Looking out from your cockpit into St. Lucia’s Soufriere Marine Management Area (SMMA) in the shadow of the Pitons, and you might see a lot of activity. Red and white warning flags mark divers below the surface, local fisherman are hauling in fish, swimmers are on the beach and local boatman are assisting yachts with mooring balls. It is a busy place with many uses.
What we cannot see is an ecosystem that twenty years ago was suffering from degradation of coastal water quality resulting from pollution and sedimentation from river and storm run-off, exploitation of the coral reefs, depletion of near shore fish resources, loss of tourism potential and destruction of reefs by anchoring yachts. There was conflict between divers and pot fishermen and between seine fishermen and yachts anchoring in seine fishing areas.
In 1992 a collaborative process began to protect the natural resources and financial well being of the local fisherman and businesses dependant upon tourism. There were many people involved in the planning and in 1995 the SMMA was launched. The SMMA encompasses 12-kilometers of coastline from Anse Jambon, at the north end, and Anse L’Ivrogne at the south end. The goal of the SMMA plan is to provide for sustainable use and development of marine resources while providing equitable sharing of the resources to stakeholders. The cornerstone of the 1994 SMMA agreement is the implementation of activity zones. The zones are designed to protect the resources and limit conflict over their use.
A scientific monitoring framework was designed to look for changes in key indicators of ecosystem health and fishing success. Monitoring provides management with scientific data and feedback on the effectiveness of the plan. Rangers and scientists do the monitoring. Within five years of creation of the management areas the catch of the fishermen within and outside the SMMA increased between 46 and 90%, depending on the type of gear the fishers used. The health of branching coral has also improved. Researchers believe that one of the reasons for the success of the SMMA in terms of increasing reef fish catches is the network design, with four main areas of no-take reserve, interspersed with fishing priority and multiple-use areas.
The plan also highlighted the importance of education of the local community as well as visitors about the details and benefits of the Soufriere Marine Management Area. The fee we pay when we pick up a mooring ball is a Coral Conservation Fee and that fee depends on the size of the boat and the time spent on a mooring. If you pay for the services of a boatman, that only covers his services and not the Coral Conservation Fee, which will be collected by a Park Ranger.
It is easy to look from the outside and see a well thought out plan with a scientific monitoring program and professional Rangers collecting fees at the mooring balls. What we do not see are the years of consultation with different user groups, or the very contentious issues and many concessions made by each group to find a middle ground. Recently a new and similar area has been created from Canaries to Anse La Raye. The Canaries to Anse La Raye Marine Management Area (CAMMA) is modeled after the SMMA and will have the benefit of two decades of lessons learned. The SMMA has demonstrated the marine reserves can work and conservation does pay.
- Marine Reserves are for the purpose of protecting the natural resources they contain and no extractive activity is permitted.
- Fishing Priority Areas are for the purpose of maintaining and sustaining fishing activities, which take priority over any other use of the area
- Multiple Use Areas are for the purpose of fishing, diving, snorkeling and other recreational activities.
- Recreational Areas are reserved for public access and recreation on the beaches and marine environment for swimming and snorkeling.
- Yacht Mooring Sites are designated to facilitate pleasure boats and yachts and for the protection of the bottom substrate.
Devi Sharp is a retired wildlife biologist and is exploring the Caribbean with her husband, Hunter on their sailboat “Arctic Tern”.