Some of the people who rely on the island’s marine resources for their livelihood want further discussion of the blue economy, including the opportunity to put their views on the table.
This was the consensus of a discussion on the topic Fisheries and its role in the BlueEconomy at the Paynes Bay Methodist Church over the weekend, which was held as part of the University of The West Indies’ ongoing series of Community Talks as it marks its 70th anniversary.
The blue economy, which is aimed at making the most of the island’s marine resources while taking sustainable development and environmental protection into account, is touted as a potential growth area for Barbados. With the May general election, a new blue economy ministerial portfolio was created, bringing together Government departments responsible for marine resources.
“The blue economy” was “not just about fishing and aquaculture, but also covers bio-technology, the development of pharmaceuticals, and harvesting living resources to provide needs other than food, noted Deputy Director of the Fisheries Division Joyce Leslie. The blue economy also included an extractive sector, including oil and gas and other seabed mining, developing renewable energy sources such as wind energy and wave energy, shipping, tourism, and protecting coral reefs, she added.
While Barbados has begun to explore offshore drilling for oil and other natural resources, the country lacked the necessary expertise in the field at this time, according to Director of the Coastal Zone Management Unit, Dr Leo Brewster.
“If oil exploration were to start here in the next three years, in my view, Barbados is not ready for it,” said Brewster while noting the island had granted exploration blocks to oil companies to search for offshore oil resources.
“If we are not ready, others will come in and take up jobs that could be ours, so we need to broaden the vision of our children so they can look at other areas for study and not just the traditional avenues,” he said.
The coastal management expert suggested the Samuel Jackman Prescod Institute of Technology, University of the West Indies and Barbados Community College be involved in training a new offshore oil workforce.
Marine biologist and owner of Dive Barbados Blue Water Sports, Andre Miller, focused his attention on the health of the coral reefs surrounding this 166 square-mile (430 square km) island, but querying “how much of it is live coral reefs”?
“We only have 1.5 square kilometres of patch reef, 16 square kilometres of bank reef, and one square kilometre of fringing reef; that is less than four per cent of the part of Barbados we see,” Miller said.
There were only two areas on the coastline protected from overfishing, namely the Folkestone Marine Reserve and Carlisle Bay, where fish stocks were flourishing, he said.
President of the Barbados National Union of Fisherfolk Organisations, Vernel Nicholls, called for fisherfolk to be included in any discussions from the outset, and not as an afterthought, as had occurred frequently in the past, she claimed.
“People always concentrate on tourism, and never think about fisheries. When discussions regarding marine protective parks came up, when we were brought into the discussion a lot of the decisions were already made. If a committee is being set up to deal with coral reefs and anything else that will affect our livelihood, we should be a part of it. Let people know why things are being done and how they are being done.”