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Marine Resource Studies

Turks and Caicos Islands

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Conserving Marine Biodiversity and the Impacts of Development

The British-governed Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI) lie at the southeastern end of the Bahamian archipelago. A relatively healthy ecosystem supports much of the community on South Caicos Island, with fisheries providing the primary source of livelihood. However, pollution and increased extraction of precious marine resources, coupled with large-scale, unsustainable tourism and industrial development, is very likely to inflict irreparable damage to this delicate ecosystem. Depletion of key resources would have a dramatic impact on employment and social structure on South Caicos Island. Developing sustainable fisheries is essential if this resource-dependent community is to survive. SFS is working with the Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI) Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs (DEMA) and the National Park Service to develop management strategies to help conserve marine biodiversity and provide economic opportunities for island residents.

  • Semester Programs

    Marine Resource Management Studies

    Turks and Caicos Islands

    TCI has an extensive network of 33 protected areas, but little is known about their function and effectiveness. With the Admiral Cockburn Land and Sea National Park and East Harbour Lobster and Conch Reserve on their doorstep, students evaluate the concept and practice of marine protected areas (MPAs) as a resource management tool. Snorkeling and SCUBA diving in waters surrounding South Caicos, students learn field research techniques to identify a wide range of marine organisms and habitats, and learn about marine ecology and coastal ecosystems.

  • Summer Programs

    Session I: Marine Protected Areas: Management Techniques & Policies

    Turks and Caicos Islands

    Pollution and increased extraction of precious marine resources; large-scale, unsustainable tourism; and industrial development will likely inflict irreparable damage on TCI’s delicate marine ecosystem. Students in this study abroad program will learn about artificial reef technology to enhance or restore reef habitats. Students support the work of our clients and stakeholders, who range from local fishers to members of key government agencies. Our goal is to conduct relevant field research that can be used to develop state-of-the-art environmental policies, marine protected areas (MPA) management plans, and community projects.

  • Session II: Marine Protected Areas: Management Techniques & Policies

    Turks and Caicos Islands

    Pollution and increased extraction of precious marine resources; large-scale, unsustainable tourism; and industrial development will likely inflict irreparable damage on TCI’s delicate marine ecosystem. Students in this study abroad program will learn about artificial reef technology to enhance or restore reef habitats. Students support the work of our clients and stakeholders, who range from local fishers to members of key government agencies. Our goal is to conduct relevant field research that can be used to develop state-of-the-art environmental policies, marine protected areas (MPA) management plans, and community projects.

How can SFS-CMRS support the government and South Caicos community to best manage the marine environment and resources to balance biodiversity conservation and economic sustainability?

The marine environment supports the Turks and Caicos Islands economy directly and indirectly, through fisheries and tourism. The diversity and health of island and coastal and ocean habitats, including mangrove, seagrass, coral reef, sand banks, and deep open ocean contribute to the value of TCI fisheries and tourism, either directly or through the ecosystem functions that they perform. The TCI has an extensive network of 33 Protected Areas, established to ensure the sustainability of natural and historic resources, with four in close proximity to South Caicos and the Center for Marine Resource Studies. However, lack of scientific knowledge, local understanding and environmental stewardship hinders effective management of resources and the effectiveness of these Protected Areas.

Demand and therefore pressure on marine resources is expected to increase with the onset of tourism, and without scientific quantification and environmental education the existence of many of these resources are threatened. The Center has a critical role to play during the next five years by quantifying social and ecological baselines, conducting on-going monitoring, and helping to mitigate change to the marine environment through research and education.

 

The dissemination of research findings through local media, meetings and technical reports will facilitate raising environmental awareness among residents and developers on South Caicos, and enable local policy makers to make scientifically-based decisions to ensure sustainable management.        



PROBLEMS

While tourism is an important source of income for many small island nations, increased tourism and the creation of the infrastructure that supports this industry often have deleterious effects on the environment. Coastal development and an influx of tourists and workers will continue to increase demand for marine resources (specifically lobster, conch and reef fish), drive the degradation and destruction of terrestrial and coastal habitats, and generate increasing volumes of wastes.

Presently the South Caicos economy is primarily based on fisheries and government, with conch and lobster the primary fisheries. The arrival of tourists is expected to increase the demand for finfish, an underutilized resource, resulting in increased fishing pressure on a resource of which little is known. Unsustainable and destructive fishing practices in combination with this increased pressure from tourism will threaten coastal habitats and the organisms and industries that they support. Four developments are under construction on South Caicos, and they have the potential to almost quadruple the population on South Caicos. Once these developments open for business, marine and on-shore terrestrial environments and the civil society of the community will experience both positive and negative outcomes.

RESEARCH DIRECTION

Addressing existing and potential problems requires concerted efforts among scientists, practitioners, and policy makers to ensure the long term sustainability of natural resources, tourism and life on South Caicos. To this end, the Center will work in collaboration with local, national and international partners to generate the scientific knowledge of South Caicos environments and natural resources needed to monitor change, and to identify and promote sustainable fishing practices and species and habitat management strategies. Through the dissemination of research findings and environmental education, the Center hopes to develop a high level of environmental awareness among residents that will contribute towards greater self-regulation and ownership, and subsequently greater environment stewardship and long-term sustainability.

The aim of this second five-year research plan is to establish baselines, develop factually supported ideas, and provide educated advice to the local community and the government of the TCI, as South Caicos undergoes major expansion of its tourism industry. In particular, we plan to produce information and knowledge that will help the people of South Caicos manage the impacts of increasing tourism on their marine resources, their terrestrial environment, and on their civil society.

The Center research activities will be carried out in three components. The first is the “assessment and monitoring of marine environments and species.” This focuses on mapping critical habitats and quantifying baseline diversity and abundances of commercially or ecologically important species. This assessment will be on-going to enable comparison against the baseline in order to quantify any change, identify key indicator species, and determine critical areas for protection around South Caicos. Specific projects will be undertaken on the biology and ecology of reef fish, fin fish, sea turtles, conch and lobster, as well as the biodiversity of coral reef, mangrove and seagrass faunal communities.

The second component is the “conservation and management of marine resources.” This component incorporates and adds to data collected in the first component to assess the role of MPAs, manage critical areas such as nurseries, and establish sustainable fishing practices. The Center's’ primary partner, the Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs, manages marine resources in the TCI and has established a “no net loss” policy with regards to development impacts on near shore habitats. Therefore, this component of the 5YRP incorporates projects on the restoration of mangroves and reefs and research into increasing the carrying capacity of near shore waters.

The third component is “socio-economic conditions for development.” The purpose of this component is to gather baseline data on local perceptions and expectations of tourism and the awareness of resources important to the South Caicos economy. Data will also be collected to assess the feasibility of community-based fisheries management and public participation in a more sustainable waste management system. These projects will be used to educate the community and to identify strategies for stewardship and sustainability.


EXPECTED OUTCOMES AND BENEFICIARIES

The expected outcomes of implementing the 2008-2012 5YRP are to document the current status of local marine resources, and the social and economic conditions of South Caicos, and to quantify any changes that may occur. The Center will share these data and findings with local partners, clients and stakeholders to enable local managers to make informed decisions. These data will advance the knowledge of key marine environments and species in the scientific literature. The dissemination of research findings through local media, meetings and technical reports will facilitate raising environmental awareness among residents and developers on South Caicos, and enable local policy makers to make scientifically-based decisions to ensure sustainable management.


PEER REVIEWED PUBLICATIONS

* Indicates SFS student, ^ indicates SFS intern or SAM

Béné, C., and A. Tewfik. 2001. Fishing effort allocation and fishermen's decision-making process in a multi-species small-scale fishery: Analysis of the conch and lobster fishery in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Human Ecology 29: 157-186.

—. 2003. Biological evaluation of Marine Protected Area: evidence of crowding effect on a protected population of Queen conch in the Caribbean. Marine Ecology 24: 45-58.

Bos, A. R., S. Clark, and S. Gore. 2003. Preliminary habitat description of juvenile Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) in South Caicos, Turks & Caicos Islands. Proceedings of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute 54: 230-240.

Clark, S., and A. Danylchuk. 2001. Introduction to the Turks & Caicos Islands bonefish research project tagging program. Proceedings of the 54th Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute 54: 396-400.

Claydon, J. A. B., M. C. Calosso^, S.B. Traiger^. 2012. Progression of invasive lionfish in seagrass, mangrove and reef habitats. Marine Ecology Progress Series 448: 119-129.

Claydon, J. A. B., and A. Kroetz^. 2008. The distribution of early juvenile groupers around South Caicos, Turks and Caicos Islands. Proceedings of the 60th Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute 60: 345-350.

Claydon, J. A. B., S. E. Jacob^, C. W. Wagner*, and S. K. Ryan*. 2008. Juvenile habitat for Nassau grouper and spiny lobster is enhanced by discarded queen conch shells. Proceedings of the 61st Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute 61: 173-176.

Claydon, J. A. B., M. C. Calosso^, and S. E. Jacob^. 2009. The red lionfish invasion of South Caicos, Turks & Caicos Islands. Proceedings of the 61st Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute 61: 400-402.

Claydon, J. A. B., M. C. Calosso^, SE Jacobs^. 2011. Juvenile habitat for Nassau Grouper and spiny lobster is enhanced by discarded Queen Conch shells. Proceedings of the 63rd Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute: 457-461.

Claydon, J. A. B., C. W. Wagner*, MC Calosso^. 2011. Identifying individual Nassau Grouper, Epinephelus striatus, from natural markings. Proceedings of the 63rd Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute: 219-220.

Claydon, J. A. B., J. Batchasingh, MC Calosso^, SE Jacobs^, K Lockhart. 2011. Invasive red lionfish in shallow habitats of the Turks & Caicos Islands. Proceedings of the 63rd Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute: 315-319.

Clerveaux, W., and A. J. Danylchuk. 2001. Visual assessment of queen conch (Strombus gigas) stocks in the Turks & Caicos Islands. Proceedings of the 54th Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute 54: 250-258.

Danylchuk, A. J., M. A. Rudd, K. Baldwin*, and I. Giles*. 2001. Size-dependent habitat use of juvenile queen conch (Strombus gigas) in East Harbour Lobster and Conch Reserve, Turks & Caicos Islands, BWI. Proceedings of the 54th Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute 54: 241-249.

Dikou, A., C. Ackerman*, C. Banks*, A. Dempsey*, M. Fox*, M. Gins*, P. Hester*, A. Parnes*, S. Roach*, J. Rohde*, C. Spital*, M. Tapleshay*, and L. Thomas*. 2009. Ecological assessment to detect imminent change, Admiral Cockburn Land and Sea National Park, Turks and Caicos Islands. Marine Ecology-An Evolutionary Perspective 30: 425-436.

Henderson, A. C., K. McClellan, M. Calosso^. 2010. Preliminary assessment of a possible lemon shark nursery in the Turks & Caicos Islands, British West Indies. Caribbean Journal of Science 46(1): 29-38.

Landsman*, S. J., C. Jadot, M. Ashley^, and J. A. B. Claydon. 2008. Investigation of the Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus) fishery in the Turks and Caicos Islands: Implications for conservation and management. Proceedings of the 61st Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute 61: 82-89.

Mills, C. 2008. External tertiary education providers in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Pages 111-122 in S. Marshall, E. Brandon, M. Thomas, A. Kanwar, and T. Lyngra, eds. Perspectives on Distance Education: Foreign Providers in the Caribbean: Pillagers or Preceptors. Commonwealth of Learning, Vancouver, BC.

Richardson, P. B., M. W. Bruford, M. C. Calosso^, L. M. Campbell, W. Clerveaux, A. Formia, B. J. Godley, A. C. Henderson, K. McClellan^, S. Newman, K. Parsons^, M. Pepper, S. Ranger, J. J. Silver, L. Slade, and A. C. Broderick. 2009. Marine turtles in the Turks and Caicos Islands: remnant rookeries, regionally significant foraging stocks, and a major turtle fishery. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 8(2): 192-207.

Richardson, P. B., M. C. Calosso^, J. Claydon, W. Clerveaux, B. J. Godley, Q. Phillips, S. Ranger, A. Sanghera, T. B. Stringell, and A. C. Broderick. 2010. Suzie the green turtle: 6,000 kilometers for one clutch of eggs? Marine Turtle Newsletter 127: 26-27.

Richardson, P. B., M. C. Calosso^, J. Claydon, W. Clerveaux, B. J. Godley, Q. Phillips, S. Ranger, A. Sanghera, T. B. Stringell, and A. C. Broderick. 2010. Suzie the green turtle: 6,000 kilometers for one clutch of eggs? Marine Turtle Newsletter 127: 26-27.

Schelten, C. K., S. Brown*, C. B. Gurbisz*, B. Kautz*, and J. A. Lentz*. 2006. Status of Acropora palmata populations off the coast of South Caicos, Turks and Caicos Islands. Proceedings of the 57th Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute 57: 665-678.

Stringell, T. B., M. C. Calosso^, J. A. B. Claydon, W. Clerveaux, B. J. Godley, Q. Phillips, P. B. Richardson, A. Sanghera, and A. C. Broderick. 2010. Loggerhead turtles in the Turks and Caicos Islands, Caribbean. Marine Turtle Newsletter 127: 23-25.

Tewfik, A., and C. Béné. 2000. Densities and age structure of fished versus protected populations of Queen conch (Strombus gigas) in the Turks & Caicos Islands. Proceedings of the 51st Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute 51: 60-79.

—. 2003. Effects of natural barriers on the spillover of a marine mollusk: implications for fisheries reserves. Aquatic Conservation - Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 13: 473-488.

Vo*, A., A. Dikou, and S. P. Newman. 2008. Biological, socioeconomic, and political aspects of the Nassau Grouper (Epinephelus striatus) fishery in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The Harvard Undergraduate Research Journal 1: 80-87.

Wilson, D. T., and C. Mills. 2008. Maximizing the benefits of an in-country foreign tertiary education provider: The School for Field Studies, the Turks and Caicos Islands. Pages 123-134 in S. Marshall, E. Brandon, M. Thomas, A. Kanwar, and T. Lyngra, eds. Perspectives on Distance Education: Foreign Providers in the Caribbean: Pillagers or Preceptors. Commonwealth of Learning, Vancouver, BC.

Wilson, D. T., D. Vaughan, S. K. Wilson, C. N. Simona, and K. Lockhart. 2008. Efficacy of a starch-iodide swab technique to detect the illegal use of bleach in a Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus) fishery. Fisheries Research 90: 86-91.

Wilson, S. K., S. Street, and T. Sato. 2005. Discarded queen conch (Strombas gigas) shells as shelter sites by fish. Marine Biology 147: 177-188.

Wilson, S. K., D. T. Wilson, C. Lamont, and M. Evans. 2006. Identifying individual Great Barracuda, Sphyraena barracuda, using natural body marks. Journal of Fish Biology 69: 928-932.

Zuidema*, C., R. Plate, and A. Dikou. 2011. To preserve or to develop? East Bay dredging project, South Caicos, Turks and Caicos Islands. Journal of Coastal Conservation Online DOI: 10.1007/s11852-011-0144-5.



The community of South Caicos has hosted The SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies students for the past 21 years. During that time staff and students have integrated into the small community on multiple levels and collaborated extensively with the Department of Environmental and Maritime Affairs (DEMA) on a variety of projects.

The small town of Cockburn Harbour is home to the Center and offers several restaurants and shops frequented by students and staff. As a result, the influx of 30-plus students contributes to the small town economy in a significant way.

Thanks to the generosity of a donor, the Center is able to host a local student interested in learning about environmental science each summer. This provides a tremendous opportunity for students to join the SFS team, and it offers students a unique insight into life in the Turks & Caicos.

There are multiple opportunities for community engagement. Saturday is community day when local students are invited to the Center for swim lessons and camp-like activities, such as arts and crafts and sports. There are also computer and English classes for local adults. Additionally, SFS students spend one day a week in the local schools helping out with a variety of projects, particularly those focused on environmental awareness.

Local students enjoy the fun sports rivalries (and frequently winning) with SFS students. The Center also hosts two community dinners each year, inviting local leaders and prominent community members.

Finally, SFS student researchers contribute to natural resource assessments to help support resource management plans for coastal development monitoring.