When the parks were designated 25 years ago, the goal was to protect coral reefs, stop over-fishing and boat anchoring damage. What was not taken into account back then was global threats to coral reefs, including increased sea temperatures, coral bleaching and climate change impacts such as storm frequency, rising sea levels and ocean acidification. On a regional level, coral and urchin disease, widespread over-fishing and reduced water quality from land-based pollution are degrading the Caribbean, while locally, the resident population has doubled, tourist numbers have increased four-fold and coastal development has accelerated.
The bottom line is that the healthier we can keep our reefs and ecosystems, the more likely it is we can ward off those threats. If our systems lack resilience, then economic losses incur as property and critical infrastructure become insecure, fish catches reduce, other species and habitats such as turtles, seabirds, sea grasses and mangroves decline. That means we would also see a direct loss of tourism revenue. The evidence of the success of the marine parks suggests that we need to expand them and their mission.
To do that, the Marine Conservation Law must be amended. Protection of mangroves, sea grass beds and juvenile fish breeding areas along the coast would be provided under the National Conservation Bill, which is being reviewed. Our lawmakers must employ the political will to ensure that our marine life is protected now and in the future.