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The marine environment in the Caribbean is declining, local waters are overfished, many species are endangered and coral reefs have declined, but as Sandals Foundation Environmental Officer Jonathan Hernould puts it “there are things we are doing to make a difference.”

Hernould is referring to two specific projects the Sandals Foundation has undertaken over the past few years to reduce the negative impact humans have had on the Caribbean environment:
coral nurseries and turtle watching tours.

The coral nursery, part of the Boscobel Marine Sanctuary, is the product of a partnership with CARIBSAVE and Coral Restoration Foundation International. “This coral nursery will produce over 1000 coral per year to be replanted out on to the natural reefs in the surrounding area” says Hernould citing that at that rate the nursery will eventually cause a positive turnaround in the current massive decline in local coral reefs.

Coral nurseries are widely used to accelerate the recovery of reefs, particularly inside marine protected areas where the stressors that contributed to the decline of the reef (e.g. overfishing, pollution) have been reduced. This is the second nursery done by Coral Restoration Foundation in Jamaica, the first being implemented in the Bluefields Bay Fish Sanctuary. It takes a unique approach by using tree like structures instead of the traditional line nursery.

“If people recognize that all is not lost and that if we start now, we can help to achieve environmental stability then we are on way to a much brighter future.” states Mr. Hernould.

That future, according to Mr. Hernould, will also include the endangered Hawksbill turtle that visits our shores to nest typically between the months of April and November. The Sandals Foundation has partnered with the Oracabessa Foundation’s Mel Tennant who had successfully been operating the tour before.

Mr. Tennant moved to his home above Gibraltar beach in 2004. That year 8 turtles were killed and 12 nests were destroyed by poachers. Mr. Tennant began the Turtle programme immediately afterwards and in 2015 194 nests or over 20,000 turtles have been released back into the sea.

Since June of 2015 guests from Beaches Ocho Rios, Sandals Ochi Beach Resort and Sandals Royal Plantation have been able to travel to Gibraltar Beach in St. Ann to listen to Mr. Tennant educate them about sea turtles and then watch as hundreds of baby turtles make their journey to the sea. Proceeds from the Turtle Tour fund Mr. Tennant’s turtle incubation programme that started in December 2015 which is the also the first of its kind.

“Nests that are laid in the colder months of the year September, October, and November take longer to hatch. This affects the size and strength of the hatchlings, which lowers their chances of survival in the wild. By incubating these nests they hatch in an average of 60 days, this increases the turtles chances of survival.” says Mr. Tennant

“It’s a fascinating exposure to a critically endangered species and the tour serves to also help people understand that without their support this creature will become extinct”, Mr. Hernould explains passionately. “This is the only tour of its kind in Jamaica and we will keep supporting it until the Hawksbill and all other endangered turtles are off the watch list”.

The decline in both the coral and turtle population locally and regionally is precipitated by overfishing and the illegal harvesting of corals and turtle meat. Despite the worrying trends over the years Mr. Hernould believes the Sandals Foundation approach of educating guests and communities of the problems and actively trying to repopulate is a step in the right direction.

“This is a direct approach; the results happen right in front of us; by making these nurseries and incubation programmes possible, we directly affect the outcome. Environmental education and awareness is the other thing we focus on. By educating communities and children and by getting them involved in these kinds of programmes we can make positive steps towards helping our marine environment here in Jamaica and the Caribbean.”