Conserve Species to Protect Livelihoods in World’s Top Biodiversity Hotspots

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The Caribbean is one of the planet’s most important biodiversity hot-spots, and now one of its most threatened. Made up of 30 nations and territories, spanning 4 million square kilometres of ocean, and boasting 10,000 square kilometres of reef, the Caribbean is home to many fish and animal species - as well as thousands of plant species - that are found nowhere else on earth. 

The Caribbean is one of the planet’s most important biodiversity hot-spots, and now one of its most threatened. Made up of 30 nations and territories, spanning 4 million square kilometres of ocean, and boasting 10,000 square kilometres of reef, the Caribbean is home to many fish and animal species - as well as thousands of plant species - that are found nowhere else on earth. 

In addition to the 76 species of shark and 1,400 species of fish found there, the Caribbean’s shallow marine environment is a favoured pathway for many migratory species, including the great North Atlantic humpback whale, which can migrate up to 25,000km a year and is found breeding and giving birth in large numbers in the region’s tropical waters.

But the migratory species and biodiversity found across the Caribbean’s 700 islands are now under pressure. One of the most hurricane prone parts of the world, the Caribbean is set to experience more frequent and powerful storms and hurricanes due to climate change. Damage to hurricane-hit natural environments can be enormous. The storm surge from Hurricane Ivan in 2004 swamped the central mangrove area in the Cayman Islands leaving standing salt water that eventually destroyed vast areas of virgin mangrove swamp. Similarly, red mangroves in Guadeloupe lost as much as 75 percent of their surface area – or 80 percent of the biomass - after Hurricane Hugo.

The threat of climate change, coupled with habitat destruction, population growth, pollution, and industrial and commercial development means that the region’s rich biodiversity – and in particular its migratory species – are in increasing need of interventions to conserve and protect them. Such measures wouldn’t just be good news for conservation however. Whale and bird-watching, turtle nesting beaches and coral reefs attract tourists, and support local livelihoods and local economies.  Caribbean fisheries bring money to the region, and sharks such as the Shortfin, Mako and Silky help fisheries by regulating populations of other marine predators, allowing other prey populations to grow at healthy rates.

That is why the world’s leading experts on biodiversity from the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and UN Environment, have this week joined forces with the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) to prepare for what many hope will be the region’s accession to the CMS. With CARICOM representing 16 million citizens, the interests of the entire region in the future health and sustainability of its biodiversity and migratory species are being considered.

“I am impressed by the amount and the level of information I have received from CMS and other participants,” said Renata Goodridge, Senior Marine & Lab Technician at the University of the West Indies. “My eyes have been opened and I am now looking for ways to become a part of the CMS family.”

The CMS is an environmental treaty under the aegis of UN Environment that provides a global platform for the conservation and sustainable use of migratory animals and their habitats. It promotes the involvement of local people when designing and implementing conservation strategies and facilitates countries’ access to a global platform of experts. By joining the CMS countries can better ensure that the wildlife and the bountiful marine resources of the Caribbean are protected from multiple man-made and natural threats.

The meeting between members of the CARICOM, held in Bridgetown, Barbados from 31 August to 2 September, was funded by the Programme for Capacity-Building Related to Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) in African, Caribbean and Pacific Countries, known as the ACP-MEAs Programme. 

For more information on this story please contact niamh.brannigan [at] unep.org