Bahamas Biocomplexity Project: Improving Marine Protected Areas for Conservation and Sustainability

The Bahamas is a global pioneer in establishing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). In 1958, the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park was established as one of the world’s first MPAs. In 2000, the Bahamian government declared its intention to protect 20 percent of its marine environment within a network (an ecologically connected system) of MPAs. 

Designing Marine Protected Area Networks for Conservation and Sustainability

From 2000-2013, the CBC led the Bahamas Biodiversity Project (BBP) - an international, interdisciplinary team of scientists studying the ecological, social and political aspects of how marine reserves and other protected areas may work as an integrated system to enhance biodiversity conservation, fisheries sustainability and other human uses in island archipelagos.

Our goal was to understand how the growing MPA network may affect people and marine ecosystems and, in turn, how both human and ecosystem dynamics may influence the effectiveness of networks of protected areas. The BBP was divided into several working groups made up of researchers from multiple collaborating institutions to tackle the diverse components of the system. 

The project team collected data from multiple sources, including satellite imagery of marine habitats, underwater surveys of marine species and population genetic analysis of key indicator species, as well as ethnographies of stakeholders, such as fishers, residents, tourists, decision-makers, landowners and business operators. Integrating quantitative and qualitative data, and through simulation modeling, the project studied the complex feedbacks between coastal peoples and their marine environment, and the ripples and cascades of these human-ecosystem interactions throughout the Bahamas.

List of major accomplishments under the BBP project