Initiative to protect Caribbean

A group of Caribbean nations has launched an unprecedented initiative to protect the region’s marine and coastal resources.

The Nature Conservancy, a leading conservation organisation working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters, is coordinating with the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines to execute the Caribbean Challenge – an effort by regional governments to build political support and generate long-term funding to protect at least 20 per cent of participating countries’ marine and coastal habitats by 2020.

Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis, Dominica and St Lucia are considering the initiative and are expected to sign on in coming weeks.

A release from The Nature Conservancy said that the initiative represents the largest coordinated, multi-nation conservation campaign in the region.

“Countries that sign-on to the Caribbean Challenge will gain access to millions of dollars in new funding to meet their conservation goals, leading to more rangers, patrol boats, scientific expertise and education programmes that will help to ensure effective protection of marine and coastal resources,” the release added.

“The Caribbean Challenge will endow more than US$40 million in protected area trust funds to ensure that important marine and coastal habitats are protected in perpetuity,” said acting president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy, Stephanie Meeks.

“This is a small investment today for the priceless, long-term benefit of protecting the fish stocks and tourism-related livelihoods of the more than 10 million people living within the Challenge’s participating nations.”

Over the next four years, the Conservancy will work alongside the participating Caribbean governments to set aside nearly 7.4 million acres of marine and coastal habitat in protected areas, improve fisheries management and establish sustainable finance mechanisms.

“The Caribbean Challenge supports these countries in their efforts to protect their coasts for the long-term,” said Chief Conservation Strategies Officer for The Nature Conservancy, Rebecca Patton.

“Their leadership is an inspiration, and has the potential to spark similar initiatives in other countries within the Caribbean and around the globe.”

“Globally, the island nations most threatened by climate change are doing the most to protect their coasts. They are on the front lines and feeling the heat, but they’re taking proactive measures to protect their resources,” she added.

The Caribbean Challenge is the third large-scale regional initiative to be launched in the past three years, adding to a global trend of island leaders pledging to protect vast percentages of their marine and coastal resources.

“In the Caribbean, destructive fishing methods, pollution and climate change are posing enormous threats to the area’s coral reefs, which nurture marine life, attract tourists and provide local jobs,” said the statement from The Nature Conservancy.

“Marine Protected Areas are considered to be an effective method for combating these threats, by establishing no-take fishing zones and promoting restoration of coral reefs and marine ecosystems. However, only seven per cent of the Caribbean’s marine resources have official marine protected area status, and just one in six of these protected areas are considered by scientists to be effectively and sustainably conserved for the long-term.

“This puts the Caribbean’s marine habitats and coral reef resources at great risk, threatening island economies as well as the region’s unique plants and animals,” it added.