Throughout 2021, The Bermudian will be exploring issues and initiatives which impact Bermuda’s most precious resource—our ocean. In the first of this year-long series, we look at the government-led Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme, which aims to nurture the sustainable, profitable and enjoyable use of our waters for generations to come.

 

Like so much of Bermuda’s natural environment, our ocean is under threat from the impact of climate change and human activity. Rising sea levels, stronger storms, pollution and declining fish stocks all threaten our precious marine resources. While these resources need protecting, the sea also offers economic opportunities, provides livelihoods, and gives general enjoyment, whether you are simply appreciating the view or are an avid water sports fanatic.

To meet all these ocean use needs, the Government of Bermuda, led by Home Affairs Minister, the Hon. Walter Roban, partnered in June 2019 with the Waitt Institute and the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) to create the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme (BOPP). The Waitt Institute is a US-based, non-profit organisation specialised in creating and implementing sustainable ocean plans, particularly for island nations.

The BOPP is due to be completed in March 2022. Through scientific analyses, economic assessment, public consultation and other involvement from interested parties, its objective is to support the sustainable growth of marine activities and resources, referred to as the blue economy, and fully protect 20 percent of Bermuda’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

An EEZ is an area of sea in which a sovereign state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources. Bermuda’s EEZ stretches for 465,000 square kilometres and includes some of the healthiest coral reefs in the world, as well as submerged seamounts and deep ocean areas.

There are three pillars of work for this programme. They are marine spatial planning, development of a blue economy strategy, and initiatives to support sustainable fisheries.

What exactly is a marine spatial plan and why is it important?

Put simply, it is land use planning for the ocean. It can include the use of zoning to separate uses incompatible with each other, so you don’t have a wind farm and commercial fishing in a turtle sanctuary popular with tourists, for example.

By using marine spatial planning for Bermuda, new inshore and offshore zones will aim to protect commercially important fish stocks, migratory routes for marine mammals, and deep-sea ecosystems such as seamounts and corals, while allowing for responsible development of marine industries such as fishing and ocean renewable energy.

Weldon Wade, who is communications coordinator for the BOPP, as well as being an experienced ocean advocate and diving enthusiast, explains that this programme came out of long-standing discussions about how to facilitate the blue economy and, he says, “you can’t really facilitate a thriving blue economy without having a marine spatial plan.” The first step towards creating this plan was public consultation. “This is by Bermudians, for Bermudians,” continues Wade. “This isn’t a situation where the Waitt institute are telling us exactly what to do. Our plan is to protect 20 percent of the EEZ. How that looks is up to Bermudians.”

To get feedback from the public, they launched an ocean survey asking everyone to demonstrate how they used Bermuda’s ocean and shoreline. “I let people know, it doesn’t mean do the survey if you fish, or do the survey if you boat. Just looking at the ocean. We actually call that passive recreation. If you’re painting along the seashore or you just stop and take it in, that’s a form of ocean use. It’s not just the guys who go to Challenger Bank and fish,” he emphasises.

In addition to public feedback, the BOPP also has an “Ocean Village” of eight stakeholder focus groups covering commercial fishing; passive recreation and conservation; diving, snorkelling and swimming; tourism, boating and sports; utilities, infrastructure and development; recreational fishermen; aquaculture; and wastewater and pollution management.

“We identified people who are experts in those spaces,” continues Wade. “We brought those people together to work out how they use the ocean. This is helping us develop our principles, goals and objectives.”

An important part of the plan are the marine protected areas. “The decision to protect 20 percent of Bermuda’s EEZ was seen as essential to building ocean resilience, while at the same time ensuring economic resilience,” explains Drew Pettit, director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). “This equates to 90,000 square kilometres of the 465,000 square kilometres of ocean that Bermuda is responsible for managing, but does not, for the vast part, utilise.”

The 20 percent figure was chosen for two reasons. Firstly, it was in between two international targets and secondly, it was practical. The International Union for Conservation of Nature adopted Resolution 050 at the 2016 World Conservation Congress for countries to designate and implement at least 30 percent of each marine habitat in a network of highly protected marine protected areas, while the Convention on Biological Diversity Aichi Target 11 and SDG 14 called for protection of at least 10 percent of the marine environment.

“It was decided that 20 percent was a practical target that would allow the development of a vibrant blue economy for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, while also protecting ocean ecosystem health and allowing for sustainable use of ocean resources,” continues Pettit.

The location of the protected areas will be decided using the BOPP’s science committee, the Ocean Village and survey results. “I suspect it will be some polygons around the island,” says Wade. “Onshore and in the deep ocean.”

The rules for the marine protected areas will be “no take, no disturbance,” he continues. So, no deep-sea cables, for example. “We’re looking at the southwest area of Bermuda and Devonshire Bay. Some people might think it’s easy, just draw a 20 percent circle out there, but we want this to have an impact. I would love to see the protection be meaningful and purposeful. We’re not going to arbitrarily pick a spot.”

In terms of the blue economy strategy, over 18 industries of interest were identified, three of which are being prioritised for in-depth investigation due to the completion deadline. These are ocean renewable energy, fisheries, and tourism, and all these chapters will be available for public consultation.

Marine renewable energy is particularly topical at the moment and the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with the Waitt Institute and BIOS included a requirement for an offshore renewable energy assessment. In his BOPP update to parliament in December 2020, Minister Roban explained that within Bermuda’s EEZ, “there is great potential for renewable energy development,” adding that the most feasible of these technologies is offshore wind, followed by floating solar and then other ocean technologies including tidal power, ocean wave, and ocean thermal energy conversion.

Other topical areas, says Wade, include food security and eco-tourism: “Looking at our blue economy assessment report data, food security is a big deal these days with the pandemic. Are we able to provide food from the ocean for Bermudians should there be a disruption?”

Looking at successful strategies from other island nations, Wade explains they are currently doing a FAD (Fish Aggregating Device) feasibility study, working with an expert from Antigua. A FAD is a structure or device used to lure fish, which acts as an artificial reef therefore taking pressure off the banks. “It will be tethered to the bottom of the ocean and fishermen will be able to fish off the FADs,” he says.

In terms of policies for all these opportunities, as they continue to work on the “how,” Wade says that he and his team “are driven to make sure we have as much public awareness to what we’re doing as possible.”

Once implemented, a vital component of the BOPP will be policing. To this end, says Pettit, the DENR is currently finalising an action plan to recognise the broad range of challenges involved in enforcing marine protection legislation.

Ultimately, says Wade, “Bermuda’s marine environment belongs to everybody,” and he hopes that in the end “we walk away from all of this with an appreciation of our ocean as a resource. It’s our blue backyard. I would love to see more ocean protection happen like this.”