GENEVA: With just under four months to go until Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve welcomes its first cruise guests, MSC Cruises - the Swiss-based, world's largest privately-owned cruise line - revealed more details of the unique experience that awaits visitors.
The vision for the island is to immerse guests in the natural beauty of their surroundings in the Bahamas. Ocean Cay is founded on a deep commitment to ecological principles - beliefs that shape everything from how venues are built and how the island is run, to the kinds of activities featured on the island.
Work is underway to design opportunities for guests to learn about the protection of the oceans and the importance of preserving coral reefs through dedicated edutainment programs.
The Bahamas is renowned for its beautiful blue waters and white sandy beaches, and its oceans are home to a diverse ecosystem that needs to be safeguarded for a promising future. As part of the development of Ocean Cay, MSC Cruises is working to establish the roadmap for the restoration of marine resources, including habitats and species present in the area. This will include the restoration of endangered corals, and the implementation of other conservation and educational programs.
The island is situated within protected waters spanning 64 square miles, but the ambition is to further extend this parameter to ensure an even greater impact. MSC Cruises' guests will have an incredible opportunity to discover the wonders of the ocean in this special part of the world.
ENVIRONMENTAL RESTORATION FOR THE FUTURE
To better understand conservation needs and map out key environmental initiatives, MSC Cruises commissioned a Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) that provided a short term overview of the waters around Ocean Cay.
MSC Cruises has placed a priority on the restoration of coral in the waters surrounding Ocean Cay. An integral part of the marine ecosystem, coral needs to be protected as they maintain biodiversity, provide a habitat for marine life and protect coastlines. Now that the waters around the island are protected and it is no longer an industrial site once used for sand excavation, the seabed is returning to normal. The hope is that the coral will again begin to thrive. Plans are underway to establish a coral nursery on the East side of the island with the goal of propagating even more coral, particularly the more endangered varieties.
The recent survey established that there are three types of coral that can be found in abundance — primarily Agaricia agaricites known as lettuce coral; Porites astreoides commonly known as mustard hill coral or yellow porites; and Siderastrea also known as massive starlet coral. These species are more capable of withstanding harsh temperature conditions and siltation than other species. Also found around the island during the assessment is the critically endangered Acropora palmata known as Elkhorn Coral. Four distinct colonies of this species were observed along the rocky shoreline of these cays. Over time these corals will become candidates for restoration in the coral nursery.
The Ocean Cay team is already seeing an increase in marine life in the area, and the REA identified 88 different species of fish around the island as well as lobster, sea turtles and rays. An important feature of the ecosystem in this region that was assessed is the queen conch, Lobatus gigas. The conch is a large sea snail and lives in the seagrass beds around Ocean Cay and helps to keep the water clean from algal produced by seagrass. The conch is one of the most important fishery species in these waters and a symbol of The Bahamas. However, conch populations have seen dramatic declines in recent years and some of the few remaining breeding populations are those within marine protected areas in The Bahamas. Ocean Cay is a productive conch habitat, and steps will be taken to ensure the protection of the conch to thrive.
In addition to paving the way for the future of the island's ecosystem, work is well underway to finalize the guest experience and welcome the new guests in November. Every aspect of the island is being developed with the vision of creating a truly memorable experience founded in the core philosophy of the island - the discovery of nature.
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