How do you publicly launch an island-wide ocean zoning initiative aimed at sustainable use of ocean resources? A party with a steel band, of course. Or better yet, two parties.
The Blue Halo Initiative diplomatic launch celebration (photo album, press coverage) took place aboard the Waitt vessel, anchored a few hundred meters off Barbuda’s coast. It was an honor to host such an illustrious group of guests: Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister, Minister of the Environment, Barbuda’s Member of Parliament, the Chairman and members of the Barbuda Council, Fisheries Department staff, Codrington Lagoon National Park officials, key fishermen, exporters, educators, and tourism operators. The guest list belied the depth and breadth of collaboration necessary to make this project a success.
- Mr. Ted Waitt’s opening words poignantly summarized why we had all gathered: “I love this island. I think it’s a beautiful place, but when you go underwater it’s not as beautiful as it once was, or as beautiful as it could be.”
- Prime Minister Spencer gave his strong endorsement: “We fully support this initiative because it brings to the forefront the need for us to manage the important fisheries and ocean sectors in a sustainable manner and with a collaborative approach.” (Government press release here, full remarks here.)
- Member of Parliament Trevor Walker spoke to the need for the Initiative: “I am really pleased [the Waitt Foundation] chose Barbuda to do this. We depend heavily on our marine resources and over time we have seen the depletion of those resources.”
- The most thrilling words came from Barbuda Council Chairman Author Nibbs, who pledged, “We are definitely going to outlaw the fishing of parrotfish.” As the primary herbivores on coral reefs (or the lawnmowers, as I like to think of them), parrotfish (known locally as “chub”) keep algae levels down so corals can thrive. Prohibiting the catch of parrotfish would be an important and bold step towards restoring coral reef health! However, I’ll hold off celebrating until this is signed into law.
- We made the evening news and the cover of a national newspaper.
The community launch party gave the diplomatic one a real run for its money (photo album, press coverage). Around 500 people (about 1/3 of the island’s population) attended the event to learn about the Blue Halo Initiative, listen to the primary school’s full steel band (only an ensemble had been able to fit for the party on the boat), eat the delicious food grilled by local cooks, and enjoy a lovely spring evening on the shore of Codrington Lagoon.
I had the pleasure of introducing the island’s newly certified SCUBA divers to the community, and presenting them with a donation of gear from the Waitt Foundation. (See previous post “The Good, Bad, Ugly, and Hope of SCUBA Diving on Barbuda.”) They will be key to the monitoring and implementation of the Initiative, and they certainly can’t do that without SCUBA gear and other key equipment.
- I gave out Blue Halo swag to people who correctly answered trivia questions. For the kids, I asked if they could name a fish that lived on a coral reef. Dozens of kids ran up, at first tapping me and then hitting me to get my attention so they could yell the name of a fish into the microphone. To be deluged by joyous children yelling the names of coral reef fish was such a thrill. I hope some of them become the next generation of marine biologists and park rangers.
- The DJ endorsed the Initiative by putting Blue Halo stickers on his DJ equipment, and as all good celebrations do, this one ended in dancing.
Many Barbudans are becoming increasingly vocal in their support as they learn more about the Initiative and its potential benefits for (increased and sustained fishing profits, support of the tourism sector, protection of local ocean-based traditions). Local and national politicians are behind us, and we are about to conduct an island-wide ecological assessment of the lobster, conch, fish, and coral (more on that soon). So exciting — and heartwarming too, since I have quickly grown to care deeply about this island and the future of its ocean. So much more to be done, but we are on track and momentum is building. We’re off and running!