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Bahamas Marine Reserve Network

Case Authors

Dave Gershman, Julia Wondolleck and Steven Yaffee, University of Michigan


The federal government of the Bahamas is working to create the Bahamas Marine Reserve Network, a series of marine reserves to preserve biodiversity and the commercially-harvested fish stocks of the islands.

In 2000, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham declared the government’s intention to establish conservation measures governing at least 20 percent of the near-shore marine resources of the islands by 2012. The government announced that five areas had been selected as the first proposed marine reserves in the network and would be no-take areas, off-limits to commercial fishing.

The Bahamas National Trust, the Bahamas Reef Environmental Education Foundation, scientists from the Center for Biodiversity and Planning, fishermen and local communities have been assisting in decisions about the design and boundaries of the marine reserves.

The network’s development was hindered by a lack of resources and a change in government. Ingraham’s party lost power in 2002, but regained it again in 2007.

In late 2008, an ongoing hotel development was threatening North Bimini Island and it established as the first marine reserve, protecting a shark nursery and mangrove habitat. However, as of December 2009, marine advocates at the Bimini Biological Field Station reported that efforts to define specific regulations and boundaries governing the marine reserve were still in progress.

MEBM Attributes

  • Complexity: Stated intention to protect biodiversity and habitat in a representative, interconnected system of marine reserves.

Mission and Primary Objectives


The Department of Marine Resources of the Bahamas has listed the following objectives of the proposed marine reserve network: 

  • Enhanced support for fisheries production and fisheries management efforts by allowing longer survival of greater number of larger fish which contributes to greater numbers of offspring and protecting the habitats and processes upon which all fish populations depend for growth and survival.
  • Long-term protection for the marine biodiversity naturally specific to The Bahamas.
  • Protection of healthy examples of natural marine ecosystems structure and function.
  • Enhancement of non-intrusive human activities, for instance, properly managed underwater exploration and nature tours.
  • Enhanced opportunities for scientific research that may directly benefit the Bahamas.


Key Parties

Lead Organizations


  • Bahamas Department of Marine Resources

Non-Governmental Organizations

  • Bahamas National Trust,
  • Bahamas Reef Environmental Education Foundation

Key Parties


  • Fishermen
  • Local communities

Non-Governmental Organizations

  • The Nature Conservancy
  • The Center for Biodiversity and Conservation


Program Structure

The effort to plan for the creation of a Bahamas Marine Reserve Network relies on partnerships with non-governmental organizations but does not have a clearly defined structure.


  • The Bahamas Environment Technology and Science Commission is the central body for coordinating environmental study in the Bahamas. Through the partnerships established in the National Implementation Support Programme Agreement, the Bahamas completed an ecological gap analysis which assisted in specifying key habitats for protection.
  • Beginning in 2002, the United States-based Center for Biodiversity and Conservation facilitated the work of researchers from multiple institutions through the Bahamas Biocomplexity Project helping develop greater understanding of the ecosystems contained within the boundaries of the proposed marine reserves.
  • Other external scientists have conducted work in the Bahamas related to the establishment of marine reserves.

Outreach and Communication

The Department of Marine Resources along with the Bahamas National Trust and the Bahamas Reef Environmental Education Foundation (BREEF) have conducted the majority of outreach to stakeholder groups whose support is crucial to establish the marine reserves and ensure compliance with regulations.

The Bahamas National Trust is a non-profit established by government legislation in 1959 to manage terrestrial and marine parks of the Bahamas. BREEF was founded in 1993 and conducts educational and advocacy efforts to preserve and improve the marine environment.


Motivations for Initiating Effort

The economy of the Bahamas relies on tourism, which is tied to the health of the ecosystem. Visitors come to the islands to enjoy the beaches, clear water and marine recreational activities.

Scientists, non-governmental organizations and government leaders have been concerned about the health of the marine resources of the islands, and have taken steps to provide greater legal protections. In 1958, the government established the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, a terrestrial park that also included a marine area. Fishing was allowed within the park until 1986.

Successive Bahamian governments have created 24 additional national parks and a new public-private, non-governmental organization, the Bahamas National Trust which was formed to manage the new National Park System. However, a lack of resources has inhibited efforts to protect these parks from degradation.

In the 1999 National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham identified establishing an integrated, effective and functional system of protected areas as the highest environmental priority for the government.  The action plan supported the commitment of the Bahamas to creating a system of terrestrial protected areas by 2010 and marine reserves by 2012, specified by the United Nations-facilitated Convention on Biological Diversity that was signed by the Bahamas in 1992.

Ingraham’s government set out to exceed that commitment in the Bahamas 2020 Declaration, which pledged the promulgation of conservation measures governing at least 20 percent of the near-shore marine area. The declaration established that reversing a decline in endemic and endangered species would be a national goal. It called for strengthening partnerships with non-governmental organizations, local communities and the private sector relative to resource conservation.

In 2004, the Bahamas government, the Bahamas National Trust and the Nature Conservancy signed a National Implementation Support Programme Agreement, a legal mechanism established through the Convention on Biological Diversity, which commits the partners to steps that would achieve the establishment of the land and marine reserves.

In 2007, the Bahamas requested and received international funding under the terms of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which has allowed it to complete some scientific studies and create planning tools needed to establish new protected areas.


Ecosystem Characteristics and Threats

The Ecosystem

The Bahamas are located in the Atlantic Ocean southeast of Miami, Fla. and include roughly 700 low-lying islands and cays (of which 30 islands are inhabited). Because of its relative ecological isolation of and small population, the Bahamas has preserved a great abundance of marine biodiversity endemic to the islands. The marine ecosystem is considered to be healthy. In fact, the majority of the marine environment remains unexplored and virtually untouched, according to government scientists.

The areas designated for marine reserves include nursery grounds key for sustaining commercially-harvested fish and spiny lobster, along with key habitats characterized by mangrove trees, sand flats, seagrass and shallow reef systems.


Threats include:

  • Coastline development.
  • Overfishing which stems from both native fishers and illegal fishing by non-Bahamians.
  • Coral disease and rising ocean temperatures.
  • Boat groundings which can damage coral reefs.
  • Hurricane damage.


Major Strategies

Marine Reserves

The locations of five marine reserves were selected by government planners in consultation with external, United States-based scientists, using criteria that considered ecological significance and anticipated public support. According to the Department of Marine Resources, the basic ecological principles informing the design of the network were the following:

  • Habitat restoration: The network must include many different habitats, such as shallow and deep water coral reefs, seagrass meadows, sand flats, hard bottom, mangroves, channels, and blue holes.
  • Replication: Duplicate reserves must be scattered far enough apart to ensure survival of all species and habitats as a contingency against localized natural or man-made disasters.
  • Size: The area encompassing each reserve must be large enough that all organisms can conduct their natural activities within the boundaries of the reserve.
  • Distribution: The reserves must be sited to work as a mutually supporting network, each reserve reinforcing and being reinforced by others.

The first five marine reserves have been proposed to protect marine resources at the following locations: Abaco, Berry Islands, Exuma Cays, North Bimini, and South Eleuthera/Long Island.


Monitoring, Assessment and Evaluation

Monitoring, assessment and evaluation is being conducted by the Bahamas Biocomplexity Project, which aims to study questions related to the design of marine protected areas. However, the integration of the Bahamas Biocomplexity Project and the work of other external researchers with the government-sponsored planning effort is not clear. No management plan has been specified for the network.


  • Designation of one marine reserve at North Bimini Island.
  • Increased public awareness, through education efforts, of the government-sponsored proposal to create the marine reserve network.

Website Links

The Bahamas Reef Environmental Education Foundation:

The Bahamas National Trust:

The Bahamas Biocomplexity Project: