2015 Annual Fisherman’s Day Conference

Suzanne, Achsah and Kimani present at the 2015 Jamaica International Fisherman’s Day Conference

Fishermans conference - program cover

On Wednesday 1st July 2015, Dr Suzanne Palmer, Kimani Kitson-Walters, and Achsah Mitchell presented at The Annual Jamaica International Fisherman’s Day Conference. The meeting was hosted by the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM), The Jamaica Fishermen Cooperative Union Limited, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and held in Clarendon.

C-CAM reported that over 160 people registered, of which there were 131 fishermen and women from 15 different fishing beaches across Jamaica.

 

Theme of the Conference – “the Future of Fisheries is in our Hands”

The conference was chaired by Ms Ingrid Parchment (Executive Director of CCAM) with a panel that included Mr Andre Kong, Director, Fisheries Division, Mr Dermon Spence (Chief Technical Director, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries), Shawn Taylor (Chairman, Jamaica Fisherman Coop Union), and Sydney Francis (Chairman, The All Island Fisheries Development Alliance) (see photo below).

Fishermans conference 2015_3

The conference gave the opportunity for fishermen and women to ask questions or make comments to the panel – this was not about presenting and defending science like many conferences but people discussing and defending their livelihoods. The many questions that were fired at the panel (and Suzanne!) revealed their knowledgeable insight into Jamaica’s Fisheries. They expressed passionate often aggravated concern that their standpoint should form and influence the decisions and policies underpinning Fisheries Management in Jamaica.

Our Presentation and Discussion – reef health and possible solutions (PBPA and Jamaica)

cover slide

Fishermans conference 2015
Suzanne at the Fisherman’s Conference (Photo: CCAM)

Suzanne was invited to present at the Conference to share the findings of the 2014 coral reef assessment of the Portland Bight Protected Area (south coast of Jamaica) which was funded by a Waitt Foundation Rapid Ocean Conservation Grant.  Previous presentations of this recent assessment have focused on presenting the science, and providing extensive scientific evidence as to why the PBPA is an important marine area and needs to continue to be protected and not developed as a transhipment hub/port. However, here there was the opportunity to discuss the importance of the findings to fishermen and their livelihoods, and how the results can be used to inform Fisheries Management in Jamaica.

The Achilles heel in Jamaica’s reef fisheries?

Some of our key findings highlighted the extremely low fish biomass that is characteristic of many Jamaican reefs – continuing as we are is clearly not sustainable. Parrotfish and surgeonfish graze on algae and therefore have an important role on the reef by helping to maintain the balance between coral and algae. The targeted overfishing of parrotfish and surgeonfish has been identified as a key issue in the decline off Caribbean coral reef health, and over the last couple of years many countries in the region have implemented fishing bans and policies on the catch of parrotfish.

What about Jamaica? Well, Jamaican’s love to eat parrotfish! Our suggestions to enforce the catch of parrotfish (anything from bans, to size of catch, to zoning, etc.) proved controversial and were met with strong resistance. Two key issues: (1) If they don’t catch parrotfish what do they catch? (2) The strong market demand for parrotfish. A fishermen at the Conference commented that recent rough seas resulted in less parrot and so they only caught snapper, however he seriously struggled to sell them as people only wanted parrot.

Kimani Kitson Walters (PhD candidate in Marine Biology and Biotechnology at The University of the West Indies), describes his thoughts & experience:

“Attending the 2015 International Fisherman’s Conference in May Pen, Clarendon for me was an eye opening experience. It provided a journey into the mind of a Jamaican fisherman and their perception on the future of the Jamaican Fishing Industry. I found them to be very passionate with an immense desire to improve their financial situation. They are very protective of their livelihood but aren’t willing to recognize that fish populations and consequently their source of income are under threat due to the lack of suitable habitat. The Fishermen are all for implementing practices that secure sustainable fishing however those methods which they are not able to comprehend or interfere with their potential income such as the banning of the the fishing of Parrotfish is met with a lot of resistance. If they are made to fully understand the reasons for implementing these methods which have been proven to work, we are a lot closer to restoring our reefs habitats and mature fish populations. Doing it holistically and not just from one perspective.”

This was an excellent opportunity for us to share our findings of the PBPA reef assessment, but we also hope that they offered food for thought and a different perspective to thinking about some of the serious challenges that Jamaica’s Fisheries are experiencing. In doing so we are playing our part in strengthening the link between science, fisheries livelihoods, and fisheries management/policy in Jamaica.

Many thanks to Achsah and Kimani for their excellent presentation at the Conference, and their commitment and dedication as team members throughout this project.

 

Marine conference in Curaçao – AMLC2015

Last month Suzanne attended the Association of Caribbean Marine Laboratories (AMLC) 37th Scientific Meeting in Curaçao to present the results of the 2014 coral reef assessment in the Portland Bight Protected Area, Jamaica

Last month Suzanne (Palmer) attended the Association of Caribbean Marine LaboratoriesAMLC (AMLC) 37th Scientific Meeting which was held at the Carmabi Research Station in Curaçao. Curaçao is one of the three islands that form the Netherland Antilles (the other two being Bonaire and Aruba).

Conference presentation: Suzanne had the opportunity to present the results of the 2014 coral reef assessment of the Portland Bight Protected Area (south coast of Jamaica) which was funded by a Waitt Foundation Rapid Ocean Conservation Grant.  There was a good response to the talk and surprise over some of the results, for example, the reasonable condition of the corals and relatively high density of fish, but extremely low fish biomass when compared regionally. This was interesting to a number of coral reef scientists who have largely been based at  the Discovery Bay Marine Lab and so are more familiar with the reefs on the north coast of Jamaica. The conference offered the opportunity to inform international marine scientists on the importance of the Portland Bight Protected Area, the status and presence of the coral reefs in the PBPA, and why there needs to be continued  protection (and not developed as a transhipment hub/port).

Suzanne @AMLC2015
Suzanne @AMLC2015 (photo Denise Henry)

The conference provided an excellent opportunity to network with people working on coral reefs in the Caribbean Region and it is anticipated that a number of interesting collaborations have been created. Interestingly, ~50% of participants to the Association of Caribbean Marine Laboratories conference were in fact from the U.S., and so would like to hope that there are strong links between the US scientists and the Caribbean Region beyond fieldwork.

Stoplight parrotfish (photo Michael Burn)

Coral reefs around the Netherland Antilles

Diving around Curaçao and Bonaire was initially surprising after spending the past few years in Jamaica due to the size and number of reef fish. The parrotfish are enormous (compared to Jamaica) and the fish do not appear too bothered by divers so there is a real chance to observe their behavior! Bonaire’s coral reefs have some of the highest coral cover in the region (e.g. 2010 report) and often described as some of the last ‘healthy’ reefs in the region, however, like many other Caribbean reefs they are not without their problems and challenges (e.g. Report after 2010 coral bleaching event). Bonaire comprises mainly shore dives and is referred to as “Divers Paradise” – which is also written on the islands vehicle registration plates! You don’t see too many fishing boats like many other Caribbean islands, and tourism is extremely important to these small islands (Curacao and Bonaire are very small islands – together their total area represents ~7% of the area of Jamaica!).

Jolthead porgy (photo Michael Burn)

A couple of things we found interesting on our trip to Curaçao (after living in Jamaica 5+ years):

Multiple languages spoken

In Curaçao a number of languages are spoken with Dutch being the official language used for admin and legal use, and the most widely spoken being Papiamento which is a Portuguese creole language – it has a real Spanish/South American sound to it.

Curaçao’s Floating Market

The whole island reminded us of the Hellshire Hills dry limestone forest in Jamaica with lots of cactus & not too hospitable for growing fresh produce! The Floating Market in Willemstad comprises colorful boats from Venezuela and Columbia lined up providing fresh fruit and vegetables to the local market.

Iguana on patio!
Green iguana (photo Michael Burn)

Iguanas are everywhere

In Jamaica we are familiar hearing about the critically endangered Jamaican iguana and reading about the fantastic work of the various groups who have been fundamental in saving and protecting this species. So when we arrived in Curaçao and iguanas were strolling around the garden, across roads, and referred to as nuisances….and are on the menu (!), we were rather surprised!

Certainly an interesting trip and provided some insight into the cultural, economic, and environmental diversity between Caribbean islands.

Updates from the field: coral reefs in the PBPA, Jamaica

Are development decisions within a marine protected area being made with heads entirely above water?

Since my last post we have managed to get out to survey the coral reefs in the Portland Bight Protected Area during what has been a very windy August. I am currently analysing all the data collected so far and look forward to sharing our findings on the PBPA coral reefs with the public and scientific community.

So what do we know about the coral reefs in the PBPA? NEPA have been carrying out ReefCheck surveys since 2004 on a number of the reefs in the PBPA and C-CAM also conduct various surveys, however, the last time that the PBPA was collectively surveyed, assessed and reported was ~10 years ago by the Jamaica Coral Reef Monitoring Network under the Centre for Marine Sciences/CDDC and facilitated by C-CAM. In light of the controversial and elusive development plans for a transhipment port and logistics hub at the Goat Islands in the Portland Bight Protected Area I have the following scientific questions which we intend to address:

What are the current characteristics and conditions of the PBPA reefs? Which, and how many, of the threatened and endangered coral, fish or other marine species live in the PBPA? What is at risk from the controversial proposed development of a transshipment hub in the area? Are development decisions within a marine protected area being made with heads entirely above water?

It is now September and we have surveyed 9 different sites across the PBPA using the AGRRA survey methodology, and are currently working up some of the preliminary results – watch this space! We are still surveying and wishing for some more calm weather! Since the first blog post we have surveyed Tern Cay, Pigeon Island and Pigican Shoal.

Tern Cay

We have tried to survey Tern Cay many a time and had to abandon our plans due to rough seas – but this time we caught lucky and were able to spend a few hours underwater completing surveys of the benthos, fish and coral. Tern Cay is located ~1.5km south of Manatee Bay with fairly strong currents and is a great spot for sightings of turtles, rays, and nurse sharks.  To our delight we came across spotted eagle rays, turtles, and a 3-m long nurse shark and  juvenile – we were only able to catch a shot of the juvenile as were busy with heads down along our survey lines – better luck next time! Nurse sharks are slow-moving bottom-dwellers and are, for the most part, harmless to humans. Getting a bad rap in the media we need to remember the importance of sharks in our oceans and for coral reef ecosystems.

Tern Cay survey team, front row from left: Achsah Mitchell, Suzanne Palmer, Yannique Ewers; back row from left: Kimani Kitson-Walters, Ivana Kenny.
Extensive blankets of seaweed (Sargassum) offshore from Hellshire beach (Photo credit: Ivana Kenny)

Prior to surveying Tern Cay a week of stormy weather had churned up the shallow waters along the coastline producing these expanses of seaweed – not so great for the boat engines! The bad weather has delayed surveying here in Jamaica, however, we may be thankful for the strong winds or storms to cool off the waters and prevent coral bleaching. Recent reports (and USGS news) from the south Florida Keys indicate they haven’t been so lucky with extensive bleaching of massive and branching corals.

Juvenile nurse shark – Tern Cay (Photo credit: Ivana Kenny)

 

Pigeon Island

At last we have got to survey the most exposed part of the reef and what a treat – large shoals of fish hanging in the currents and manta rays on the move! Our fish surveyors were kept busy tallying away with all the large schools of fish across the reef! Coral and benthic surveyors focused on the area dominated by Orbicella annularis colonies. A couple of weeks ago the NOAA announced the addition of 20 new coral species added to the US Endangered Species Act list, 5 of which are Caribbean coral species and include Orbicella annularis.

In the sheltered back reef lagoon we also came across patches of Acropora cervicornis. The two branching species (Acropora palmata and Acropora cervicornis), formerly the most dominant reef-building Caribbean species, have been on the Endangered Species Act list since 2006. Our observations and data collection on threatened coral species in the PBPA is important – determining the location, density and current health of these threatened species will provide the basis for future monitoring, together with potential restoration and mitigation plans.

Clump of staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis), Pigeon Island (Photo credit: Ivana Kenny)

Data is also being collected on the fish communities of all the reefs in the PBPA – fish that are important for the reef ecology and commercially important fish. Fish surveyors have been collecting data on all fish species across the reefs to determine fish density, size classes, and estimates of total biomass of individual fish species.

Over the last couple of months Caribbean coral reefs have hit the world headlines with the latest release from the International Coral Reef Initiative: Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012 and a hard-hitting message that “Caribbean coral reefs will be lost within 20 years without protection”. They highlight overfishing of herbivores (particularly parrotfish) as a key problem that needs managing in addition to enforcing legislation and regulations to protect coral reefs from overfishing and coastal development. Not long after the release of the ICRI report and associated media was the announcement from the small island of Barbuda that the Barbuda Council had signed new laws for new ocean management regulations (coastal zoning, fisheries management and establishing a network of marine sanctuaries). Barbuda have become the 1st Caribbean island to prohibit the catching of important reef herbivores (parrotfish and sea urchins). Inspiring work from the Waitt Institute and the Barbuda Blue Halo project.

Shoal of Tomtate grunts (Haemulon aurolineatum), Pigeon Island (Photo credit: Ivana Kenny)

 

Pigican Shoal

This is a rather strange name don’t you think? Well even Mr Moodie our boat guy who knows the PBPA like the back of his hand did not know of the name. It turns out that previous surveyors have created the name based on where it is located – in between Pigeon Island and Big Pelican Cay = Pigican! Anyway, despite only being down to the absolute core survey team we were blessed with calm seas at this exposed shoal and spent the whole day getting all the surveys completed between us – go team!

Watch out – data, photos and more news coming soon!

Acknowledgements:

Special thanks to the survey teams, particularly Kimani Kitson-Walters, Achsah Mitchell and Ivana Kenny for dedication and persevering with the early morning starts, and to Ivana for the excellent photos! Particular thanks to Dr Judith Lang and Dr Kenneth Marks who are providing scientific input, review and verification of all the data we are collecting.  Thank-you to Mr Charles Moodie, our excellent boatman and field support from Old Harbor. Our thanks are extended to Hugh Small and the Port Royal Marine Laboratory team for all their efforts in facilitating the trips. Thank-you to the Jamaica Environment Trust for disseminating the work we are doing. This project was made possible by the Waitt Foundation Rapid Ocean Conservation Grants Program.