The Bahamas has over 30 protected areas covering over 2 million areas of land and sea space and hosting 14 endangered species. These areas are legally designated as national parks, however, the Bahamas National Trust (BNT), as the management agency for these protected areas, has collaborated with the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management Programme (BIOPAMA) to undertake a recategorisation exercise using the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidelines on protected area management categories.
Through this collaboration, BNT and BIOPAMA hosted a series of three workshops in The Bahamas, which took participants through a sequence of exercises designed to improve their decision-making, competencies and capacities in categorizing existing and new protected areas in the archipelago according to the IUCN guidelines.
“With 27 National Parks, BNT always had an interest in applying a classification system to our parks and from a management perspective look at them in a systematic way,” explained Vanessa Haley-Benjamin, Director of Science and Policy at the BNT. “Each park has its own goals and objectives along with the justification on why it was originally protected. As a result, we understand that different management strategies should be applied to each protected area depending on the area’s goals. We wanted to apply international standards but also adopt our own categories that best fits our needs,” she added.
The last workshop, which was staged from September 9 to 12, 2014, on Grand Bahama in The Bahamas, also doubled as a knowledge-sharing exercise as the Bahamian participants were joined by representatives from six other Caribbean islands: The Dominican Republic, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. The 21 participants, who were drawn from governmental and non-governmental agencies charged with improving the management of protected areas, deliberated over how best to apply the IUCN categories to the protected areas, taking into account how the areas are currently managed and used and the level of protection aspired to for future generations.
At the end of the workshop, the participants had successfully reclassified The Bahamas protected areas under the IUCN categories, and had put a framework in place for future legislated protected areas to also be classified. The next steps identified for the Bahamian team was to receive the endorsement of the BNT Council for the changes, obtain the support of the National Implementation Support Partnership (NISP) in moving the application and implementation process for the proposed changes forward and then engage in a wider sensitization programme involving the other protected areas stakeholders inside and outside of government.
“Our experience with the BIOPAMA workshops was very good. It brought together all the protected area managers in The Bahamas. For us to sit down and discuss: ‘how are the national parks being managed?’ ‘what was the original impetus behind their protection?’ and ‘are we doing the right thing?’ really allowed us to take a step back to look at how to we move forward. Currently, a lot of our national parks are being managed without a management plan but we will now take into consideration applying each of the IUCN categories against the national parks and incorporating that into the management process”, said Lakeisha Anderson, Grand Bahama National Parks Manager, who participated in all three workshops.
“The series of workshops was a wonderful learning experience for everyone who participated. The Bahamian team not only learned how to apply the categories but deepened their lines of communication to share and understand the challenges they each face in the management of their respective protected areas,” said Hyacinth Armstrong-Vaughan, the BIOPAMA Coordinator for the Caribbean region. “The presence of colleagues from other countries enriched the process and BIOPAMA will liaise with these representatives to determine how best to support this type of analysis and review and other capacity needs within the region.”
Through its capacity building programme, BIOPAMA will continue to provide similar support to other countries in strengthening their governance and management frameworks.