WITH THE official opening of office space for the White River Fish Sanctuary in St Ann and now three years in operation, the stage seems set for its enhanced contribution to sustainable fishing and ecotourism.
“What today’s launch of the White River Fish Sanctuary represents is sustainable tourism, where we take a holistic approach to the sector’s current and future economic, social and environmental impacts,” noted Minister of Tourism Ed Bartlett, speaking at the opening on August 13.
“In taking this holistic approach, we are also addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and communities, and building meaningful public-private sector partnerships,” he added.
“Though I am no marine biologist, the data also highlight that with the establishment of the fish sanctuary, we will see an increase in the population of fish in our waters that will be beneficial for livelihoods and help restore our reefs,” he said further.
The operation of the fish sanctuary has been made possible, in part, through a partnership, valued at some J$15 million, between the Tourism Enhancement Fund and the White River Marine Association (WRMA).
Among other things, the partnership has seen the construction of the new office, together with the employment of fishermen as sanctuary wardens, and the purchase of enforcement and other equipment.
“The main objective of the wardens is to stop all fishing or the taking of any live organisms from within the sanctuary. With this new source of alternative income for the fishermen, we are excited to be supporting the livelihoods of many members of the community until sustainable fishing returns,” noted Kyle Mais, director of the WRMA.
The sanctuary also employs an accounting administrator, a manager, and a marine biologist.
Meanwhile, operations of the sanctuary have also seen five coral nurseries set up since June 2017 to grow 1,400 pieces of staghorn and elkhorn corals as part of a five-phase, five-year programme funded by a grant from the Special Climate Change Adaptation Fund.
Already, more than 700 pieces of coral have been planted, and the nurseries reseeded with the corals which show resilience to the bleaching events.
“These direct and indirect benefits of launching the sanctuary also speak to the rich value chain that tourism offers when linkages are strengthened. What this means is that many people along the value chain will benefit from this project,” the minister said.
“From our reports, there has also been an increase in the number of glass-bottom boats seen within the sanctuary that use the coral nursery as an attraction and also to educate tourists. As is being displayed through this project, tourism can be linked with national poverty-reduction strategies by providing income through job creation and facilitating entrepreneurial development at the local and community levels,” Bartlett said.
“We can also attest to the fact that greater engagement between tourism and local communities can also help protect or revive our natural assets and intangible cultural heritage. As this sanctuary grows and flourishes, so will the community and, ultimately, tourism activities surrounding it,” he added.
Mais has urged collaboration between existing and new stakeholders for the continued work of the sanctuary, particularly given the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Organisations like the White River Fish Sanctuary are rapidly facing a critical threat from this pandemic, due to funding constraints which risk forcing us to downsize and lay off staff at the precise moment when our work has become vitally important,” he said.
“Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires even greater cooperation among government agencies, local and international organisations and the business community, which is at the centre of the White River Fish Sanctuary fundraising mission for public-private cooperation,” he added.