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Oracabessa Bay


Conservation benefit: Increased enforcement of fish sanctuary regulations

Community benefit: Floating dock

Date Approved: 02.2019


This project protects ocean ecosystems, making coastal communities more economically and physically secure in the face of climate change.

Years of overfishing have severely depleted Jamaica’s fish stocks. One bright spot, however, is the 225-acre Oracabessa Bay Fish Sanctuary on the country’s northern coast. The sanctuary is the result of a joint effort by the nonprofit Oracabessa Foundation and the St. Mary Fishermen’s Cooperative, the local fishermen’s organization.

The government formally recognized the fish sanctuary in 2010. By 2014, removing fishing pressure yielded huge benefits: a 1,313% increase in fish biomass, a 153% increase in coral coverage, and a 43% reduction in algae coverage. Average fish size doubled. (Source: Jamaica National Environment and Planning Agency.) Today, two-foot-long tarpon swim next to the dock—something seen nowhere else in Jamaica. Thousands of hawksbill turtles hatch on reclaimed Gibraltar Beach each year. Fisherfolk can now make a decent living outside the protected area, and they fully support the sanctuary.

To enforce the no-take rules, fishers from the cooperative patrol the sanctuary. The government is supposed to pay them for this work, but payments are currently six months behind—and in any case, are far less than a living wage. To generate revenue to pay for 24-hour patrolling, the Oracabessa Foundation is opening a small dive shop.

The foundation has already built the dive shop. With Seacology support, it will add a floating dock, so visitors can get to the dive center safely. A floating structure will last longer than a traditional one, and it can be pulled out of the water during big storms.

Project Updates

January 2020

The dock project was completed under budget, and Seacology approved our nonprofit partner’s request to use the remaining funds for the fish sanctuary’s ongoing coral restoration program. The funds supported the repair and maintenance of coral nurseries throughout a bleaching episode, and the subsequent outplanting of 250 corals onto reefs in the sanctuary. Some corals couldn’t be planted because they were damaged by the bleaching event; they will be planted when they have recovered fully.

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November 2019

The dock, which because of its design can be pulled out of the water to avoid damage before a big storm, and has been installed. In October, the Oracabessa Bay Foundation honored Seacology at a ceremony to mark the opening of the dive shop.

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May 2019

The Oracabessa Bay Foundation, which worked with local fishermen to establish the very successful 150-acre Oracabessa Bay Fish Sanctuary, has now built a small dive shop near the no-take zone. It will use the proceeds to increase patrols to 24 hours a day. This Seacology grant is funding a small floating dock. The dock is being manufactured and should be ready to ship to Oracabessa Bay in June.

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