Friends Of Exuma Harbour Fund Supports National And Local Organizations In Efforts To Preserve The Beautiful Seascapes Of Elizabeth Harbour And Moriah Harbour Cay National Park
Conserving the beauty of the waters of the Exumas and the life supported by these fascinating ecosystems is a high priority for the Friends of Exuma. One of our first goals as an organization was to establish a Harbour Fund to support the conservation efforts of national and local non-profits committed to conservation of Elizabeth Harbour and the Moriah Harbour Cay National Park. So far, Friends of Exuma has funded two foundational projects for the work of the Bahamas National Trust (BNT), the national non-government, non-profit organization tasked with management of national parks in The Bahamas, and the Elizabeth Harbour Conservation Partnership (EHCP), a local non-profit that is working to demonstrate sustainable management of Elizabeth Harbour.
A map view of Elizabeth Harbour and Moriah Harbour Cay National Park gives the best perspective of the areas where these conservation efforts are focused. The western boundary of Moriah Harbour Cay National Park is located on the eastern end of Elizabeth Harbour. The park extends east from George Town to Forbes Hill along the shorelines of Great and Little Exuma and out into the deep Exuma Sound. Because of the interconnected nature of Elizabeth Harbour and Moriah Harbour Cay National Park, the BNT and the EHCP have formed a partnership to work on mutually beneficial goals and minimize the impact of some common stressors on the environment.
A big focus in Moriah Harbour Cay National Park and in Elizabeth Harbour is the protection and restoration of seagrass meadows that have experienced chronic impacts over the years from tourism and development. Anchoring, dredging, and declining water quality have taken a toll on this important ecosystem, compromising the functions of seagrass in stabilizing sediments. The seagrass ecosystem provides a foraging and feeding habitat for fish, sea turtles, conch, and crustaceans and cycles nutrients to keep the harbour waters clean and clear. Both organizations are working to install moorings, monitor this important ecosystem, and promote efforts to re-establish pump out services for visiting boats to the area.
Endangered and threatened species are also on the priority list for conservation. There are several cays included in the Moriah Harbour Cay National Park that allow for the protection of land-based animals and plants.
Endangered species such as the Sandy Cay Rock Iguana are of global concern and are protected within the park. Vulnerable seabird and shorebird species also rely on undisturbed foraging and nesting habitats on the sandy shores and sand bars within the park.
Underwater, Elizabeth Harbour and Moriah Harbour Cay National Park provide vital habitats for important species such as Queen Conch, Nassau Grouper, and Elkhorn and Staghorn Coral. Coral is an important part of the underwater ecosystem by providing safe spaces for marine life during all stages of the life cycle. Coral reefs throughout the world are endangered, but healthy populations still thrive in the waters around Exuma. As the island develops, it is critical to maintain water quality that ensures these reefs stay disease-free, the waters stay clear, and the corals maintain resilience against threats such as abnormally warm sea temperatures. One of the underlying goals of both the BNT and the EHCP is to ensure that conservation efforts are community-based, meaning that the local perspective is respected and included, and local Exumians are given the opportunity to participate and benefit.
Friends of Exuma has supported two projects that are helping to achieve community-based conservation. One grant issued from the Friends of Exuma Harbour Fund to the BNT is currently supporting an Oral History Project. Leaders of this project are interviewing elders within the settlements of George Town, Rolle Towne, Hartswell, The Ferry, The Cottage, and Forbes Hill which are located along the park boundary, in order to document their stories. These communities have deep connections to the land and seascapes of Moriah Harbour Cay National Park having utilized the area historically for farming, fishing conching, and sailing. The stories of their way of life help to understand the culture of the people of these island communities and the importance of preserving traditions in park management. Another grant from the Harbour Fund has supported the EHCP to create a strategic plan that includes creating opportunities for local entrepreneurs, creating working partnerships with the government, and financial sustainability.
With your help Friends of Exuma can continue to support these efforts of conservation and preservation within Moriah Harbour Cay National Park and Elizabeth Harbour. We look forward to connecting our donors with the non-profits driving the initiatives and fostering community ties that make our efforts meaningful. Please feel free to reach out with questions. All donations to the Harbour Fund are tax deductible in the US and go directly to fund approved projects and programs by the BNT and EHCP.