The North East Marine Management Area - NEMMA

"One such issue is Japan's fight for the Hawksbill turtle to be taken off the endangered species list."

The World Bank and several other international aid donors through the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) set up a project called The OECS Protected Areas and Associated Livelihoods Project or OPAAL, and Antigua and Barbuda was one of several countries that received aid. October 14, 2009 was the official launch of NEMMA which is the funded project here in Antigua. As the title of this blog explains NEMMA stands for North East Marine Management Area and it stretches from Beggar's Point off Prickly Pear Island in the North all the way up to Frier's Head at Mill Reef in the East. The United Nations Environment Program describes it as follows:

NEMMA’s vision is to be a self-financing, multiple use (yachting, fishing, tourism, conservation, recreation) protected area that maintains and enhances the natural beauty and unique biodiversity of the area, both terrestrial and marine, supported by an efficient legislative framework and ongoing awareness programs.

For more on NEMMA you can read further here. I can't tell you how happy i was when i heard about the NEMMA because it was something that i have been dreaming of for most of my adult life. In fact, I met with the former Minister of Tourism many times about exactly the same concept during my tenure as president of the Antigua and Barbuda Excursions Alliance. In 2004 the funding for NEMMA was agreed upon and I think OPAAL started sending aid to Antigua for its creation. My fiancée did much of the consultant work which made up the plan for NEMMA. The Environmental Awareness Group was also very happy to hear about the project especially because they already have an offshore island project within the NEMMA.

The EAG pretty much saved the Antigua Racer snake which was one of the world's rarest if not the rarest snake on planet earth. The project had funding to set up the NEMMA framework and to generally set it up to be run for a year or two on its own while the NEMMA board and the NEMMA manager organize themselves to be self sufficient. It all seemed like a good idea to me and to all involved in setting it up, but there was one problem....... Government buraucracy. The project's funding was intended to be for NEMMA's creation and implementation during the period between 2004 and 2010. We are now in late 2009 and there still isn't a board set up and there still isn't a manager hired for NEMMA. At a recent meeting between excursion operators, The Fisheries Department and the Environmental Awareness Group the Fisheries officer was drilled as to why these essential things haven't happened yet. I don't think any of us understood the answer that was given. Either way today [October 14th] was the official launch of NEMMA. How it was that NEMMA was launched today [October 14th] with no governing board and no manager is anyone's guess. I sat there listening to the speeches by the officer of the OECS Secretariat, two ministers and several other government technocrats and i wondered if they knew that NEMMA was being launched officially in front of the Prime Minister the rest of us without a board or manager. I don't think that they knew. NEMMA is totally useless at this point so why was the launch today. I guess i don't have all the facts on this one and must be missing something. The passionate speech by the Chanlah Codrington, Minister of State within the Ministry of Agriculture (and fisheries), Lands, Housing and Environment was a very good one, and i felt that he understood what this was all about. Later I took Mr. Codrington and a bunch of other people from this meeting on a shortened Eco Tour of the area within NEMMA.

What was way more interesting than all of this though was what we found when Leslie and I arrived in our boat at the Parham Fisheries Complex. As some of you may know from reading my blogs regularly Japan has spend millions and millions of dollars here in Antigua and Barbuda on fisheries complexes. Read more here. Keeping in mind that NEMMA is being funded by OPAAL or the OECS Protected Areas and Associated Livelihoods Project which has an endangered turtle on their logo.

The sight of a freshly slaughtered Hawksbill turtle caught my eye. OF course a slaughtered turtle would catch my eye no matter what, but seeing the bloody shell sitting there being photographed by the Japanese Fisheries delegation at the fisheries complex built for Antigua was just too much. Japan spent US $50 million dollars on Antigua and Barbuda's fishery so that we would vote alongside them when it comes to whaling and other such "fisheries" related issues. One such issue is Japan's fight for the Hawksbill turtle to be taken off the endangered species list. They would be so proud of their work here in Antigua i guess..... sadly!

Many people reading a story that told of Antiguan fishermen killing the critically endangered Hawksbill Turtles would be angry at the fishermen, but this shouldn't be the case. When i saw the turtle the fisherman called me over to chat about it.

He was ranting and said the following which i will write without the dialect; "She doesn't want me to spear fish and told me to use nets instead. I keep catching turtles and stingrays and I don't want to catch them at all. This is what happens though, and I'm not to be blamed. IT's her fault!" I asked who he was speaking about and he said "Appleton" who is the chief fisheries officer.

The Fisheries department has increasingly stepped up its fight to ban spear fishing around Antigua and has suggested gill net fishing as an alternative. Even the smartest of fisheries officers seem to think that there isn't anything wrong with gill nets contrary to the position of most other countries around the world. Read my blog on gill netting if you have the chance some day here. Like the photo on that blog, this turtle today seen here was killed in a gill net. The turtles simply can't hold their breath for as long as it takes for the fishermen to come back and check their nets. Without any regulation on the setting of these nets we see them in every cove inlet and bay around Antigua and I estimate that between 200 and 500 turtles are killed yearly on Antigua and Barbuda as a bycatch. We'll never know this for sure though because it's illegal to kill small turtles at any time of the year and illegal to kill any size turtles in the summer months up until August 31st. A fisheries officer came down while we were speaking with the fisherman and told him not to bring the turtles back to shore. The fisherman asked what he was supposed to do with the dead turtles he finds in his nets. He said he had killed 5 of them in the past month and 12 rays. This is just one guy setting his net several times a week. There are others who set them twice a day and six times a week.

It is my opinion that the killing of many of these turtles shouldn't be blamed on the fishermen. The blame rests with the fisheries department and their lack of proper management. The chief fisheries officer told a reporter from the Daily Observer that she didn't think that there was anything wrong with gill nets and from the sounds of things is promoting the use of nets to fishermen. There are other very good fishing methods that they could use which are more profitable and more sustainable. Of course apart from the irony of me being part of this crazy situation, I then had to sit and listen to all these speeches about NEMMA and protection of the area. During one of the speeches the endangered turtles were passionately spoken about by the minister. Of course neither he nor the rest of the delegation (with the exception of the Japanese) had seen the freshly slaughtered turtles. While Rome burns we sat there and enjoyed the nice lunch put on by the Fisheries Department.

For the sake of the marine environment, I can only hope and pray that the ministers and the fisheries officers get to work and hire a manager ASAP to get NEMMA properly launched in a more significant way than just speeches.

Eli Fuller is an Antiguan tour operator, who owns Eli's Eco Tours and member of the Environmental Awareness Group. He is also an environmentalist and writer. You can enjoy his blog by clicking here.

Also written by Eli:

Flotsam & Jetsam

Tropical Secrets

The opinions expressed in the above article are of the writer and not necessarily the opinions of 365antigua.com or its staff and affiliates.

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