMU] don’t have to come up with solutions for them all," Ms. Brathwaite said.
She noted that Barbados had one of the longest running coral monitoring programmes in the region, dating back to 1982. As a result, she said officials had a very good idea about what was happening on the reefs.