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1 . Bahamas     Bahamas
The Bahamas, an archipelago of some 700 islands and numerous reefs, stretch over 1 225 kilometers from north to south. Most of these islands are scattered over two shallow banks, the Little Bahama Bank and the Great Bahama Bank, with depths of 10 meters or less bounded by extremely deep water of up to 4 000 meters. The Bahamas are named after these banks: baja mar is Spanish for “shallow sea”. The other islands occur on smaller, more isolated, banks to the southeast (principally the Crooked, Mayaguana and Inagua Banks) and the west (Cay Sal Bank). To the south, Hogsty Reef is one of the few atoll-type structures in the Caribbean. All the Bahamian islands have low relief and are formed from carbonate material, laid down by corals and calcareous algae, or by physical deposition from saturated water. Successive ice ages exposed these carbonate platforms, and wind-blown sand dunes created at much the same time subsequently lithified, further raising the elevation in some areas.

Reef development in much of the Bahamas is naturally limited by the exposure to hurricanes of the windward sites, by unusually cold winters in the northern islands and by turbid, high salinity waters on many leeward bank margins. However there are thousands of small patch reefs, dozens of narrow fringing reefs and some bank barrier reefs, such as the Andros Barrier Reef which is one of the longest reef systems in the Western Atlantic. Many Bahamian reefs are in fairly good condition, which is probably due to limited anthropogenic disturbance associated with their remoteness and the country’s low population density.

Edible reef animals are still common on many Bahamian reefs, and fish stocks are generally abundant. There is a well developed commercial and export fishery, with total landings in 1999 close to 5 000 tons, valued at over US$70 million. This figure includes over 2 700 tons of the very high value spiny lobster tails. There is local overexploitation of certain stocks, including whelk Cittarum pica, queen conch, spiny lobster and several species of grouper. Concern has been expressed that spawning aggregations of groupers have become the target for spearfishers. A number of illegal fishing activities occur which include the use of toxic chemicals, the harvesting of hawksbill turtles, the taking of undersized or juvenile queen conch, and the collection of spiny lobster out of season or with prohibited diving gear. Artificial shelters are often positioned close to reefs to attract spiny lobsters, although there is concern that these may simply aggregate existing spiny lobsters rather than enhancing natural stocks. There is a limited legal harvest of adult green turtles during an open season (April-July). Sand is still being mined from a few reef sites on a fairly small scale. Over half of the commercial dive sites have mooring buoys. Declines in coral cover have been recorded in some locations. On New Providence dredging, landfill, sedimentation and the construction of a cruiseship port have led to the loss of 60 percent of the coral reef habitat.

The Bahamas is a stable, developing nation with an economy heavily dependent on tourism and offshore banking. Tourism alone accounts for more than 60 percent of gross domestic product and directly or indirectly employs 40 percent of the archipelago’s labor force. Moderate growth in tourism receipts and a boom in the construction of new hotels, resorts and residences has led to localized pressures on coral reefs, but the total area is so great that the majority of reefs are probably little affected. Overall prospects for the conservation of the marine environment in the Bahamas will depend heavily on the fortunes of the tourism sector and continued income growth in the USA, which accounts for the majority of tourist visitors.
Source: Spalding, M.D., C. Ravilious and E.P. Green , 2001 , World Atlas of Coral Reefs . Prepared at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre. University of California Press,Berkeley,USA.421p. (See Document)

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