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Environmentalists praise government for greenlighting coral disease battle

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Environmental scientists have praised the federal government for greenlighting the battle against the deadly Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease.

In a press release, scientists called for swift motion on dozens of outstanding scientific and habitat restoration permits.

After greater than a 12 months, the Government of The Bahamas has given the green light for marine conservationists to treat corals infected with Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) in addition to to check and higher understand its spread.

SCTLD is the deadly and relentless plague ravaging the country’s reefs like a forest fire, for which conservationists sounded the alarm at a press conference on the Bahamas National Trust on March 4, 2022.

This breaking news is being celebrated after backlogged research permits had sidelined motion by the country’s own world-renowned scientific experts and native environmental groups for over a 12 months.

“It’s like Christmas got here early – we’re so pleased the Government is partnering with us on this life-saving work,” said Dr. Craig Dahlgren, executive director of Perry Institute for Marine Science (PIMS), a Bahamas-based research non-profit on the frontlines of the Caribbean coral crisis.

“This country made history when it established the world’s first land and sea park greater than half a century ago. Together, we’re able to make history again and tackle SCTLD with every thing we’ve got.”

Science across the country reportedly got here to halt after the new Biological Resources & Traditional Knowledge Act was passed in 2021. Government adopted the new legal framework to capture value from business innovation and ensure research involving the country’s natural resources advantages Bahamians at first. But the ensuing implementation of the act has, until now, been fraught with political turmoil and bureaucratic peril.

This created a quagmire for local non-profits, mom and pop businesses and each national and international environmental organizations hoping to do economically and environmentally critical and time-sensitive science and conservation work. But now there are signs of hope for transitional permits while the Cabinet has undertaken to revise the law to aim at its original intent – to capture revenue through patents where commercially possible while concurrently promoting, not blocking conservation-oriented, non-profit scientific research and ecosystem restoration.

With permits in hand, a coalition of environmental non-profits are set to start broad-sweeping SCTLD monitoring, evaluation, and treatment across The Bahamas. Scientists now hope the Government will soon allow samples to be sent to state-of-the-art international analytical laboratories which is a key tool in speeding humanity’s ability to stop the spread.

Alongside Government staff, Perry Institute marine biologists will work as fast as possible to heal infected corals using an antibiotic paste and stop the extinction of coral species from The Bahamas. Given the severity of the crisis at hand, the Perry Institute has also co-led the establishment of a living coral “gene bank” to preserve Bahamian corals in Atlantis’ aquarium; up to now, the Perry Institute has secured sustainable project funding upwards of $1 million USD with more to come back.

“The gene bank is a groundbreaking opportunity for us to save lots of corals from SCTLD and for The Bahamas to totally establish itself as the worldwide leader in coral science and restoration,” Dahlgren added. “We’re excited to work closely with the Government, already-committed philanthropic funding, and Atlantis to see this project through.”

SCTLD was first discovered off the coast of Miami in 2014. Five years later, Dahlgren’s team on the Perry Institute confirmed its presence off the southern coast of Grand Bahama. The disease, which is so fatal it will probably wipe out a 200-year old coral in lower than two months, has already caused far-reaching and irreversible damage to Bahamian coral reefs – the lifeblood of the nation’s blue economy.

Coral reefs are the nation’s chief tourism and fisheries asset, valued at as much as USD $135 million per square kilometer. In addition they protect coastlines from storm surges and erosion, reducing wave energy by about 97%. I

Within the three years since SCTLD first spread to The Bahamas, it has worn out corals over greater than 100 square miles of reef across the country: nearly 50,000 football fields price of dead coral. The highly contagious disease has been identified offshore of no less than six major Bahamian islands up to now and scientists are linking its spread to ballast water from business shipping vessels and cross-contamination by recreational and business boating.

Anwar Godet, a Nassau-born Bahamian PIMS scientist and scuba instructor, also applauded Government’s leadership while emphasizing that more Government support for the sake of the country’s environment is required.

“I’m elated we got our permit and our whole team is worked up to be within the water again. Until now, it’s been a really difficult 12 months standing by helplessly watching our own reefs die. At the identical time, the general public should know that the coral crisis in our country is larger than SCTLD,” said Godet, who works as a coral research technician on the Perry Institute.

“Many permits are still pending to actively restore and rebuild reefs which might be crucial fish habitats, reefs which might be disintegrating due to climate change and pollution as well. Reefs protect shorelines from storm surges, help create our unparalleled beaches, and ultimately keep most of us Bahamians in a job, a method or one other.”

During the last two years Godet has worked diligently to expand the Reef Rescue Network, the country-wide alliance of companies and environmentalists fighting back against climate change and coral disease by planting new corals in a scientifically sound way. Launched in 2017 by the Perry Institute, the Network is The Bahamas’ largest coral restoration initiative, spanning 12 islands and growing nearly 8,000 corals to this point. Without Government-sanctioned permits, the Reef Rescue Network stands to lose greater than $1 million USD of secured Foreign Direct Investment in lower than 30 days.

“I would like my children to find a way to enjoy our reefs the identical way I did growing up. I would like them to know what it’s prefer to dive, swim with sharks and enjoy the biodiverse wonders of our reefs,” Godet said. “That’s why I do what I do.”

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