by Emma Doyle
The Tobago Cays Marine Park recently announced a change in the permitted anchoring zones. This removes the small anchoring zone adjacent to the cay of Petite Tabac, which is located outside the main lagoon of the Cays, on the windward side of Horseshoe Reef.
Managing a marine protected area such as Tobago Cays Marine Park means balancing goals. Conservation and protection of flora and fauna have to come first, but providing access to visitors is important too, and with that human element comes the task of ensuring user-friendliness. It’s not always an easy line to walk. So we asked the marine biologist from Tobago Cays Marine Park, Marleya Adams, to give us some more insight into the decision and the options now available to cruisers who wish to visit Petite Tabac.
The Tobago Cays Marine Park was decreed by St. Vincent and the Grenadines to protect and conserve the cays, corals reefs, sea grasses, fish, conch and species like sea turtles, sharks and rays that characterize this special area of the Grenadines. The park’s coral reefs are regionally significant for their health and connectivity to other reefs—in fact, the park is a priority marine protected area for the United Nations Environment Program, for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute’s MPAConnect Network, and for the German International Cooperation Agency (GIZ), among others.
“Petite Tabac has the narrowest anchorage within the park and its boundaries are encircled by coral reefs,” Adams says. “From our own observations and those of visitors, we’ve seen increasing signs of damage to the corals from anchoring. Our decision now seeks to proactively prevent further damage of this sort to the coral reef.”
She adds: “This decision comes in the context of ever-heightened stressors on reefs, like coral bleaching from increased sea temperatures associated with climate change, and from stony coral tissue loss disease which is now occurring in waters to the north and south of the Cays.”
Tobago Cays is one of the Caribbean’s iconic marine parks, and the managers recognize that cruisers seek areas to anchor or moor in different parts of the park for seclusion and for access to good snorkeling. “Currently, we are working on the installation of dinghy moorings at Petite Tabac, which will make it possible for visitors to dinghy over from the lagoon and snorkel there,” Adams says. “In the meantime, dinghies can pull up on the beach and water taxis are allowed to drop off customers at Petite Tabac.”
Anchoring in sand will still be permitted in the main lagoon of Tobago Cays, with cruisers requested to avoid anchoring in seagrass, which is home to an aggregation of juvenile green sea turtles that feed and grow in the park before making their way towards breeding areas in other parts of the Caribbean.
“We know that the majority of cruisers and visitors want to do the right thing and comply with anchoring regulations to protect coral reefs. We ask visitors to respect all the park’s rules for conservation, including no fishing and not disturbing the sea turtles.”
The fixed moorings in Tobago Cays Marine Park provide an excellent alternative to anchoring and are recommended to avoid the risk of anchor damage to coral reefs. Anchoring in the park now attracts a fee equivalent to the mooring fee, so there’s no cost saving to visitors from anchoring.
In recent years, Tobago Cays Marine Park and other members of the Grenadines Network of Marine Protected Areas in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada have worked to improve the quality and reliability of their mooring infrastructure. This has included joint technical training by Mustique’s harbourmaster on best practices for mooring construction and standard operating procedures for mooring maintenance.
The newest advance at Tobago Cays Marine Park is an online system for the payment of park fees, as can also be found in Bonaire, Sint Maarten, and at some marine parks in The Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and Belize.
“The online platform for credit card payment of park fees can be found at www.tobagocays.org,” Adams says. “A barcode is provided upon successful payment and this can be shown to the rangers when visiting the park for verification.”
Park fees help the managers of Caribbean coral reefs, like Tobago Cays Marine Park, provide quality fixed moorings and protect coral reefs, they support enforcement patrols, and help fund research into coral reef health, water quality and sea turtle monitoring. The fees enable marine parks to run environmental education programs for local children and to sponsor scholarships for local youth, among many other activities to promote sustainable marine resource use.
Thanks go to cruisers for being loyal visitors to the Tobago Cays Marine Park and other marine protected areas in the region, and for supporting marine conservation efforts.
Emma Doyle is the MPA Connect coordinator for the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (Gcfi.org). For more information please contact the Tobago Cays Marine Park office at [email protected], +(784) 485 8191, www.tobagocays.org or [email protected].
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