Can a Caribbean nation reliant on marine resources develop an economy based on coral reef ecosystems in spite of threats to those resources?
This article is based on research published in the Society’s Geographical Journal which examines the contrasting case studies of Antigua & Barbuda and Jamaica.
This research asks: Can a Caribbean nation heavily reliant on marine resources develop a sustainable economy based on coral reef ecosystems in spite of human and physical stresses and threats to those resources?
About Antigua and Barbuda
Concerns for the future
Avoiding the ‘Jamaican path’
Location of Antigua and Barbuda and Jamaica within the Caribbean region
The tourism industry of Antigua and Barbuda is rapidly developing around a carefully-marketed image of a healthy marine and coastal environment. However, the twin-island Caribbean nation is overexploiting its marine reserves, including its fish.
If the current rates of exploitation continue, Antigua and Barbuda may jeopardise its marine environment, with potential implications for its key tourist attraction on which economic growth relies.
Antigua and Barbuda is now at a crossroads. It could follow the ‘Jamaica path’ of overfishing and resource exploitation, whereby fisheries have significantly declined. Or, it might forge an alternative in which the marine ecology is better conserved.
Antigua and Barbuda has a relatively strong economy in relation to other similar island nations in the region. Around 725 fishers on around 250 active vessels capture approximately US$11 million worth of fish annually – more than 1% of the nation’s GDP. However, although the nation has a rich cultural heritage in fishing, its main industry at present is tourism, with tourist expenditure accounting for 7.5% of total imports.
Factfile for Antigua and Barbuda (with Jamaican comparisons)
Area: 441 km2 (Jamaica: 10,991 km2)
Population: 89,610 (Jamaica: 2,709,000)
Population density: 203 per km (246 per km)
GDP per capita: US$12,599 (Jamaica: US$5,563)
Life expectancy at birth: 75 years (Jamaica: 73 years)
International tourists (annual arrivals): 230,000 (Jamaica: 1,922,000)
Annual tourist expenditure: US$51,000,000 (Jamaica: US$235,000,000)
Tourist expenditure (% of total imports): 7.50% (Jamaica: 3.64%)
Source: World Bank (2012)
Antigua and Barbuda is a much smaller nation than Jamaica and therefore does not have the land mass for large farms or fisheries. It also does not have the luxury of creating ‘buffer zones’ to separate the impacts of tourism and urbanization from rural areas.
Jamaica has a similar population density to Antigua and Barbuda, however its population is highly concentrated in urban areas. This means that large rural areas of low population density can be used for farming and aquaculture.
The economy of Antigua and Barbuda relies on tourism twice as much (as a percentage of total imports) as the economy Jamaica does. Any damage to marine or coastal resources could therefore not only have negative impacts for tourism but also for the whole economy.
Figure: Total reported commercial landings for conch, lobster and finfish for Antigua and Barbuda
Fishing in Antigua and Barbuda is small-scale, artisanal in nature. However, there is a commercial fishery that sells US$8.7 million worth of finfish, $2.75 million of lobster and $0.5 million of conch (a large mollusc).
This fishery has received large capital investment from major players such as the Japanese government, who have offered $35 million in assistance since 1997.
Such investment helps to build infrastructure such as boat ramps, boat lifts, fish processing and refrigeration facilities. It also assists in the construction of a port for the import and export of goods.
There are regulations in place to prevent the harvesting of immature marine life. For example, lobsters must be a minimum of 9.5cm in length and weigh at least 680g (or have a tail weight of at least 200g).
In addition, the size of mesh used in lobster pots must be greater than 3.81cm. Furthermore, female lobsters carrying eggs cannot be caught and the government reserves the right to enforce a ‘closed season’ if necessary.
The government estimates that between 12.5 and 39.3% of fishers do not comply with these regulations. However, the lobster stocks are continually being monitored and their current level is deemed to be sustainable.
Finfish fishing on the island of Antigua is thought to be in decline. This is lack of sustainability is attributed to insufficient regulations, outdated stock assessments, fishers disobeying regulations and an ineffective enforcement of regulations.
It is argued that Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) should be created and better enforced. This involves creating areas of water in which human activities are controlled as a means of protecting the environment.
In MPAs, overfished stocks can be replenished. In well-managed MPAs, healthy fish populations can flourish both inside and outside of the controlled areas. This means that fishers can catch more fish – and larger fish – for their given efforts. MPAs can also act as a draw for tourists who come to are enticed to visit a healthy marine habitat.
Because Antigua and Barbuda is creating a network of MPAs before following the ‘Jamaican path’ of overfishing, it may be much more effective in creating a sustainable future.
Jamaica, on the other hand, may take several decades to restore the ill health of its reefs and to replenish fish stocks by the same approach. It is therefore important to enact precautionary measures before overfishing becomes a problem.
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