White River Fish Sanctuary
It doesn't take a PhD in marine biology (or rocket science) to know that Jamaica's marine environment is facing serious threats.
Tourism is thus in a two-way relationship with the environment. This two-way relationship places a heavy burden on tourism to manage the environment effectively.
Jamaica's Tourism Master Plan
Coral coverage has decreased 85% since 1975 with overall coral coverage estimated to be 10% of healthy levels.
The remaining coral is often covered in algae.
Also, Jamaica has some of the most overfished waters on the planet with fish stocks that have declined drastically.
The dual threats of declining fish stocks and decreasing coral coverage have caused a vicious cycle: less healthy coral leads to less fish, which in turn leads to even less coral. Wash, rinse, repeat. This negative cycle has devastating social and economic impacts
Local fishers are finding it increasingly difficult to earn a sustainable living. Total catch has decreased over 600% since 1950. It would take fishers 7 times the effort (and 7 times the cost) to catch the same amount of fish as before. The hardships push many families below the poverty line.
It is estimated that poor reef health may cost the Ocho Rios area in excess of US$21,000,000 PER YEAR in lost ecological services.
(R. deGroot, et al 2012)
BUT THERE IS HOPE!
Around the world fish sanctuaries are proving to be a powerful and effective tool in reversing the decline in marine health.
Can it work in Ocho Rios?
Of course it can! We have already begun laying a solid foundation following the successful model pioneered in Oracabessa.
We hold weekly meetings (10:00am on Monday mornings at White River Fishing Beach if you'd like to come!) with local fishers who are integrally involved in all aspects of the sanctuary's set-up. The newly formed White River Fishermen Cooperative will be an equal partner in the ongoing operation and management of the Sanctuary.
We have a core group of environmentally conscious properties who have committed their support to funding sanctuary operations as well as partnering with the Fishermen's Cooperative to manage the sanctuary's operations.
The White River Fish Sanctuary has also received the support of local grant donors who are contributing funds towards the project.
Can it work in Ocho Rios?
Protect: By training and empowering local fishers as wardens (currently underway) we will vigorously protect the integrity of the no fishing area.
Restore: Using methods established in Oracabessa, Boscobel and other areas in Jamaica we will grow and out plant coral and seagrass.
Engage: We will continue the process already underway with local fishers and extend our outreach to local community groups and organizations to ensure continued local support and ownership of the sanctuary.
Get on Board!
We are confident our grass-roots process has laid the foundations for success. Fishers are invested and ready to protect and restore their livelihoods. The right team is in place to partner with the fishers to implement the project and ensure its continued success.
We already have commitments from Hermosa Cove and Jamaica Inn. Two additional properties (who we cannot yet name) are highly likely to sign on in October. The Tourism Enhancement Fund has also expressed keen interest in the White River Fish Sanctuary.
Does it make sense financially? Of course. A single hectare of healthy coral is conservatively estimated to be worth - on average - US$365,000/year in ecological services to the local community.
However, maybe the most valuable aspect of the White Rive Fish Sanctuary is that it provides a platform for stakeholders to turn WEAKNESS into STRENGTH.
Currently, if you own a property or attraction in the Ocho Rios area you have to close your eyes and hope that either: a) visitors have never seen a marine environment before and don't know what its supposed to look like; or b) they are aware, but choose not to blast their thoughts onto social media. Of course, with travelers becoming more environmentally conscious each day and social media impacting all aspects of our lives (and businesses), neither of these options is a viable strategy.
Aligning with the White River Fish Sanctuary allows you to highlight your efforts to solve the problem. And although the problem won't be solved overnight, the fact that you are engaged in the ongoing struggle to change the situation DOES allow you to IMMEDIATELY highlight those efforts and significantly mute issues and concerns.
It makes sense. Its going to happen. Get on board today.