Fisheries experts, marine scientists and policymakers from across the Caribbean and the Americas gathered in Cayman this week to share ideas and discuss new policies to fight threats to the marine environment.
The Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute is hosting its 69th annual conference at the Westin, Grand Cayman.
New developments in combating the threat posed by invasive species like lionfish, and regional cooperation in dealing with cross-border issues such as the blankets of floating sargassum weed which have inundated Caribbean beaches and impacted tourism on multiple islands, including Cayman, are on the agenda for the week-long conference.
Nancy Brown-Peterson, chairwoman of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute, said the event is also a great opportunity for environmental leaders to share innovations and new ideas and hear about the latest scientific studies and policy developments.
During the opening ceremony Monday, the Cayman Islands Department of Environment announced a new smartphone app to improve enforcement of marine conservation laws here.
The app taps into the phone’s GPS system to inform users when they are in a marine park and remind them what rules apply. It also enables boaters to report violations of conservation legislation.
Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the Department of Environment, told delegates at the conference that the app is one way of stepping up enforcement without adding staff.
With a proposal on the table to dramatically expand the size of Cayman’s marine parks, including no-fishing zones, she said the department is looking to enlist the public to help enforce the new rules.
“This is clearly going to require an expansion of enforcement activity but there are limited resources to achieve this.”
The SIREN app, developed with Bangor University in Wales as part of the U.K.’s Darwin Initiative, allows boaters to report incidents and observations and attach pictures. It also allows DoE enforcement officers to access reports and licensing information in the field at the touch of the button.
“Not only will our officers be more efficient, they won’t have to call back to base for information,” said Ms. Ebanks-Petrie.
Bradley Johnson, DoE research officer, added, “We can only be in so many places at so many times so this is really a tool that allows the public to help provide information to us.”
Ms. Brown-Peterson said the app is a classic example of an innovation that emerges in one country that could be shared and adopted by others, which is one of the reasons for holding the annual conference.
She said many countries in the region face similar issues with resources to fund enforcement, and may look to mirror what the DoE has done with the app.
Other issues affecting the region include the threat of over-fishing and the conflict between development and preserving the environment, she said.
She said many poorer countries have a larger proportion of subsistence fishermen which has created political push-back against sensible limits on fishing.
“It is a tough dynamic because they know the science, they know what needs to be done, but they face that push-back.”
Similar conflicts arise when policymakers seek to balance development with environmental concerns, she added.
“Tourism is big money and it is hard to say no to a tourism development that’s bringing jobs and investment. It’s a fine line to walk,” she added.