Bermuda’s social, economic and environmental well-being has traditionally been tied to the ocean. Today, most Bermudian residents use the ocean as a recreational space whether for swimming, diving, fishing or just relaxing. The number of recreational boats and moorings continues to rise. This growth has resulted in the development of further marinas around the shore. An artisanal commercial fishing fleet provides fish to the local market although certain fish stocks have decreased. Cargo ships provide a weekly lifeline of foodstuffs, goods and materials to the local population, and ever larger cruise ships from the United States and elsewhere bring tourists who indulge in watersports activities. These tourists and their hotel-based counterparts extol the aesthetic richness of Bermuda’s coastal waters. Bermuda is also fortunate to have an extensive marine research community active in the nearshore and deep ocean environments. Tens of kilometers of seafloor cables carry electricity and data both locally and to/from other countries. There is occasionally dredging activity particularly in the shipping channels and pollution from the land base occurs in the form of treated sewage and concrete-encased waste ash. While not currently under development, there have been proposals and interest in future marine installations of wind turbines, wave energy facilities, aquaculture, and seabed mining operations.
Bermuda’s marine ecosystem plays an important role in this context. Water-based tourism and local recreation depends on a healthy ocean and reef community, as does the commercial fishing industry. The Bermuda Platform and its related banks provide a mid-Atlantic seamark for pelagic species and marine mammals. The reef structure itself provides daily protection from erosion activity on the shoreline. The health of the marine environment has been directly correlated to our own human health.
The diversity and proliferation of marine activities increases the potential for negative impacts on each other and on the overall health of the marine system itself. A more strategic, integrated and flexible management plan is considered necessary for Bermuda’s marine system to be able to sustain such activity into the future. Typically, marine activities are managed under sector-specific legislation, policies and agencies. A marine planning framework stands to provide a central process by which stakeholders have input to a coordinated, forward-looking plan for the ocean that requires consultation and analysis in considering new or expanded developments in the marine space. This is analogous to the land use planning process which Bermuda has practiced for decades, but applied to marine spaces instead of land.
It is expected that implementation of marine planning will provide:
- A transparent planning process in which all of Bermuda’s marine stakeholders can represent their interests to create marine policy and maximize community benefits.
- A coordinated vision and priorities for the use and management of Bermuda’s ocean spaces.
- An integrated decision-making framework for consideration of marine development proposals.
- A legal framework that coordinates the myriad marine management measures and the approval of coastal and ocean uses, thus reducing lengthy legal discussions of jurisdiction between ministries.
- A core Marine Plan document to guide future ocean endeavours and protection efforts, including where they could occur.
- Avoidance of user conflicts on ocean space and a transparent resolution process.