Fishers of Bluefields Bay tell stories of a time when the coral grew so high parts of the reef were impassable, when boats had to navigate around the coral tips emerging out of the Caribbean’s blue waters. Four decades later a trip underwater will show you a seafloor still covered with the skeletons of these same corals. Due to the effects of hurricanes, decline of algae grazers and climate change, the once lush thicket is only a story told around a bottle of Red Stripe beer and a cup of fish soup (since the fish is too scarce to cook any other way).
Until now. The climate isn’t the only thing changing for some communities around the Caribbean. In Bluefields Bay, Jamaica, the community has come together with the Government to establish one of the fourteen (14) fish sanctuaries island wide. Since 2009, the community based organisation, Bluefields Bay Fishermen’s Friendly Society (BBFFS) has managed the sanctuary with enforcement, public awareness and community engagement. Many of the sanctuary Wardens are former or part-time fishers who can tell the stories of what it used to be like, and now the stories of how things are changing for the better.
A new chapter has started for this community – one of partnerships and growth – and one which hopefully will bring the old memories of corals back to life again. The branching species of coral – Elkhorn coral ( Acropora cervicornis) and Staghorn coral ( Acropora palmata) – which are now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) have long been known to provide a good habitat for fish, and provide shoreline protection from storm surges (see reference). They, along with the Fire coral (Millepora complanata), have more recently been used by the Coral Restoration Foundation International (CRFI) in large scale restoration projects in the region.
In early 2015, CRFI in partnership with CARIBSAVE, Sandals Foundation, the Fisheries Division and BBFFS completed the installation of a coral garden at Bluefields Bay’s – the first of its kind on Jamaica’s south coast. This was done through funding provided by National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and with co-funding from CARIBSAVE’s C-FISH Initiative.
During this time, 12 persons from a wide range of stakeholders including fishermen were trained in the techniques of ‘coral gardening’. They also participated in the processes needed to assemble and install the coral nursery, such as searching for, fragmenting (coined as ‘fragging’) and hanging of the corals. A total of 1324 coral fragments or nubbins from 25 different colonies were hung in the nursery. Over the course of the next few months the coral fragments should grow, and when large enough will be out-planted to the reefs.
As a beneficiary of the C-FISH Initiative, the Bluefields Bay fish sanctuary has shown great promise in being a successful flagship site and this is yet another step on the road to the promising future.
Special thanks to the Government of Jamaica (The Fisheries Division and National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA)) who recognized the importance of this activity and gave invaluable support; to Sandals Foundation who provided assistance; to the team from CRFI who shared their passion and expertise; and to the fishers and wardens who volunteered with great enthusiasm and dedication and were a big asset and source of inspiration and encouragement.