What problems are facing the Bahamas

Can the Bahamas withstand nature tourism?

Despite concerns that nature tourism could become too much for the islands' species, some animal species have flourished thanks to the marine reserves. Commercial fishing with longlines, which often include sharks, has been banned in the Bahamas for more than 20 years. In 2011 the government declared its 620 million square kilometers of territorial waters a shark sanctuary.

These measures ensured that the Bahamas became one of the most animal and species-rich habitats for sharks in the entire western Atlantic. Scientists know that the Bahamas population is in good shape compared to other parts of the world, but because long-term observation of individual sharks is difficult, exact population figures cannot be determined.

Fencing snails, on the other hand, which are a staple food on the islands, have an uncertain future. The giant snails are used as an ingredient in all kinds of dishes, from potato pancakes to salads. Their ornate pink and orange cases are popular commodities in markets. One of the reasons for their decline is their over-taking through poaching and overfishing, which is why the government is trying to encourage tourists and locals to leave the animals alone. Environmental groups and musicians even co-produced a song called "Conch Gone," which was broadcast on local radio.

Shedd Aquarium biologist Andrew Kough has tried to find out more about the causes of the decline in snails in the Bahamas. In April he visited Osprey Island to get an overview of the area's population. On his previous visits he had seen the island as a thriving nursery for the fencer snails. That year, however, he hardly saw any juveniles there when he snorkeled in the shallow coastal waters around the island.


In his 2017 study, which appeared in Marine Ecology, Kough concluded that the fenugreek population there is aging, which makes these nurseries all the more important. The once healthy population of these snails has already collapsed off the coast of Florida, and the Bahamian government wants to prevent another disaster such as the collapse of its sponge industry in 1938. According to the study, it is even conceivable that marine protected areas worsen the problem, as the number of predators of the snails increases there.

Even the region's famous pigs, brought to the island by European settlers, are struggling. In the spring of 2017, various dead pigs were discovered floating in the sea off the coast. Wildlife Agency officials suspect that they probably died from eating sand that stuck to the food that tourists leave on the beaches.

NATURE CONSERVATION AND TOURISM IN BALANCE

Despite concerns about nature tourism, policy makers, academics and locals are confident that the industry can grow in a sustainable way. According to Lester Gittens of the Bahamas Department of Marine Resources, the government uses the results of various research groups to develop new strategies.

The Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) ​​has established guidelines for responsible travel in which tourists do not harm animals or the environment.


National Geographic recommends that on wilderness tours that the animals are observed in their natural environment and that they are disturbed as little as possible. When diving with sharks, for example, the animals should never be touched. In addition, you should avoid disturbing noises and lights (such as camera flashes) and under no circumstances feed the animals.