Protecting Nature's Hotspots for people and prosperity

Executive Summary

Caribbean Islands

Executive Summary

Everyone depends on Earth’s ecosystems and their life-sustaining benefits, such as clean air, fresh water and healthy soils. Founded in 2000, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) has become a global leader in enabling civil society to participate in and benefit from conserving some of the world’s most critical ecosystems. CEPF is a joint initiative of l'Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the World Bank. As one of the founders, Conservation International administers the global program through a CEPF Secretariat. CEPF provides grants for nongovernmental and other private organizations to help protect biodiversity hotspots, Earth’s most biologically rich and threatened areas. The convergence of critical areas for conservation with millions of people who are impoverished and highly dependent on healthy ecosystems is more evident in the hotspots than anywhere else.

CEPF is unique among funding mechanisms in that it focuses on biological areas rather than political boundaries and examines conservation threats on a landscape-scale basis. From this perspective, CEPF seeks to identify and support a regional, rather than a national, approach to achieving conservation outcomes and engages a wide range of public and private institutions to address conservation needs through coordinated regional efforts.

The Caribbean Islands Hotspot includes the biologically and culturally diverse islands of the Bahamas, Greater Antilles, Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Lesser Antilles and the Netherlands Antilles. This represents a complex region of 12 independent nations and several British, Dutch, French and U.S. overseas territories. The hotspot supports exceptionally diverse ecosystems, ranging from montane cloud forests to cactus scrublands. It has dozens of highly threatened species, including two species of solenodon (giant shrews) and the Cuban crocodile.

Like its natural diversity, the cultural and socioeconomic diversity of the hotspot is incredibly high. It includes indigenous American, Hispanic, African, Anglo-Saxon, French and Asian cultures. With the exception of Haiti, which is the least-developed country in the Americas, the hotspot’s nations are considered to be of middle to high income. But economic inequity is at high levels even in some of the richer countries and poverty is a concern across the region.

The Ecosystem Profile for the Caribbean Islands Hotspot was developed through a process of stakeholder consultation and expert research studies coordinated by BirdLife International (Caribbean Program) in collaboration with Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust / Bath University, and the New York Botanical Garden, with technical support from Conservation International’s Center for Applied Biodiversity Science. At least 200 stakeholders representing more than 160 governmental and nongovernmental institutions contributed to the development of this profile.

The ecosystem profile presents an overview of the hotspot in terms of its biological importance, climate change impacts, major threats to and root causes of biodiversity loss, socioeconomic context and current conservation investments. It provides a suite of measurable conservation outcomes, identifies funding gaps and opportunities for investment, and thus identifies the niche where CEPF investment can provide the greatest incremental value. It also contains a five-year investment strategy for CEPF in the region. This investment strategy comprises a series of strategic funding opportunities, termed strategic directions, broken down into a number of investment priorities outlining the types of activities that will be eligible for CEPF funding. The ecosystem profile does not include specific project concepts, as civil society groups will develop these as part of their applications for CEPF grant funding.

Conservation Outcomes

A systematic conservation planning process was undertaken to identify the highest priorities for conservation. The ecosystem profile identifies 290 key biodiversity areas and seven biodiversity conservation corridors for the Caribbean Islands Hotspot. Of the 290 key biodiversity areas identified for this profile, 209 contain coastal and marine ecosystems. Many of these sites provide habitat for important marine species. For instance, 18 key biodiversity areas harbor the highest densities of sea turtle nesting sites in the hotspot, with more than 100 crawls annually by globally threatened sea turtle species. Mangroves are a critical feature in a number of key biodiversity areas and all support exceptionally high numbers of globally threatened species. The corridors encompass groupings of these key biodiversity areas of high priority due to their importance for maintaining ecosystem resilience, ecosystem services values, and the health and richness of the hotspot’s biological diversity.

Other Important Considerations

The diverse ecosystems and biodiversity of the region are subject to many immediate and long-term threats. The economy is heavily reliant on tourism, the growth of which will demand more land and will consume more resources, such as energy and water. Growth of mining in some countries, and its sometimes negative impact on human and environmental health, is a concern. Development and agriculture are taking a toll on fishing areas that are important as local food source and for employment and foreign exchange earnings. Invasive species and infectious disease also threaten habitats. Over-exploitation of resources, including hunting and collection of eggs, continue to take their toll. The hotspot is also vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. There is little awareness of the importance of ecosystem services and costs of their loss, and areas important for these services, such as wetlands, forest reserves and other protected areas, are undervalued. Policy and law in the region tends not to address the underlying causes of environmental issues, such as population increase. In addition, government and nongovernmental organizations charged with protecting the environment are hampered by a lack of capacity.

CEPF Niche and Investment Strategy

CEPF’s niche for investment in the Caribbean Islands Hotspot was formulated through an inclusive, participatory process that engaged civil society, donor and governmental stakeholders throughout the region, and is based on an analysis of information gathered during the profile preparation process. While information from all countries in the hotspot has been compiled, this section focuses on determining where CEPF can add the greatest value in the following countries currently eligible to receive CEPF funds as both signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity and World Bank client countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In addition, the Bahamas and Barbados are included as priorities for CEPF investment because of their eligibility to receive GEF funds specifically.

Analysis and consultations conducted during the profile process demonstrate that the Caribbean Islands Hotspot is at a crossroad in its development trajectory. With few exceptions, most countries in the hotspot have built economies classified as middle income that are heavily reliant on ecosystem services, particularly for tourism, agriculture and fisheries. The region’s ecosystems provide vital freshwater resources, help to mitigate the impacts of hurricanes, regulate local climate and rainfall, prevent soil erosion, produce hydroelectricity and yield locally consumed non-timber forest products. Additionally, the hotspot spans more than 4 million km2 of ocean and has many thousands of kilometers of productive coastal and near-shore habitats. The coastal and marine environments are essential for the tourism and fisheries sectors. Both terrestrial and marine ecosystems host unique assemblages of flora and fauna of high global importance.

However, this profile also reveals that these island ecosystems are particularly fragile, finite and under significant pressure. The advent of climate change and its disproportionate impacts on the islands of the Caribbean, combined with continued population growth, emphasizes the importance of maintaining what intact ecosystems remain, of strengthening their resilience and of restoring degraded ecosystems. This imperative is not only critical for maintaining biodiversity but also has clear implications for the future welfare of the people of the Caribbean.

Important opportunities exist to leverage support for the kind of approaches that will help lay a foundation for a more sustainable economic base and future. Responsibility for natural resource management in the Caribbean lies primarily with national governments, which, together with international donors, are investing significant resources in natural resources management and conservation. However, the complexity of the challenge requires that civil society in all its various forms, from national environmental groups to small community-based organizations, must also fulfill a vital role as key advocates of and stewards for biodiversity and the benefits it provides for people.

CEPF’s niche in the Caribbean Islands Hotspot will be to support civil society groups so that they can serve as effective advocates, facilitators and leaders for conservation and sustainable development of their islands. Civil society groups are in a unique position in the Caribbean to fulfill this role, as they have significant knowledge of and experience with the biodiversity held in individual key biodiversity areas and conservation corridors, and they can bridge local development aspirations with longer term conservation goals. In several islands, civil society groups have been the key advocates for development approaches that are environmentally sustainable, particularly for mining and tourism development. Their biological expertise, field experience and leadership role for environmental sustainability puts them in a unique position to help preserve their environment.

To ensure the greatest incremental contribution to the conservation of the global biodiversity values of the Caribbean Islands Hotspot, CEPF investment will focus on 45 of the highest-priority key biodiversity areas, many of which are embraced by six conservation corridors. Many of these key biodiversity areas are coastal and dependent on the health and resilience of the adjacent marine environment and as such, CEPF will adopt the 12-nautical-mile territorial sea definition established by the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea as the outermost limit for CEPF attention and investment. This means that conservation actions pertaining to a coastal key biodiversity area can include, as necessary, the belt of ocean measured seaward from the coastal nation and subject to its sovereignty. The full list of priorities is provided in the profile.

Four strategic directions will guide the CEPF investment, as follows:

Strategic Directions

Investment Priorities

1. Improve protection and management of 45 priority key biodiversity areas 1.1 Prepare and implement management plans in the 17 highest-priority key biodiversity areas
1.2 Strengthen the legal protection status in the remaining 28 key biodiversity areas
1.3 Improve management of invasive species in the 45 priority key biodiversity areas
1.4 Support the establishment or strengthening of sustainable financing mechanisms
2. Integrate biodiversity conservation into landscape and development planning and implementation in six conservation corridors 2.1 Mainstream biodiversity conservation and ecosystem service values into development policies, projects and plans, with a focus on addressing major threats such as unsustainable tourism development, mining, agriculture and climate change
2.2 Strengthen public and private protected areas systems through improving or introducing innovative legal instruments for conservation
2.3 Prepare and support participatory local and corridor-scale land-use plans to guide future development and conservation efforts
2.4Promote nature-based tourism and sustainable agriculture and fisheries to enhance connectivity and ecosystem resilience and promote sustainable livelihoods
3. Support Caribbean civil society to achieve biodiversity conservation by building local and regional institutional capacity and by fostering stakeholder collaboration 3.1 Support efforts to build and strengthen the institutional capacity of civil society organizations to undertake conservation initiatives and actions
3.2 Enable local and regional networking, learning and best-practice sharing approaches to strengthen stakeholder involvement in biodiversity conservation
4. Provide strategic leadership and effective coordination of CEPF investment through a regional implementation team 4.1 Build a broad constituency of civil society groups working across institutional and political boundaries toward achieving the shared conservation goals described in the ecosystem profile

This portfolio also includes special emergency support to Haitian civil society to mitigate the impacts of the 2010 earthquake. This support was approved separately by the Donor Council in March 2010 and has been incorporated as a fifth strategic direction, Provide emergency support to Haitian civil society to mitigate the impacts of the 2010 earthquake.


The Caribbean Islands Hotspot is one of the world’s greatest centers of biodiversity and endemism, yet its biodiversity and the natural services it provides are highly threatened. Although the islands have protected areas systems, most are inadequately managed and important areas lack protection. This strategy will ensure that CEPF funds are employed in the most effective manner and generate significant conservation results that not only complement the actions of other stakeholders but also enable significant expansion of strategic conservation for the benefit of all.
Document: The Caribbean Islands Ecosystem Profile, January 2010
English (PDF - 1.63 MB) / Français (PDF - 2.6 MB)