Beneath the sea in the Bahamas
The Bahamas recognized early on the need to protect and preserve its marine resources. Since 1892, they have established 35 marine protected areas (MPAs). A recent report found that these marine protected areas and the ecosystem services they provide are worth more than 6 billion dollars. This value includes not only local benefits like providing nursery habitat for spiny lobsters, protecting shorelines from storm damage, and supporting tourism, but also benefits to the international community such as the carbon sequestration in these areas that protects against climate change impacts.
When I dive in the Bahamas, the benefits of these protections - like the crystal blue waters themselves - are exceedingly clear. Fish abound, often in much higher numbers and greater sizes than I ever see in south Florida. Large predators such as sharks - including threatened species like the great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) - congregate seasonally off Bahamian coasts in numbers rarely seen anywhere else. In many areas, coral cover remains relatively high compared to the rest of the Caribbean, having escaped most of the devastating impacts of human activity, land-based pollution, overfishing, bleaching, and disease. Huge, centuries-old coral colonies still create complex 3D structures that sustain teeming communities of fish and invertebrates.
Though it certainly isn’t perfect, in many ways the Bahamas sets an example for other countries around the world struggling to halt the decline of their coastal ecosystems. I feel extremely fortunate to conduct a significant portion of my research in the Bahamas, and to be able to witness its stunning marine resources firsthand several times per year.
Here are some of the images I have captured since my first trip to the country in April 2018: