We all know the saying: ‘A place for everything and everything in its place’. This might work for the land, but can it apply to the ocean? Well, there are those who would argue that the only way that we will ever manage our ocean successfully is to take the same kind of planning approach to ocean space as we do on land.
This idea is not new; it has actually been applied by many countries. The best-known example is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef which has been managed through a zoning plan since 2003. By zoning, various areas of ocean space are designated for specific activities, or combinations of activities. The Great Barrier Reef has eight types of zones: general use, habitat protection, conservation park, buffer, scientific research, marine national park, preservation and estuarine conservation. The Great Barrier Reef is a large area of 348,700 square kilometres, nearly twice the size of Barbados’ marine space of 183,436 square kilometres.
The formal name for this type of planning in the ocean is Marine Spatial Planning or MSP and it’s being promoted globally by the UNESCO Intergovernmental Commission and other agencies. So, what is involved?
To get started with MSP, we need to bring all the information about the ocean together in a digital format which is loaded into a Geographical Information System so that we know the exact latitude and longitude of every point in the marine space. First, we need good bathymetric charts of the marine space, the equivalent of a topographic map on land. Barbados already has this information in the correct format for the shallow shelf areas around the island where planning is needed most. It is also possible to get the information for the deeper areas from readily accessible sources.
The next step is to fill in the information about what is there – both natural resources, such as reefs, sea grasses, sand, offshore banks, and fishery resources and manmade features such as wrecks, moorings, undersea cables and outfall pipes. Again, Barbados already has much of this information available for the shallow shelf areas. Over the years, there have been many surveys of marine habitats and resources carried out by the Coastal Zone Management Unit, mainly in preparing the Barbados Coastal Zone Management Plan. Reefs, in particular, are very well mapped and classified based on their structure and location. A lot of information can also be provided by users, many of whom are knowledgeable about the ocean areas and resources they use.
The final kind of information needed for MSP relates to the various types of uses, where they are taking place, and who the users are. Uses include the various kinds of fishing, recreational activities and shipping routes. It also includes activities that are expected in the future, such as oil exploration and renewable energy installations. This is the hardest information to acquire and usually must be obtained by interviewing the users themselves. Ensuring that the information is comprehensive means many users must be interviewed until it seems that no new information can be obtained. Some users may even provide incorrect or biased information if they think it will be to their advantage when the planning starts and measures are needed to ensure that the information gathered is correct.
When all the information has been assembled, the next step, just as in planning on land, is to determine which activities or uses are compatible and which are not. One of the main aims of MSP is to minimize conflict among users. A zoning plan is developed that accommodates all the necessary uses of the marine space, including setting some space aside for conservation purposes and to serve as a replenishment area for fishery zones.
MSP has been tried in Barbados. The Barbados Marine Reserve (BMR) is also known as Folkestone Marine Park and was established in 1981. It is a no fishing area with four zones: a scientific research zone, a northern water sports zone, a recreational zone, and a southern water sports zone. In 2000 a plan was developed for the west coast of Barbados extending from Weston south to Batts Rock including the BMR. This included the BMR and comprised zones for conservation, viewing, fishing priority, sustainable fisheries management, recreation concentration, water sports access, multiple use, beach access by vessels, launching and mooring. A similar plan was developed for Carlisle Bay which was not a reserve at the time (but is now in the process of designation, along with an extension). At the time of these plans, a prominent question was – why focus on just these areas? Why not the entire coast, or even the entire marine space of Barbados? What will happen to the rest of the marine space, will it remain an unregulated free for all?
Since 2000, the idea of MSP for all of Barbados’ waters has been widely discussed in government departments and by NGOs. Of course, there are many stakeholders to consider. Meanwhile, in 2014, the European Union recognizing that MSP is fundamental to a structured approach to a Blue Economy, made MSP mandatory for all its countries.
Closer to home, the OECS has likewise recognized the importance of MSP and is forging ahead with it for all its marine space with help from the World Bank. So what about Barbados? Our Government is committed to a Blue Economy. Isn’t it time to take our ocean space as seriously as we do our land and pursue MSP for our entire ocean area?
Robin Mahon is Professor Emeritus at the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES), at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Barbados. His BSc in marine biology is from UWI, Jamaica, and his MSc and PhD are from the University of Guelph, Canada.