WILLEMSTAD — The fourth meeting of the Dutch Caribbean Committee on Marine Biodiversity and Fisheries marked a significant step forward in achieving sustainable management of the Dutch Caribbean Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The Curaçaoan Minister of Health, Environment and Nature, Ben Whiteman, joined the meeting to express his support for biodiversity conservation and cooperation between the islands and to announce the signing by Curaçao of the Memorandum of Agreement for joint, coordinated management of the biodiversity and fisheries in the Dutch Caribbean EEZ.
The Dutch Caribbean EEZ, which covers an area of roughly 81,000 km2, is home to and a migratory stopover point for species such as sharks, whales, sea turtles, rays, dolphins, seabirds and commercially valuable spawning fish. Planning and partnerships are critical when working with in such a large area and with so many stakeholders. Participating in the Committee meeting were the Royal Dutch Caribbean Coastguard, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance and Island Government officials and nature conservation managers from Curaçao, Bonaire, Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten all of whom play a role in the management of EEZ resources.
The priorities of this Committee are to plan and execute activities related to research and monitoring, fisheries development, enforcement, funding, shipping and anchoring, species protection and pollution control within the entire EEZ.
The focus of this meeting was the Saba Bank, the third largest, submerged coral reef atoll in the world, which is just five kilometres from Saba and spectacularly rich in biodiversity. In October last year the Saba Bank became the 13th Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) in the world designated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Associated Protective Measures (APMs) approved by the IMO for the area are No Anchoring Zone and Area To Be Avoided (ATBA) for ships larger than 300 GT. Although the ATBA status will not go into effect until June 2013, there has already been a marked drop in shipping traffic on the Saba Bank. Anchoring on the Saba Bank has not been reported since Dutch legislation made this illegal in December 2010.
The recently formed Saba Bank Management Unit, which is run by the Saba Conservation Foundation, is facilitating research on the Saba Bank such as the deployment of underwater microphones (hydrophones) which record passing marine mammal sounds such as songs from Humpback Whales. After recording for several months the hydrophones pop-up as buoys to be collected and analysed by researchers. This provides cutting-edge science, which will help managers to better understand marine mammal distribution in the Dutch Caribbean waters. The intention is to have the EEZ designated as Marine Mammal Sanctuary later this year complementing the already existing U.S. and French sanctuaries.
The Saba Bank Management Unit is also working with the Coastguard to improve monitoring and enforcement of fishing and anchoring regulations on the Saba Bank. A tough task considering the Saba Bank National Park is 2,679 km2 of open sea.
Recent spills on Curaçao and St. Eustatius have served as reminders of the islands’ sensitivity to oil spills and the importance of adequate preparedness. Recent hands–on trainings, the development of Oil Spill Response Plans and availability of on-site equipment should improve the Dutch Caribbean response to oil spills and similar emergencies.
Other subjects discussed by the Committee included the recent placement of so-called Fish Aggregation Devices (FADs), both off St. Eustatius and off Curaçao. FADs are a way to develop or stimulate pelagic fisheries by providing better catches of pelagic fish such as tuna, mahi mahi, and wahoo, and thus reducing fishing pressure on the sensitive reefs.
The meeting also evaluated the EEZ Management Plan and the corresponding list of actions. Of close to 50 action points, 25% have been completed in the two years since the Committee was formed, 50% is ongoing, and 25% still remain to be addressed.