Barren: How dead coral reef systems appear. *Photo supplied
Barren: How dead coral reef systems appear. *Photo supplied
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FRIDAY, MARCH 30: Destroying Bermuda’s pristine coral reefs would have a catastrophic and irreversible effect on the island, according to a leading scientist.

The warning from Dr Samia Sarkis comes as politicians consider whether to shipping channels should be widened and deepened to accommodate bigger cruise ships.

Dr Sarkis told the Bermuda Sun that the island’s reefs provided benefits worth up to $1.1 billion every year just though protecting the coast from storm, boosting tourism and supporting commercial and recreational fishing.

She said that the government and the community could not afford to lose the reefs.

Critical

The senior researcher at Conservation Services added: “The coral reef system is a critical component of our daily lives, it provides us with part of our diet, it protects our homes, and it brings us tourism revenue.

“It would be a shame to let it slip and only realize how great a role it plays in our well-being, once it’s lost.”

Just last year a report commissioned by the Department of Transport looked into ways that Town Cut could be widened, as well as the possibility of dredging the North and the South Channels.

And in this year’s budget speech Transport Minister Derrick Burgess talked about finalizing channel
development work to ensure that ships transiting the North Channel are able to do so with sufficient margin of safety.

Dr Sarkis said: “The long term effects of marine developments deemed necessary for short term benefits need to be closely considered, as they can be critical to human wellbeing.

“The figures reveal just how important the reefs are to the island.

“Around 42 per cent of fish caught by commercial fishermen in Bermuda depend on reefs.

“100 per cent of the commercial lobster fishery depends on coral reefs.

“Coral reefs are Bermuda’s prime tourism asset. According to the economic valuation by Conservation Services 38 per cent of tourists visiting the island are motivated to come to Bermuda for a reason associated with its pristine coral reefs.

“All of Bermuda’s beaches are formed from coral reefs.

“Coral reefs are also natural breakwaters as the reef acts as a buffer against waves from storms and hurricanes.

“A preliminary assessment of the coastal protection value of coral reefs is $266 million per year.

“We simply can not afford to lose our reefs for a variety of reasons.”

The Sun contacted government to ask if there had been any further developments or decisions after the report on the islands shipping channels was published last year.

But we did not receive any comment.