The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has long been a model for setting up large marine protected areas.
Most of the sanctuary's accolades have been about the success of setting aside special areas to avoid user conflicts, protecting fish spawning aggregations and working with the community before implementing closed areas.
However, 25 marine park officials from 10 Caribbean countries met at the sanctuary's headquarters in Key West last week to learn about how to step up law enforcement efforts in marine protected areas in their own countries. The seminar was put on by a private company called MPA Enforcement International and was run in conjunction with the National Marine Sanctuary Program and NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program. MPA Enforcement International is comprised of former and current Florida and federal marine officers.
Many of the foreign marine parks that participated last week are still in their infancy and struggling with rule compliance and earning the respect of local fishermen. The program managers have their government's approval, but still lack all of the infrastructure and financial needs to make the programs completely effective, they said. Many of the marine officers don't carry weapons and their arrest powers are extremely limited. Even their uniforms make them look more like tour guides instead of law enforcement officers, they charge.
C.J. Moliniere-Beausejour is struggling to beef up law enforcement efforts in the marine protection areas off the island of Grenada. He and his fellow park rangers do not carry guns and can only write summons for fishermen to appear before a judge. They can't issue tickets. He also contends the fines are extremely outdated and do little to deter fishing crimes.
The protected areas have only been in place for two years and Moliniere-Beausejour's rangers just wrote their first summons this year. The man was spearfishing with scuba gear, which is illegal. He was previously warned, Moliniere-Beausejour said. The case has yet to be resolved and the man missed his first court appearance.
Moliniere-Beausejour argues that having uniforms that look similar to police or the military would go a long way.
"We want to have more of a commanding presence," he said.
Giacomo Palavicini, who oversees the marine park on the island of Roatan off Honduras, wants a clear way to enforce fisheries laws in his country. Park officials there also do not carry weapons and have limited ticketing powers.
Palavicini and Moliniere-Beausejour agreed that education, especially targeting students, is an effective way of reaching the community and gaining compliance.
"Many of them have fished, but have not actually snorkeled," Palavicini said. "Once they get in the water and see the reef, they understand why they need to protect it."
The participants went through real-life scenarios such as boarding boats and dealing with hostile fishermen. The exercises allowed sanctuary law enforcement officers to show the park managers how to deal with fishermen, despite not being armed.
The goal of the exercises is to challenge them on how to deal with people, using their wits and understanding people's body language, Jayson Horadam, an event organizer and a former Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer, said.
"We want to give them the tools and training to be successful."