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Future Marine Parks

Darwin Initiative researchers surveyed Cayman's reefs this past year.

As researchers of the Darwin Initiative wrap up their second year of field work, the Department of Environment (DOE) gets ready to go public with results from the first comprehensive scientific review of the Islands' marine park system.

"Halfway through the three-year project, we are well on track and progress has been great. Researchers have conducted dozens of reef surveys looking at fish numbers and sizes, coral cover and species composition," explained DOE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie.

"The next step will be to analyse the data and present our findings, which we hope to do early next year."

She added: "Moving forward, public involvement, and community and stakeholder feedback will form a critical part of the process. It is vital that people feel a sense of ownership in the future of local marine parks and the resources they protect."

DOE and Bangor University staff assessed 60 sites across all three islands looking for stressors such as coral bleaching, disease and overfishing.

"The survey included different habitats in deep and shallow waters. We also purposefully selected sites in and outside of the marine parks system to see if there is a difference," said Project Leader and Senior Lecturer in Marine Sciences at the Bangor School of Ocean Sciences Dr. John Turner.

The team has also been looking at the DOE's longer-term data set to take into account changes in reef health over time.

Reef survey underway.

All this information will now be fed into a decision support software programme developed specifically for marine-protected areas. The software will map and produce options for enhancement to the marine parks system to provide optimum protection for Cayman's marine life.

"This project allows us to gather scientifically robust data that will help us understand how effective our marine park system has been over the last 25 years, what risks it faces at present and what we need to do to ensure viability of our marine resources in the long-term," said Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie.

"When the marine parks were established, we had a different set of risks to consider. At this time, the threats to our reefs have changed. This initiative will ensure that our marine protected areas keep pace with local and global threats," she said.

The Darwin study is a collaborative effort between the DOE, the Bangor School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor University in Wales, and US-based The Nature Conservancy. DOE Senior Researcher Croy McCoy leads the fieldwork.

The project is partly funded through a Darwin Initiative international research grant of CI$344,000 through the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and ultimately supports an improved marine parks system.

(GIS)

For further information contact: Cornelia Oliver