The Cayman Islands Department of Environment is celebrating marine parks’ 25th anniversary this year.
In an effort to protect natural resources, including coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves and abundant marine life, the marine parks were founded in 1986 under the forward-thinking slogan Save Our Tomorrow – Today.
Now the Department of Environment and Bangor University have launched a Darwin Initiative project to evaluate the success of the Marine Protected Area system and plan for the future.
Over the past 25 years there has been increasing international recognition of the ecological and economic importance of Marine Protected Areas.
In the Cayman Islands, the success of the marine parks and the islands’ reputation for healthy reefs draw millions of visitors to support our economy, department officials say.
The DoE, along with with Bangor University and The Nature Conservancy, will be conducting a comprehensive scientific review of the Cayman Islands Marine Protected Areas – evaluating reef health, fish and invertebrate biomass, and fishing pressure inside and outside the Marine Parks on all three islands.
Why marine parks?
Coral reefs are among the most diverse and fragile ecosystems on earth.
Globally, threats such as sedimentation, nutrification, anchor damage, and overfishing have led to huge declines in corals and reef fish populations, the DoE says.
Persistent human impacts have reduced the capacity of reefs to cope with continuing impacts and with emerging threats such as invasive species and climate change, environmental experts say.
However, marine protected areas have been increasingly recognised as part of a possible global solution, according to the DoE.
Marine parks promote healthy corals and increase biodiversity, biomass, size, and abundance of fish: within marine parks, there are more species of fish and they are larger and present in greater numbers.
Benefits, according to the DoE, are also seen outside the boundaries of marine parks. Research suggests that fish move across the boundaries of marine parks to colonise the areas outside them.
This spillover of adult fish and export of eggs and larvae creates more productive fisheries, more vibrant reefs, and healthier ecosystems around marine parks.
In addition, marine parks protect against the extinction of vulnerable species and are beneficial for tourism: while corals and fish populations on many Caribbean Islands have already been destroyed, visitors are attracted to the Cayman Islands, in large part, because of the corals and an abundance of marine life here.
By maintaining the natural variety and abundance of herbivorous and carnivorous species, marine parks preserve a delicate balance in coral reef systems, the DoE says.
The Cayman Islands are fortunate that the early institution of marine parks has helped the surrounding coral reefs survive until now, says the DoE.
However, department officials say, since the 1980s the Islands’ reefs have been seriously degraded.
As part of a growing network of marine protected areas around the globe, the DoE urges more efforts to ensure that marine ecosystems in the Islands are healthy enough to cope with current impacts and any challenges that climate change may bring.
For more information, email [email protected] or call 949-8469.