Ocean activist, Weldon Wade has been an extremely active figure in Bermuda’s diving and ocean community for over ten years. As the founder of Guardians of the Reef and Communications Coordinator of the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Program, he is unapologetically dedicated to preserving the health of Bermuda’s marine environment. The Bermudian checks in with him about the progress BOPP is making and their future targets.
BM: In an interview for The Bermudian from the Spring, the BOPP was said to be completed in March 2022, is that still the case? If not, how close are you to achieving this original goal?
WW: BOPP is a five-year program divided into two phases. The first phase is focused on the development and adoption of a marine spatial plan and blue economy strategy, as well as supporting sustainable fisheries activities. The second phase kickstarts the implementation of the Marine Spatial Plan (MSP) and Blue Economy (BE) Strategy.
BOPP is nearing its third anniversary (Spring 2022), which is an exciting time for Bermuda! The BOPP Steering Committee will soon send drafts of the BE Strategy and MSP to Cabinet for review. Cabinet approval will then initiate the next phase of stakeholder consultations for both plans and BOPP encourages all your readers to get involved. These two complementary plans will help Bermuda sustainably manage its marine resources, maximize its blue assets, and achieve its broader economic, social, and environmental goals. This is a huge step toward achieving our original goal, especially when considering the challenges we’ve faced with COVID-19 over the past two years.
BM: In order to reach this target, what have you been up to since Spring 2021?
WW: In Summer 2021 we released the results of our Ocean Use Survey, which compiled 1,488 responses from stakeholders and community members regarding how they use and value their ocean spaces. The results of this survey were combined with over 100 other data sets, as well as input from BOPP’s Steering Committee members, to inform the creation of Bermuda’s MSP. The BOPP Steering Committee also approved the principles, goals, and objectives that are guiding the MSP. Throughout 2021 and into early 2022 we worked with Bermuda’s scientists and managers to develop a report titled, “The State of Bermuda’s Marine Waters: A Snapshot of Bermuda’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) from the Coastline to 200nm.” This comprehensive document, which will be released in late January, can help identify priorities for the island’s future development and use of environmental resources.
BM: On the official website, the final piece of the program timeline is “implementation” – what does/will that look like?
WW: Before implementation can begin, the MSP and BE Strategy will undergo another round of stakeholder consultation. Stakeholder feedback is critical to ensuring that the outcome is best suited to Bermuda and its priorities. This is Bermuda’s plan.
BM: What news can you report about the overall health of Bermuda’s marine environment? What have your findings indicated thus far (from field research and public consultation)?
WW: The overall health of Bermuda’s marine environment is good, but like many places in the world, it is at risk from both environmental and anthropogenic threats. Despite the coral reefs naturally occurring resilience to environmental stressors, climate change threatens Bermuda’s diverse marine ecosystems and shoreline developments through coral bleaching, ocean acidification, seagrass meadow loss, and sea-level rise. Unsustainable fishing practices threaten Bermuda’s fish populations, and wastewater deposits harmful pollutants in the EEZ. However, now is the ideal time to prepare for future environmental uncertainty and optimize current opportunities. Both Bermuda’s marine environment and economy will greatly benefit from capitalizing and conserving the possibilities available within the EEZ.
BM: What does it take to truly protect our beloved oceans?
WW: The first step is recognizing and understanding the ocean as a tremendous asset. In fact, it’s Bermuda’s largest fixed asset. Commercial fishing, marine tourism, and even our well-being relies on the ocean. And the intrinsic ecosystem services it provides, like coral reefs and mangroves that dampen storm surge, or clean water that supports a robust food web all the way up to the fish we eat, can’t be overstated. The opportunities to capitalize on other features, like capturing wave and wind energy, and enriching the lives of Bermudians with more accessibility and education about the ocean, are endless. Then it is being intentional in how we sustainably manage this tremendous resource.
BM: What is one message you wish to share with our readers about their role in protecting our local marine environment?
WW: Protecting Bermuda’s ocean goes beyond the environment. It’s about securing a resilient economy for Bermuda that leverages its best resource.
BM: What can we expect to see in 2022 with the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme? What’s next for you?
WW: This will be a busy year for BOPP! After the draft MSP and BE Strategy go to Cabinet, we have another round of consultations with our Steering Committee members and the drafts will be released to the public for comments, feedback, and insight. This information will be incorporated into final versions that will be presented to Cabinet for official adoption. Throughout this process, I’m looking forward to engaging with our stakeholders and reaching out to the community to share my excitement about what these two plans mean for Bermuda’s future.