Last year, Bermuda became the inaugural member of the UK Government’s latest environmental initiative, The Blue Shield Programme. The scheme, which is aimed at tackling the challenges of illegal fishing and unlawful marine activities around the UK Overseas Territories, is a subsection of the Blue Belt Programme, which protects over 4 million square kilometers of ocean.

The Bermudian spoke with The Hon. Minister Walter Roban about how The Blue Shield Programme will work in tandem with current government environmental legislation and the opportunities that will be afforded to Bermuda from the initiative.

BM: First and foremost, how did Bermuda become the first British Overseas Territory to join the Blue Shield Programme? Were we invited or is this something the government sought out to be a part of?

WR: Yes, we were invited. The Blue Bhield Programme is a programme that the UK Government is providing to all of the Overseas Territories and it comes under their overall Blue Belt initiative that they have in place. They invited Bermuda as the first territory to be a part of that programme just before COP26 (The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference). We were very pleased to be the inaugural member because we know that the resources that will be afforded within the Blue Shield Programme will be very helpful to the work that we’re doing under the Blue Economy Strategy, the Blue Prosperity Plan and the Marine Spatial Plan for Bermuda’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EZZ).  And, we’ve already had some very positive interactions with the UK Government and their team in preparation for Bermuda participating.

BM: What is the timeline for this programme to become a reality?

WR: Well as you may be aware, we’ve put together a Marine Spatial Plan (which outlines the rules for the sustainable use and development of Bermuda’s marine environment) and we’re going to be passing a marine development act in the not-too-distant future, which will underpin and make the Marine Spatial Plan a certainly legislated framework. We have already had an exploratory visit by a couple of teams from the UK Government and I think part of what we are putting in place will help support the work that they are doing. Our marine development act will support the Blue Shield Programme, which essentially will help in the protection and management of our EEZ.

BM: You spoke briefly about the resources that will be afforded to Bermuda by the programme, which will assist local efforts surrounding the Blue Economy Strategy. Can you speak about what kind of equipment the island will receive, if any?

WR: There will be the availability of satellite capability, which will be afforded to us. There will also be marine based technology, robotic submersibles that are being developed to especially be available to us, and other technology that will support marine research and marine protection. I know that there are a number of tools that they are designing and building now, which will be of help to us. And one of the other exciting things is that it will be Bermudians who will be trained to operate them here. Obviously, the British support will come to inaugurate the introduction of those technologies, but Bermudians will be trained to operate them. Specifically, people who work for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and others will be the ones who will operate these technologies and support their purpose here in Bermuda. 

BM: Will there be additional employment opportunities for Bermudians created by the scheme? 

WR: Yes, certainly people who will have to maintain the equipment will be trained. One of the wonderful things about the overall Blue Prosperity Plan is that it is focused also on job creation. There will be opportunities for people within the marine space and more jobs such as specialty divers, and other people who will support research and support the overall management of our marine environment. Whether it be the Blue Shield Programme or in extension of the Blue Prosperity Plan, there will be new jobs created for people as we are going to focus on growing and developing the marine economy. But also, its protection and its management will require more people. It’s an enormously large sized area of our jurisdiction so we are going to need more people. We don’t have enough people right now to do it but I am excited about the number of young people in particular who have shown an interest in climate studies and marine studies who actually can be a part of this process going forward. 

BM: You touched on needing more people to man the area. What does Bermuda’s ‘Blue Shield’ look like geographically? Is it a large circumference made up of our local waters, or offshore waters as well? 

WR: Well, there are two components to Bermuda’s ocean space- there’s the inner waters which extend 20 miles out, essentially on the platform that the Bermuda landmass sits but then there is the additional 200 nautical square miles straight out forming a circle around Bermuda which is our Exclusive Economic Zone. So, all that area is about over 400,000 nautical square miles. It’s an enormous area of ocean and if you can just visualize it – you could put about 8,500 little Bermuda’s inside of it to fill up the space. There is little to no activity by most of our people in that area. Most of our fisheries and marine activity only goes within that 20-mile space. There is literally no Bermudian activity out in the rest of the EEZ so it’s an enormous space. It’s an enormous opportunity for us to do some different things around our economy, around the environment and the opportunities for greater protection, greater activity and even developing new skills and creative things that we as Bermudians can participate in that will embrace the use and activity in that space. 

BM: I understand that the initiative is aimed at tackling the challenges of illegal fishing and unlawful marine activities around UK Overseas Territories – are these problems of common occurrence here in Bermuda?

WR: Yes, they are, particularly out in the EEZ area and on the edge of it. One of the other things we’ve received a benefit from is that we have an agreement with the United States Government where their Coastguard will provide additional support as well, in the protection of the EEZ and the monitoring of it. So, we will have the benefit of the US Coastguard working with our own Coastguard and also our marine wardens who work for the department to go out and actually police and give surveillance to the EEZ. So we are not only getting help form the British Government, we’re getting support from the United States Government as well to do the same work and we’re very happy with that. So yes, illegal fishing particularly in the vicinity of our EEZ is an issue which is why the US government is so keen to help us because both of our EEZ’s are kind of adjacent to each other and there is a corridor that allows certain activity which we think should be protected as different species of fish will move in and out of respective areas, and other unique wildlife in the ocean that we want to ensure is protected and researched and can be properly managed. That is an issue of which the US Coastguard is concerned about, we are mutually concerned, and we are working together to deal with it. 

BM: Are there any other ways you hope that the Blue Shield will benefit Bermuda’s waters and marine ecosystem?

WR: Yes – biodiversity in the ocean is very important. The ocean is essentially crucial to human life and all life on the planet so even though we are a small territory, it’s important that the oceans around us are kept in the best possible state from pollution, from invasives, and for us to mitigate the effects of climate change. We want to ensure work and studies to support those efforts is going on within the space of Bermuda so not only that it benefits Bermuda, but it benefits work in other jurisdictions as well and island communities like us. We are all facing the same issue of being on the frontline of climate change so it’s important that the work that we do here is shared with our colleagues, peers and other jurisdictions like Bermuda so that we can support globally what is being done to protect our oceans. It is about Bermuda, but it is also about being an example of what can be done right to protect and manage ocean spaces around island communities. 

BM: Earlier this year, you announced that the UK Government might also be funding a comprehensive study on the effects of climate change in Bermuda. Can you share any updates on this? 

WR: Absolutely. That study has started, it is going, and our expectation is that by the end of the year it should be completed. It will be a very comprehensive resource for us to assess the current and forward impacts of climate change on our environment and our infrastructure. We will be able to see where we may need to do some adaptation methods such as sea walls and other important activities. Clearly some of the work that we are doing under the Blue Economy Strategy and the Blue Prosperity Plan is to ensure that we are mindful of sensitive habitats in our waters. The climate study, combined with what’s happening with the Blue Prosperity Plan and Marine Spatial Plan, will allow us to effectively project out the activities and set the priorities where we should be pushing funding to support certain efforts. Because if we can project out over the next 10-20 years where the greatest impacts will be, we can plan that funding and support out. So it is not necessary that we are going to have to spend all this money at once which would be an enormous burden and cost, but we can plan out like I said over the next 10-20 years how we are going to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change on our natural land and ocean environments and do the things necessary.  That is where the climate study is going to play an enormous opportunity and resource for us and we look forward to having it available because it’s going to help the government plan out what it’s going to be doing around these issues for many years to come.  

BM: Looking into the future, with the implementation of the Blue Shield Programme and the Blue Prosperity Plan, would you say that Bermuda is seen by other jurisdictions as a leader in environmental conservation and protection? 

WR: Yes, and it is not just because I believe it, but because the rest of the world tells us. People in the region look to us for what we are doing and emulating some of the methods we have established. And the reason we are getting the support of the Waitt Foundation in the way we are is because we were one of the first islands to have such a well-developed Marine Spatial Plan and Blue Economy Strategy. The reason why the British Government approached us to be the first of the Overseas Territories to join The Blue Shield Programme and some other attention that we have gotten globally for what we are doing in the environment is not because we sought to be at the forefront, but because we have been doing for many years what we believe needs to be done. I’m pleased that Bermuda is seen at the forefront of these efforts. I will continue to do my best to keep the issues of climate change and protection of our environment both land and sea, and air as a top priority for the government. 

We’re pushing things at all levels to ensure that Bermuda is a healthy, clean well-managed space for everyone and even other species, that we are protecting sensitive habitats and species within our environment so that they can prosper. So that not only will they prosper, but also where we can benefit from their presence we will do so in a managed and sustainable way. That is what we are seeking to do for the long-term so that all that we have now and much of what we had in the past is available to future generations. That’s important.  

To learn more about the Blue Shield Programme, click here.