The Caribbean is recognized for its sea, coastlines and harbors that contain the world’s richest marine biodiversity, 1,400 species of fish, miles of mangroves and 10 percent of the world’s coral reefs. In 2008, recognizing the area was increasingly threatened by development, pollution, overfishing and climate change, the Caribbean Challenge Initiative (CCI) was launched with support from the Nature Conservancy. Ten of the participating CCI countries and territories committed to conserve at least 20 percent of their nearshore marine and coastal environments in national marine protected areas by 2020 and create National Conservation Trust Funds, endowed by new sustainable finance mechanisms dedicated to solely funding park management.
Since then participating CCI countries have declared 50 new marine/coastal protected areas. The Dominican Republic has exceeded its 20 percent goal by creating more than 30 new protected areas. The Bahamas established the largest marine protected area in the region by expanding a national park in Andros from 185,000 acres to 1.28 million acres. Jamaica has set up several no take fishing sanctuaries and fisherman say they are seeing improvements.
This past May, Richard Branson, CEO of the Virgin Group and the Prime Ministers of Grenada and the British Virgin Islands, co-hosted a meeting on Necker Island, to accelerate conservation action and funding. The gathering included delegations from nine Caribbean countries, chiefs of resort companies and cruise lines, representatives of the World Bank, United Nations and other international bodies, private foundations and environmental groups.
The two day summit resulted in a commitment of $64 million to the initiative. The participants also identified areas for further work including the need to create protection for sharks and rays across the Caribbean region; the establishment of a clear regulatory framework that delivers a systemic and regional approach to conservation of the marine and coastal environment and a dramatic acceleration in the transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources over the next five years.
Glenn Prickett, Chief External Affairs Officer for the Conservancy said: “ this event has demonstrated that no longer is protecting nature viewed as a luxury, it is critical to the success of the region’s economy.”