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BAJAN TO DE BONE: Deep love for Barbados blue

GERCINE CARTER, [email protected]

BAJAN TO DE BONE: Deep love for  Barbados blue

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ANDRE MILLER has a love affair with the sea and a burning passion for the preservation of the reefs fringing Barbados and the marine life they support. 

Engage him in a conversation on these areas and he hardly breaks for the listener to make an intervention, so effusive is he in expressing the way he feels about the matter.

“I am conceited enough to think that our sea is different from everywhere else,” Miller said one morning last week while sitting on the upper deck of his Barbados Blue Watersports operation at Needham’s Point. Looking out to the placid waters of Carlisle Bay as a group of divers set out on a diving trip, the marine biologist remarked “That blue is actually called Barbados blue. That is a special blue.” It is the scene he takes in every day and of which he never tires.

There was a time when he was an employee of Government’s Coastal Zone Management Unit. Nowadays he is on a mission, devoting his knowledge and energies to a campaign for the regeneration of Barbados’ dying coral reefs, and to see more protected marine parks created around the island.

“These beaches are the foundation of everything we do,” he said and went on to express the anguish shared by other dive operators at seeing “what is happening to our reefs”.

“For over 30 years we have been tracking the decline and diversity of our coral reefs and our re-fish and we have been seeing very little being done to directly help or reverse the trend.”

Then turning to a large map of Barbados displayed on the upper deck of his shop, on which the island’s dive sites were clearly marked, he said: “Right now less than one per cent of our coastline is protected from overfishing. We think that it should be closer to 30 per cent.”

Miller maintained the establishment of more marine parks could reduce erosion of Barbados’ beaches and increase the fish stock.

“In a few years, by having some areas where fish are allowed to grow and replenish the stocks, eventually there is a spillover effect where there are bigger and more fish outside of the parks,” said the entrepreneur who referred to himself as “the son of a fisherman”.

“I am a marine biologist but beyond that, as my father used to call me, I am a glorified beach bum,” said the holder of a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in his field.

However, the picture he painted was not entirely gloomy as he conceded “a lot of good things are happening”. He lauded work being done with the sea turtle project, and the research efforts of the University of the West Indies and the Bellairs Research Institute, in particular.

But he insisted legal action was needed to halt the plundering of Barbados coral reefs.

“Right now every single reef in Barbados is essentially open season. Men are going in with spear guns, men are on the jetty with hooks, boats are passing with nets and fish pots. There are no rules, nobody guides it and we have to stop it and I am speaking as the son of the fisherman, I am speaking as a man who loves to fish as well.”

“We have to have some areas closed off,” he said, pointing out this had been done in Grenada,  Bonaire and Jamaica which, like Barbados, depend heavily on tourism.

He believes sustainability of the industry that is the mainstay of Barbados’ economy is paramount and is glad to see that hotels are being encouraged to install their own sewerage treatment plants as part of the sustainability process.

Miller was on stage at The Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association’s third quarterly meeting last week, among a panel of other young BHTA members making presentations on their respective areas of business and highlighting the impact on the industry. Their contribution to the association is highly valued.

He is encouraged by the work of fellow water sports operators who under the umbrella of the Barbados Dive Operators Association are playing their part to protect the reefs and doing so without fanfare.

“Nobody knows when we are taking hooks out of turtles, when we are picking up the garbage people are throwing into the sea, when we are putting moorings out there to stop anchor damage,” Miller said.

When making the rounds to fish markets training fishermen to dive, he is heartened to hear some fishermen express their understanding of the importance of protecting reefs and supporting the call for designated marine parks.

Barbados opened its first marine park in 1978 with the deliberate sinking of the 365-foot Greek freighter Stravronikita in Carlisle Bay. It has become Barbados’ prime diving site.

Just as his late father who owned shrimp trawlers and other fishing boats had taken him on a boat “before I could walk”, Miller gets satisfaction from seeing his sons, “ocean boys” display a similar passion for the sea. The eldest son, 18-year-old Ahjani, is the youngest free diver in Barbados, while 14-year-old Kazii is already proving himself as farmer/fisherman. Third son Jacob is just four.

Miller told the SUNDAY SUN: “I decided recently I am going to come out and I am going to speak for the fish. It is our livelihood and I am going to speak for the reef.” (GC)