Planning the Future of Bermuda’s Marine Resources

Kevin Mayall

Since 2013, BIOS has hosted marine planning coordinator Kevin Mayall, who has assisted the Government of Bermuda with its investigation of marine planning policy options. The approach is the first of its kind for the island, and involves a multi-year process of working collaboratively with government departments, ocean stakeholders, local and overseas scientists, commercial interests, conservation groups, and the general public to look at ways to create a plan for maintaining a healthy and productive relationship between Bermuda and the marine environment.

Why was your job created?
Officials in Bermuda’s government recognized the need for marine planning. The marine resources strategies and policies were heading in that direction, but capacity was lacking. So a position was created at BIOS to provide that extra help. Although the post was located at BIOS, government officials were involved in the recruitment and selection process. It was very much a partnership.

Why is it important to come up with a plan for Bermuda’s resources?
Marine planning is a forward-looking approach that details what we want our ocean spaces to look like, and how they should be used. It is an adaptation of land-use planning, which Bermudians are well acquainted with, to ocean spaces. This involves a process of collecting information about the available resources, analyzing potential conflicts, consulting with various stakeholders for that plan, and deciding how we want to use the space. On land, that may be allowing for more tourism, more residential housing, or more protection of woodlands, those types of things. For the ocean, there are different stakeholders. These include commercial fishermen, cargo ships, tourism, plus emerging stakeholders, such as for energy or aquaculture.

Bermuda has a lot of marine space to manage. Would you define what this means?
We want to focus on the ocean spaces in which our activities occur. This includes the reef platform, the edge to the base of the platform, and out to the banks.  A 2,000-meter depth contour encircles that area quite nicely and can serve as a boundary for a marine plan. The area inside that is about 20 times the island’s land size.

This has got to be a thorny job, with so many different stakeholders and voices.
Marine planning typically involves the balancing of multiple interests and activities.  In some countries, it might just focus on, for example, fishing and conservation practices. But other places may cast a wider net to include tourism, shipping, oil, and gas, as well as wind energy in their marine plans. A marine plan is more likely to be effective over the long term if it includes the full suite of activities and interests. In Bermuda, we have sets of regulations that cover different individual marine activities, but marine planning seeks to look across these more comprehensively in terms of their future, their impact on the ocean, and their impact on each other, thereby maximizing the benefits we receive from a well-managed ocean ecosystem.

Once you’ve identified everyone who has a stake, how do you come up with the plan?
Our process is to start with background research so that the plan can be based on the best available information.  We have focused on three main types of information. First, we have compiled information about the location and importance of all marine activities. Second, we have collected qualitative information from stakeholders about their concerns and priorities. This informs what they want out of a plan. Third, we are analyzing existing legislation to determine legal framework options in which marine planning could occur.

Where are you in the marine planning process?
We have been developing a foundation for a future planning process.  There has been background research into data that is available, informal interviews with stakeholders to gauge their priorities, and analyses of the legislation that governs marine activities and resources in Bermuda. We have a proposal or background report drafted, which is under review. But kicking off a marine planning process has to be undertaken by a government, and all resource planning occurs in a political arena. So the creation of a marine plan has to be among the political priorities of the day. We have just been doing preparations for the government to take that step if and when it is appropriate.  Our involvement is winding up this year and the work will be made available for any future take-up of marine planning.

At what point does the plan become instituted?
One aspect of marine planning is the data collection and stakeholder consultations to create the plan. Once a plan is created and accepted by the government, it needs to be implemented in a government setting.  That can take different forms, but the result is that you have a decision-making process, which reviews changes to the marine space before they take place in terms of their impact on the ocean and other activities. This gives stakeholders a voice. It is analogous to the review of proposed land-based developments by the planning department.

How did you get into this field?
I am Bermudian and grew up in St. George. My father is a retired commercial fisherman. I grew up sailing, fishing, and snorkeling on the reef, and I was involved in the Sea Cadets for many years, so I grew up in the water.  I have a doctorate degree in planning and I’m a specialist in GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and data systems, and came to marine planning through land use planning. I worked in the government’s planning department for several years, and I also served as a consultant. I’m not a marine scientist, but this project is more about the community planning process, data, and legislative interpretation. I think the land use planning background has definitely helped my current position.

What has been challenging?
Planning, whether marine or terrestrial, is a persistent challenge of trying to obtain, integrate, and interpret useful data, the views of stakeholders and the political priorities of the day, and then come up with a plan and process that tries to reconcile all of that.  Bermuda will need a comprehensive community discussion on its nearshore ocean priorities, which should be grounded in the best available data.  We have had to dispel some myths along the way.  For instance, conflict reduction has been an impetus for marine planning, but in Bermuda the need seems to be more around the integration of existing policies and regulations and the desire for a process that is inclusive and consultative. Also, it is clear that international developers for projects such as offshore wind or wave energy prefer a clearly defined application process over undefined negotiations with governments.  I think any push into offshore energy for Bermuda will necessitate the institution of a marine planning process.

What are you most proud of thus far, in this planning process?
It has been a multi-faceted project that requires the skills and perspectives of many people. I am pleased that we have been able to articulate the value of marine planning and adapted it to a way that makes sense for the Bermuda situation. We have a good community of marine experts and a foundation of data that can serve us well. I believe it is only a matter of timing before Bermuda implements a marine plan and I look forward to assisting with that in the future.