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Rapid assessment of reported damage to seabed by cruise ships anchored in northern Berry Islands

As a result of community tips from local fishermen, The Bahamas National Trust (BNT) acted swiftly to address allegations of damage to the marine habitat, fishing grounds, and coral reefs by cruise ships anchored in the northern Berry Islands, BNT said in a statement.

One fisherman reported that they had observed habitat damage, silt plumes, and loss of crawfishing condos in the water near various anchored cruise ships.

On September 8, BNT and its partners conducted a rapid marine assessment of the area. The site visit included experts from the BNT’s science department and local organization partners.

Scientists and marine biologists representing Perry Institute of Marine Science (PIMS), Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation (BREEF), and Atlantis Resort’s Marine Aquarium Operations Department were integral to the assessment.

Bahamian scientist, Dr. Ancilleno Davis, and underwater photographer and BNT Ambassador Andre Musgrove were also part of the expedition.

More than 10 ships were surveyed at the time of assessment with anchors in sandy and hard-bottom habitats between 60 and 90-foot depths.

Photo and video documentation reveals evidence of disturbed substrate, seagrass, and associated algae likely due to large anchors and heavy chain drag.

However, the study is inconclusive about the potential effects to coral reefs and fisheries as originally reported.

With this recent documentation and mapping of the area, a comprehensive study is suggested to determine the effects of cruise ships as long as they remain anchored in Bahamian waters.

Earlier this year, the cruise industry was forced to shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of travel restrictions, a number of cruise ships have been sheltering within The Bahamas for several months. The environmental and ecological impact remains largely unknown.

BNT and its partners have formally communicated their findings to the Ministry of Environment and Housing, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources, writing to be involved in an environmental impact assessment (EIA), if further action is considered.

Results from official assessments would be used to make informed decisions regarding policy for commercial vessel anchoring in The Bahamas and zoning to allow or prohibit anchoring.

Other possible outcomes would be the valuation of damages for destruction to the seafloor that results from vessel traffic.

Eric Carey, executive director, Bahamas National Trust, stated: “Stakeholders have reported damage where cruise ships and other commercial vessels have been observed to anchor over the past six months.

“Along with relevant government ministries and personnel trained in marine resource assessments, we strongly recommend that local fishermen be part of any study as their industry is the first in the line of direct impact from any degradation of our precious natural resources.”

These topics underscore the importance of having national parks and marine protected areas, the statement noted.

“National parks protect environments in all corners of the archipelago,” it added. “The BNT helps protect biodiversity that are essential to our Bahamian way of life, especially fisheries that are economically valuable to fishermen and local communities who rely on sustainable marine resources for income and food security.”

To learn more about the role that the BNT plays to manage terrestrial and marine national parks, protect species that inhabit them, and inform environmental policy, please visit its website: www.bnt.bs and follow/subscribe to various social media channels: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

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