Thursday, February 20, 2014

Aruba's Bonefish Nursery?

Schools of juvenile bonefish are again cruising Aruba's beaches—in some places so abundant that they show up in the cast nets thrown for sardines and other baits. While this individual was released unharmed, it's a sad fact that many are destroyed as bycatch, in the same way that adult bones are often killed in set nets.

Last week my father caught a dozen in one evening. Each was returned to the water, and all were surprisingly powerful for their size: a tantalizing hint of the fun they could provide if allowed to reach adulthood.

This periodic abundance reminds me again of how lucky we are in Aruba, of how significant our island's nursery areas are for the life of the surrounding seas, and of how much more productive they could be with even the minimum of resource management.

A small marine protected area—stretching from the new Ritz-Carlton to Arashi Beach, for example—could provide an invaluable sanctuary for young fish that would later repopulate the island's flats and reefs. Area regulations would ban netting, spearfishing, wastewater discharge, and the anchoring of boats. Diving (on approved moorings), snorkeling, and catch-and-release fishing would be encouraged, and displaced commercial fishermen fairly compensated.

The proposed park would include some of the island's most popular tourist sites, including the wreck of the Antilla, visited last year by the Catlin Seaview Survey, part of an ambitious project to create a baseline record of the world's coral reefs. In their expedition report, project scientists were amazed at "the plentiful juvenile fish that roamed" the island's waters, "an indicator that these reefs are ecologically important." And, like others, they expressed concern that "the reefs of Aruba aren’t currently protected, especially because we have clear evidence of the great potential."

Since 2010, the Aruba Marine Park Foundation has been working to build public and government support for a protected area, so far with limited success. You can add your voice to the chorus by visiting their Facebook page and donating to the Save the Reef program.

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