FEATURE: Threats to marine resources

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FEATURE: Threats to marine resources
The Pointe Sable Environmental Protection Area (PSEPA) - view from Moule a Chique.
The Pointe Sable Environmental Protection Area (PSEPA) - view from Moule a Chique.
The Pointe Sable Environmental Protection Area (PSEPA) – view from Moule a Chique.

PRESS RELEASE – Marine resources include oceans, beaches, coral reefs, mangroves, river mouths, and rocky cliffs and the extremely wide range of plant and animal species that live within them. It is the interaction of the various species with each other and their particular environment that makes marine ecosystems so very important.

Marine systems are a source of food to human communities, and provide a means of recreation. Due to the capacity of the oceans to absorb and radiate heat and to dissolve various gases (such as carbon-dioxide, nitrogen and oxygen), and minerals (found in nitrates, carbonates and phosphates), marine systems are also important in helping to maintain an ecosystem balance, controlling atmospheric temperatures and gases, water quality and by association, the bio-chemical activities of the marine fauna and flora.

Once the physical structures of the coast remain stable and the chemical composition of the oceans, rivers, and atmosphere do not fluctuate to the extreme, marine ecosystems will continue to be important in food production, recreation and climate control. When however, coastal marine ecosystems change, their capacity to support human livelihoods will be affected. Unfortunately, there are many activities that are carried out by humans that threaten the ability of coastal areas to sustain themselves.

Coral reefs are important in the production of fish and for the protection of the coastline from high energy waves. However, the presence of solid and liquid waste, high temperatures, and physical damage from persons dropping boat anchors on the reef, or walking on the coral heads can severely damage coral reefs and reduce their capacity to support fish populations.

Breaking off large quantities of coral can cause the reef to decline in size, making it less able to act as a barrier to waves that can harm sandy beaches. Garbage on the beach is also a major deterrent to public enjoyment and will threaten the growth of tourism in a country.

Where this industry brings significant income, a polluted beach can mean the end of many livelihoods. Mangroves owe their importance to the presence of the mangrove trees whose root systems enable the capture of sediment and debris that are washed down from inland sources.

If the trees are cut down, the mangroves can no longer help keep sediment and litter off the beaches, coral reefs, bays, and open seas.

Other threats to the marine environment include removal of sand from beaches, otherwise known as sand mining. The removal of sand, including sand dunes, will eventually lead to non-sandy or rocky beaches. This loss will impact on several species and functions.

First, there are many species that live in the sand on the beaches, or lay their eggs in the sand, such as ghost crabs and marine turtles. In the absence of sand, species will be forced to move to other locations to live or complete their life cycles.

Such a movement will affect other species that feed or interact in some way with the displaced species. Marine turtles for example will be forced to nest on other beaches, reducing the possibility of locals and visitors enjoying a turtle watch experience.

Waste materials entering the near shore areas will certainly reduce the quality of the water on our beaches and affect the diversity and abundance of fish that are present and available to fishers.

As livelihoods are very much dependent on the size and number of the fish caught, polluted waters can be responsible for devastating a fishery, leading to economic losses to fisher-folk and increased poverty to coastal communities.

Ultimately, care must always be taken to ensure that the wonderful species that are found along the coast remain available to all coastal communities in order to enhance their livelihoods.

Species should be enjoyed, and used, but sustainably. If caution is not exercised in the use of coastal birds, turtles, fish and other marine species, there is the threat that they may be over-exploited and their populations reduced to the point of extinction.

Such situations can threaten marine ecosystems as the loss of species will invariably affect the services that the ecosystem provides.

Pollution, sand mining, deforestation and over-exploitation are all threats that the marine areas in Saint Lucia face every day.

This means that the livelihoods of fishers and tourism workers (such as taxi-drivers, hotel workers, beach vendors, entertainers), and access to the most affordable and popular form of recreation are at risk, all the time.

There is therefore an urgent need to protect our marine ecosystems. We need to manage them carefully to ensure that conch and pot fishers, seamoss farmers, hoteliers, dive operators, tour guides, cruise ship managers, turtle watchers, sea food lovers, water sports enthusiasts, beach goers, swimmers and the population as a whole continue to live and enjoy our marine environment.

This is Who We Are.

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