Guy Harvey Magazine

WIN-SPR 2018

Guy Harvey Magazine is focused on fishing, boating, scuba diving, and marine conservation. Portfolios from the world's best fishing photographers, articles on gear, travel, tournaments, apparel, lifestyle, seafood recipes, sustainable fisheries.

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Page 32 of 83 | 33 limit populations of species that harm corals, like three-spot damselfish and several invertebrates. The resilience of reefs in the park has resulted in coral reefs in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park having approximately two times the amount of live coral cover as other reefs in The Bahamas, on average. The success of the ECLSP for protecting populations of key species and preserving the health of coral reef ecosystems is a testament to the foresight of its founders who recommended protecting an entire landscape, including islands, nearshore habitats, like mangroves and seagrass beds that serve as nursery areas for many species, inshore and offshore reefs, and deep-sea areas. In doing so, they recognized how all of these areas are connected and how effective conservation includes protecting intact ecosystems rather than small pieces. In the 1980s, the idea of ecosystem protection was advanced further by making the park a refuge for marine life where any removal of marine life or other resources was prohibited. Active management of users by the Bahamas National Park, including patrols of the park and installation of moorings for visitors to prevent damage from anchoring in sensitive areas, has further promoted conservation of the park, resulting in the healthy reefs and marine life that we see today. The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is not without its threats, however; illegal poaching remains an issue in some parts of the park, as does the development of some private landholdings within the park, since even small-scale development may have impacts on the delicate balance of ecosystems within the park. As the wonders of the park attract more visitors, balancing ecosystem protection with visitor use is also a challenge. Recent scientific studies have also shown that even with the large size and effective management of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, unsustainable fishing and other outside influences still affect marine life within the park. While endangered Nassau grouper are still far more abundant in the park than elsewhere in The Bahamas, and indeed most of the Caribbean, large adults leave the park for two weeks or more during spawning seasons in aggregations located over 85–150 miles away where they are still fished illegally, in spite of a closed season. Studies have also shown that even as large as the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is (over 272 square miles), populations of many species depend on replenishment from areas outside the park, where they have been depleted. Genetic studies by a Bahamian PhD student, Krista Sherman, show that roughly half of the Nassau grouper from the Exuma Cays come from elsewhere in The Bahamas. Populations of another iconic Bahamian species, the queen conch, are also dependent upon replenishment from outside the park. Studies have shown that the park harbor's densities of queen conch are roughly more than 10 times that of nearby areas outside the park, and it is one of the few places where there is a reproductive conch population in The Bahamas. These studies also show, however, that queen conch densities in the park have declined by 35% in less than 20 years and that the reproductive output for conch in the park has also decreased. This is primarily due to an aging conch population, with many conch past their peak reproductive period, and fewer younger adults entering the breeding population. The shift to an older, senescent population is likely due to the dependence of larvae coming in from outside the park to replenish and reinvigorate the queen conch stocks there. The case of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park highlights the ability of a large and well-managed marine park to not just preserve the beauty of an area, but also provide critical protection to marine life to maintain the delicate balance and health of coral reefs and other marine ecosystems. It also shows how no park is an island and how outside factors, whether they be increasing sea temperatures or unsustainable fishing, can affect the ability of the park to safeguard the species and habitats within it. The Bahamas is currently addressing these issues by expanding its system of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to build a network of MPAs that will replenish each other and surrounding areas with open access to sustainably protect marine ecosystems and key species within them. A gray angelfish swims among the coral of Jeep Reef in the ECLSP. Photo courtesy of Craig Dahlgren, Perry Institute for Marine Science.

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