“A Barbados with no coral reefs will result in no beaches, harsh wave environments, fewer fish, scant tourists, few jobs and a struggling economy.”

This observation was made by Director of the Coastal Zone Management Unit, Dr. Leo Brewster this morning, as he delivered a speech on the behalf of  Minister of  the Environment, Water Resources and Drainage, Dr. Denis Lowe, at the launch of the  ‘Oistins Reef Ball Gardens Project: A Solution to  Coral Depletion and Community Livelihoods in Oistins’.

Describing   the island’s coral reefs as “spectacularly beautiful ecosystems” of “greatest structural significance to the foundation of this island,” Dr. Brewster said they also offered a “plethora of other benefits.”

“In their primary function as natural barriers to waves, the value of reefs, with regard to natural shoreline protection, is equivalent to millions of dollars. As such, coral reefs form the basis of our tourism product,” he underlined.

Concomitantly, Dr. Brewster cited the important economic, social and cultural benefits accrued to Barbados via the fishing industry. To elucidate his point he emphasised that while the fishing industry contributed an estimated $19.2 million to the island’s Gross Domestic Product in 2007, “the environment upon which all the fishing industry relies has been under threat from habitat degradation as a result of pollution, over-exploitation and conflicts due to competing resource users.”

It was against this backdrop that Dr. Brewster welcomed the Reef Ball Gardens Project which entails a conservation, sustainable use and management programme within the fishing community.

The initiative seeks primarily to assist in the restoration of coral and fish life by manufacturing and installing a variety of Reef Balls, thereby creating coral and fish gardens in three to five sites within Oistins Bay. The reef balls consist of small holes that fingerlings (baby fish) can swim into in order to escape from predators, and the gardens serve as a virtual undersea fish kindergarten and habitat.

“The proposal to create an artificial habitat, which will encourage the aggregation of reef fish on what is predominantly a sandy substrate, will encourage small-scale reef fisheries to take place side by side with  tourism activities. Given the proximate nature of the two activities within Oistins, it can be expected that with the proper stakeholder participation it will have implications for the economic well-being of the fisherfolk and for the tourism industry,” Dr. Brewster surmised.

The Coastal Zone Management official, however, underscored the need for residents, fisherfolk and other stakeholders to take ownership of the initiative and to become virtual “watchdogs” of the area, thus assisting with self-policing, compliance and enforcement.

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