OBSERVER MEDIA’S RORY BUTLER REPORTS ON BLUE HALO INITIATIVE: BARBUDASunday 14th April 2013
Observer Media news story by Rory Butler, Saturday, April 13, 2013:
St. John’s Antigua- Billionaire philanthropist Ted Waitt – founder of the Waitt Foundation – was in Barbuda on Friday to launch the Barbuda Blue Halo Initiative being led by his organisation.
The project aims to sustainably manage the waters within 3.45 miles of the Barbuda coastline – in part through the use of sanctuary or no fishing zones – to help restore the health of the coastal ecosystem.
A local fisherman, Vernon, pointing out one of the last living staghorn corals in Palastar Reef Marine Park. Photo: Ayana Johnson/Waitt Foundation.
Waitt explained that it is the first project the foundation will directly manage – although the foundation has funded several similar projects through other groups – and that Barbuda was chosen after he sent the foundation’s Director of Science and Solutions Dr Ayana Elizabeth Johnson to search the Caribbean.
“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,” Waitt said.
“We want to start in a small area and from Antigua’s perspective, you can see how we do it in Barbuda and see how it works,” he added.
The billionaire cofounder of Gateway, Inc told Observer media that he decided to become deeply involved in ocean conservation after witnessing the problem first-hand.
“It’s one of the things I saw myself, sometimes when you look at the problems of the world, you have to see them yourself and I saw that there is a problem and I saw that we can also fix it,” Waitt said.
“It’s extremely urgent to do something to fix this problem because all the scientists predict that most species in the ocean will be past the point of irreversible decline within 40 years or so,” he added.
The philanthropist said the project would seek to ensure that fishermen do not lose out on income from the introduction of sanctuary or no fishing zones and benefit in the long term from better catches.
“We like to think of them as fish banks that pay off and provide bounties for people for the long-term and not just for the people now but for your children and your grandchildren,” Waitt said.
“One of our closest groups we work with is economists on how do you improve the economy and how do you improve the livelihoods of people over time,” he added.
During the launch on board a Waitt Foundation mega-yacht laying a couple hundred metres off the coast of Barbuda, several top government leaders gave their unreserved backing to the project.
Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer and Fisheries Minister Hilson Baptiste were both in attendance after having been flown into Barbuda for the launch by the yacht’s private helicopter.
“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 for a collaborative approach,” Spencer said.
“The Blue Halo initiative will be restoring the seas around Barbuda to full productivity for the future generations of Barbudans,” he added.
Baptiste pledged his ministry’s “full support” and urged Barbudan fishermen and the local community to play their part in ensuring the project is a success. He also warned that harsh laws would be implemented to protect ocean resources.
Chairman of the Barbuda Council Arthur Nibbs also pledged his full support for the project and urged the local community to help the initiative succeed.
“We’ve been always taking things out of the ocean; lobster, conch, fish, you name it and we’ve never thought about putting anything back and that really would have been a recipe for disaster,” Nibbs said.
“We hope we can get the cooperation of the fisher folk organisations and the community on a whole because I’ve already said we are definitely going to outlaw the fishing of the parrot fish,” he added.
Barbuda Member of Parliament Trevor Walker also backed the project and thanked the Waitt Foundation for selecting the island.
“I am really pleased your organisation chose Barbuda to do this. We depend heavily on our marine resources and over time we have seen the depletion of those resources,” he told Ted Waitt.
“We all have a part to play in this. We all should appreciate when these types of projects come to Barbuda and I want to appeal to all of us to continue to give full support to initiatives like this,” Walker added.
On Monday, nine coral reef biologists will begin a two-week survey of the island’s ocean resources as part of a number of scientific studies to take part during the planning process this year.
In July, the findings will be presented to the Barbudan public for feedback and the zoning process and economic assessments will begin.
Implementation for the Barbuda Blue Halo initiative is slated to begin in early 2014.
More information on this initiative can be found here: http://waittfoundation.org/blue-halo-initiative-barbuda.
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