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From Paper Parks to The Real Thing

The U.S. has one of the world’s best parks systems. Now, others are trying to follow our lead.

The Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park, known worldwide for its unspoiled beauty and breathtaking marine environment, attracts thousands of visitors annually and supports thriving tourism-based businesses. Managed by the Bahamas National Trust, which works closely with The Nature Conservancy, the 112,000-acre park, abundant with reefs, blue holes and forested cays, is part of a larger effort to create a sustainable park system in the Bahamas.

The Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park, known worldwide for its unspoiled beauty and breathtaking marine environment, attracts thousands of visitors annually and supports thriving tourism-based businesses. Managed by the Bahamas National Trust, which works closely with The Nature Conservancy, the 112,000-acre park, abundant with reefs, blue holes and forested cays, is part of a larger effort to create a sustainable park system in the Bahamas.

When Eleanor Phillips talks about the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park, the excitement in her voice is evident as she describes the Bahamas’ most recognized national park and the first of its kind in the world. It’s also well-deserved, as the park, with more than 112,000 acres of beaches, estuaries, reefs, blue holes and forested cays, attracts thousands of visitors every year and supports thriving tourism-based businesses.

By all accounts the park, which was established in 198 and made a protected replenishment zone by the Bahamas National Trust in 1986, is a shining success story. The fish populations have improved in waters outside the no-fishing replenishment zone and the park continues to provide habitat where iguanas forage in the bushes for food, ea turtles lay their eggs on undisturbed beaches, endangered Kirtland’s warblers migrate to their winter homes on cays, and the Hutia, the sole terrestrial mammal native to the Bahamas, is free to roam. Yet Phillips, The Nature Conservancy’s director for the Northern Caribbean, is quick to note that the park, an ambitious and ongoing undertaking, is part of a larger effort underway to create a sustainable park system in the Bahamas and throughout the Caribbean.

We had a park system that was established by the Bahamian Parliament but which was grossly under-funded and lacking in resources and staffing,” says Phillips. “Ten years ago The Nature Conservancy established a program in the Bahamas to strengthen the Bahamas National Trust, an organization mandated by the Bahamas government to manage the national parks.

As one of 26 national parks and other protected areas across the Bahamas, the Exuma site continues to be faced with the same funding and management challenges that plague national parks around the world, but that are particularly prevalent in developing regions with relatively young park systems.

Read the entire article in the Summer 2011 issue