San Salvador is known as the place where the first steps into the New World happened and has long been globally recognized for its historical significance. This little island formerly known as ‘Guanahani’ has once again stepped into the forefront as the first island where a community group has entered a formal agreement with a national agency to share responsibility for managing the national parks on their island.
For more than a decade the San Salvador Living Jewels Foundation, island residents, Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF) and the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) advocated to protect natural resources and special places on the island through the creation of national parks. Finally, in April 2015, the Government of the Bahamas announced the creation of five national parks on that island to be managed by the BNT; Southern Great Lake National Park, Pigeon Creek and Snow Bay National Park, Graham’s Harbour Iguana and Seabird National Park, West Coast Marine Park, and Green’s Bay National Park.
BNT President, Janet Johnson noted, “It was a long road that took more than a decade of perseverance by the BNT, San Salvador Living Jewels, BREEF and The Nature Conservancy, combined with decades of local knowledge and scientific research gathered through the Gerace Research Centre. In addition to these partners, we are also very grateful for funding support from Nancy Taylor, Jerry Bryant, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and Oceans 5. This collective effort gave us an understanding of the areas now designated as national parks and now enables us to continue work to effectively manage these areas.”
In 2017, under the Bahamas Protected project, the BNT worked with the local community to finalize the management plan which provides a long-term vision for overall management of these five parks. The plan will help to ensure that natural resources are protected, while supporting traditional sustainable uses by residents and visitors.
Following the completion of the management plan, BNT embarked on another phase of work to develop a co-management agreement with the San Salvador Living Jewels Foundation. During a capacity-building workshop on 19 October, 2018, both organizations signed the country’s first formal agreement between a national protected area management agency and a community group which allows for sharing the responsibilities, rights, and duties of managing a group of national parks; a novel approach to ensure residents will continue to be involved in the decision-making process and operations related to protected areas on their island.
“The amount of time, effort and money that went into getting these areas declared and finalizing the management plan was significant. But it was all worth it because we can now get started on ensuring these natural areas are properly managed and we can all continue to reap the benefits,” said San Salvador Living Jewels Foundation President, Michael Goffe.
“The co-management agreement between our organizations is a template that can be used to develop agreements with community-based groups on other islands. Each island and park is unique, so every management plan and co-management agreement must cover the needs of that area to ensure it is effectively managed and protected,” said Bahamas National Trust Conservation Planner, Lashanti Jupp.
Collectively, the San Salvador National Parks cover 25,750 acres of marine and freshwater habitats with the aim of conserving native and endangered plants, animals and historical resources. This includes the critically endangered San Salvador Rock Iguana, Pigeon Creek – the only tidal creek and mangrove nursery area on the island, the greatest diversity of nesting seabirds found anywhere in The Bahamas and the Columbus landfall site.
“San Salvador has always been a shining example of a community working to protect their resources, said BREEFs Executive Director, Casuarina McKinney Lambert. “For more than 20 years, BREEF has had tremendous support from the San Salvador community during our Teacher Training Workshops and Sea Camps held at Gerace Research Centre, to build an awareness and appreciation for our marine environment. With so much community support and the completion of the management plan for its national parks, San Salvador has set a great example that the rest of the country can follow.”
In 2008, The Bahamas committed to effectively conserve at least 20 per cent of its near-shore marine environment by 2020, as part of the Caribbean Challenge Initiative. In 2015, new MPAs were declared including the five parks on San Salvador, which brought The Bahamas to 10 per cent protection. The new set of MPAs proposed under the Bahamas Protected project in September 2018 will bring the country to its goal of 20 per cent protection, if all areas are declared and legally established.