Protecting Nature's Hotspots for people and prosperity

Socioeconomic, Policy, and Civil Society Context of the Region

Caribbean Islands

Socioeconomic, Policy, and Civil Society Context of the Region

The Caribbean Islands have a high cultural, political, economic and social diversity, but share commonalities in terms of their history (European colonization, dominance of the plantation system), culture (Creole societies built on the early elimination of indigenous societies, importation of slave labor and blending of traditions originating from various continents) and ethnic compositions (high diversity, relatively small indigenous Amerindian populations and large numbers of people of African descent) (Brown et al. 2007).

Human Demography and

Impact on Environment

Historical Context

There had been several waves of human colonization of the Caribbean prior to its “discovery” by the Europeans, with the earliest archaeological evidence dating back to 6,000-7,000 BP (Fitzpatrick and Keegan 2007). Three main groups were present before the European arrival—the Ciboney people, restricted to parts of Cuba; the Arawak (Taino or Lucayan) people across the Greater Antilles and the Bahamas; and the Carib people in the Lesser Antilles. The arrival of Europeans led to the disappearance of these groups from most islands within one or two generations, and the islands are now a complex mosaic of cultures and ethnic groups combining indigenous American, Hispanic, African, Anglo-Saxon, French and Asian cultures. Settlement histories on the islands are complex and often very different even within the same country.

The initial Amerindian peoples of the Caribbean had little negative impact on the environment in terms of habitat destruction but they did introduce alien species of plants and animals, primarily from South America, that have since become integral parts of Caribbean ecosystems. This “creolization” of the flora and fauna was accelerated by the Europeans with further species introduced from South and Central America, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Pacific, leading to a radical transformation of the natural environment and destruction of natural ecosystems, primarily to accommodate the establishment of the plantation system based on slave labor and geared toward export markets.

Demographic Trends

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the human population of the Caribbean is estimated to have been 750,000. The regional population grew (after the decimation of its indigenous peoples) to 2.2 million in 1800, but in the following 200 years it increased enormously to its current level of around 38.4 million. The most populated islands are Cuba (11.2 million), the Dominican Republic (9.6 million) and Haiti (8.3 million) but the highest population densities occur on Barbados, Puerto Rico and Aruba. Populations on many of the smaller islands, e.g. St. Maarten, Cayman Islands, Aruba, the Bahamas and Barbados change enormously during the year due to the seasonal influx of tourists (for instance, total tourist arrivals in the Cayman Islands exceeded 2.1 million in 2003, but the resident population only numbers around 56,000). Populations have increased significantly in the last 40 years in most countries, particularly Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico (ECLAC 2007, ECLAC 2009a), but the rate of growth has slowed (annual average population growth in 2003 was 0.82 percent for 12 islands in the Caribbean Islands Hotspot compared to 1.45 percent in 1970 (Heilemann 2005)), and some countries, such as Montserrat and St. Kitts and Nevis, are less populated today than in 1970. The population of the region is predicted to increase slightly by 2050, although there are large differences between countries with some expected to increase substantially, such as Haiti (8.3 million in mid-2008 to 15.1 million in 2050) and Dominican Republic (9.6 million in mid-2008 to 14 million in 2050), while others such as Cuba (11.2 million in mid-2008 to 9.9 million in 2050) are predicted to fall (Population Reference Bureau 2008).

The majority of people in the Caribbean live in urban areas close to the coast. Urbanization has been rapid and largely unplanned and has increased significantly over the past 40 years on all of the islands and is approximately 10 percent above the average for Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole (Heileman, 2005). In 2005, 64 percent of the population of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries was classified as urban and this is expected to reach 71 percent or 10.5 million persons in 2020 (Nature and the Economy: Addressing the delicate balance; Presentation by Dr. Compton Bourne, president, Caribbean Development Bank, 2007). In the poorer countries, uncontrolled and squatter settlements have expanded considerably, especially in coastal areas. Unfortunately, provision of sanitation services has not kept pace with the growing urban population, and lack of access of improved sanitation is particularly high in Haiti. Much of the untreated sewage and solid waste ends up being dumped into the environment generating a major pollution threat to biodiversity.

These population processes—high historical growth rate with high population densities, massive seasonal influxes and increasing urbanization of the population—have led to unsustainable demand for land and natural resources to the detriment of the hotspot’s biodiversity and ecosystems (Heilemann 2005).

Political and Economic issues

Political Systems

There is a wide variation in political systems among the islands of the Caribbean, which is partly a reflection of former or current colonial affiliations. These include a revolutionary government in Cuba, parliamentary democracies modeled on the British system in most of the Commonwealth Caribbean, a form of presidential system in the Dominican Republic and an emerging democracy in Haiti. Among the dependent territories, Martinique and Guadeloupe are départements d’outre-mer (overseas departments) of France (and outermost regions of the European Union) and elect members to the national assembly in Paris, whereas the British, Dutch and U.S. territories have locally elected national governments. Different groupings of islands are linked through their membership of various inter-governmental associations and mechanisms (see Table 6).

The formal regional mechanism with the broadest membership is the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), based in Trinidad and Tobago, which includes all countries around the Caribbean Basin except the USA. ACS focuses on four areas: trade, transportation, tourism and natural resources. Its objectives are stated as “the strengthening of the regional co-operation and integration process, with a view to creating an enhanced economic space in the region; preserving the environmental integrity of the Caribbean Sea which is regarded as the common patrimony of the peoples of the region; and promoting the sustainable development of the Greater Caribbean.”

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), with a secretariat in Guyana, is the other major intergovernmental grouping. Its membership includes the countries of the Commonwealth Caribbean, plus Suriname and Haiti. Moves toward regional integration within CARICOM have recently been strengthened with the establishment of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) and the Caribbean Court of Justice. The CSME provides for the free movement of people, goods, services and capital, and will lead to harmonized laws and social, economic, environmental and trade policies in participating member states. The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), with its headquarters in St. Lucia, is a sub-regional grouping comprised of Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It facilitates regional cooperation in a number of sectors, including education, environment, health and sports, and is in the process of establishing an Economic Union that makes provisions for common legislation across member states. It is anticipated that environmental legislation is the first area in which member states will move on this front. While the dependent territories of the eastern Caribbean are members of OECS, most are not members of CARICOM or ACS, but are part of the Caribbean Development and Cooperation Committee of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (UN-ECLAC).

Table 6. National Membership of Regional Caribbean Political Groupings


Anguilla    A A A
Antigua and Barbuda F F F F
Aruba A    A   
Bahamas F F F   
Barbados F F F   
British Virgin Islands    A A A
Cayman Islands    A      
Cuba F    F   
Dominica F F F F
Dominican Republic F Observer F   
France (islands) A    F   
Grenada F F F F
Haiti F F F   
Jamaica F F F   
Montserrat    F A F
Netherlands Antilles A    A   
Puerto Rico       A   
St. Kitts and Nevis F F F F
St. Lucia F F F F
St. Vincent and the Grenadines F F F F
Turks and Caicos Islands A A A   
U.S. Virgin Islands       A   

F = Full member
A = Associate member

Economic Issues and Key Sectors with Impact on Terrestrial Biodiversity

Over the last 20 years, tourism (with associated construction and services industries) has become the primary economic activity in the majority of the Caribbean Islands Hotspot, and drives much of the commodity trade in the region. There has also been significant development of offshore financial centers offering attractive tax arrangements (such as on Aruba and the Cayman Islands; how this industry will be affected by proposed changes to international banking and finance following the financial crisis of 2008-2009 is unclear but likely to impact negatively in the Caribbean), and mining makes an important contribution to some national economies, such as in Cuba and Jamaica. Agriculture, traditionally the most important sector for growth, has remained stagnant or contracted in many countries. Most of these sectors have a substantial impact or are dependent on the environment.


In 2005, 32.7 percent of the land in the Caribbean small island developing states (SIDS) was classified as agricultural area (total area under arable land and permanent crops), although the figures vary considerably at the national level, from almost 40 percent on Barbados, Cuba and Haiti, to nearly zero on some of the smaller islands such as Anguilla, Turks and Caicos, and the U.S. Virgin Islands (UNEP GEO LAC Data Portal). Common agricultural products from the region are bananas (many islands), sugar (especially Barbados, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis), coffee (Haiti, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cuba and Puerto Rico), cotton (Antigua) cocoa (Grenada and Dominican Republic) and citrus fruits and pimento.

In many countries, the percentage of agricultural land has decreased between 1970 and 2005, particularly in Grenada, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and St. Kitts and Nevis, but has increased in other such as Dominica, the Dominican Republic, British Virgin Islands, and especially in Cuba (by 15.7 percent over this period). Similarly, total and per capita agricultural production has decreased in most of the Caribbean countries and territories. In part, this has been due to the loss of preferential markets especially for sugar, bananas and rum, although the agricultural sector continues to be important in many countries and plays a significant social role (ECDPM 2006). For instance, the Windward Islands (the southern Lesser Antilles, from Martinique south) are still heavily dependent on a limited number of agricultural commodities for their export earnings and employment and some 20 percent of the workforce on Dominica for instance is employed in the agricultural sector. Food security has become complicated by increases in world food prices in the last few years. As a result, the cost of some agricultural imports has risen (the Caribbean is a net importer of most basic grains, pulses and oil seeds, including the ones experiencing continuous and significant price increases, e.g. wheat), which is forcing governments to reevaluate their agricultural policies. The negative impact of higher food prices could eventually translate into a severe setback in the regional achievements in poverty reduction and social development, and increase pressure on Caribbean biodiversity and ecosystems. It also places greater importance on the need to maintain ecosystem services, which are most important to the poorer sections of society.

There have been a number of alternative initiatives aimed at both broadening opportunities for sustainable rural livelihoods and diversifying agricultural products that may also benefit biodiversity and ecosystem services. These include promotion of organic farming (particularly for the smaller islands as organic farming has the advantage of being amenable to small scale production; see www.organicinitiativecaribbean.org), the use of ethno-botanical products for the herbal and cosmetic markets, and the strengthening of linkages between agriculture and tourism including through food festivals (e.g. yam festivals in Jamaica) and promotion of “eco-agritourism.” The Fair Trade System (http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/) has been established within the banana industry in the region, which aims to have positive effect on the environment (e.g. protection of ecosystems of high ecological value and the protection of water sources from chemical pollution). On Jamaica, the Ministry of Agriculture has supported the development of the local organic agriculture sector through an investment of $20 million in the National Organic Agriculture Enhancement Project (NOAEP, see www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20060907/farm/farm3.html.) However, successes need to be better promoted and systems established to enable greater uptake of such initiatives (e.g. improved access to micro-credit, technical training, etc.).


The forestry sector in the insular Caribbean is small (although can be locally important), a reflection of the relatively small forest coverage, and most islands are heavily dependent on imports to meet their paper, sawn wood and wood-based panel requirements. The proportion of forest land on the larger islands ranges from 3.8 percent on Haiti to 46 percent on Puerto Rico in the Greater Antilles and from 1.5 percent in the Netherlands Antilles to around 61.3 percent in Dominica in the eastern Caribbean (see Table 7), and overall, 25.7 percent of the land area of the Caribbean islands is classified as forest lands (FAO 2006a, FAO 2009). Cuba and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are the only two countries in the region that have managed to significantly increase their forest cover between 1990-2000 and 2000-2005 (by 1.7 percent and 2.2 percent in Cuba and 0.8 percent in St. Vincent and the Grenadines respectively) (FAO 2006a, FAO 2009). Wood charcoal production is also high in Cuba (61,200 tonnes in 2004) and the Dominican Republic (14,000 tonnes in 2005) but also in Haiti (estimated 28,000 tonnes) (data from http://faostat.fao.org/ accessed 27/5/2009), which has the greatest extent of deforestation in the region.

Table 7. Forest Cover and Forest Loss in the Insular Caribbean

Country / Territory Total forest cover (1,000 ha) in 2005 Forest as % land cover Total change 1990-2005 (1,000 ha) Total change (%) 2000-2005
Anguilla 6 71.4 0 0
Antigua and Barbuda 9 21.4 0 0
Aruba 0 2.2 0 0
Bahamas 515 51.5 0 0
Barbados 2 4.0 0 0
Cayman Islands 12 48.4 0 0
Cuba 2,713 24.7 655 31.8
Dominica 46 61.3 -4 -8.0
Dominica Republic 1,376 28.4 0 0
Grenada 4 12.2 0 0
Guadeloupe 80 47.2 -4 -4.8
Haiti 105 3.8 -11 -9.5
Jamaica 339 31.3 -6 -1.7
Martinique 46 43.9 0 0
Montserrat 4 35.0 0 0
Netherlands Antilles 1 1.5 0 0
Puerto Rico 408 46.0 4 1.0
St. Kitts and Nevis 5 14.7 0 0
St. Lucia 17 27.9 0 0
St. Vincent and the Grenadines 11 27.4 2 22.2
Turks and Caicos 34 80.0 0 0
Virgin Islands (British) 4 24.4 0 0
Virgin Islands (U.S.) 10 27.9 -2 -16.7
Total 5,747 25.7 634   
From FAO (2006a, FAO 2009)

While the future of forests in the region is not promising as existing pressures on this resource are expected to increase, some encouraging results have emerged from localized forest conservation and reforestation efforts, and investment in innovative and alternative models of sustainable management of forest resources (timber and non-timber) need to be encouraged.


The tourism industry in the Caribbean islands has developed rapidly over the last 40 years, initially driven by post-independence economic restructuring throughout the region largely due to declining competitiveness in the agricultural sector. Since the 1960s, tourism has become the leading economic sector in many island states, the fastest growing economic sector in the sub-region (CARICOM Secretariat 2003), and, in terms of growth and contribution to GDP, tourism development can be viewed as a great success for the region.

The islands in the Caribbean Islands Hotspot hosted 15.23 million visitors in 2005, the most recent year for which there are complete statistics (CTO 2008, not including cruise ship visits), with the Bahamas, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Puerto Rico each receiving more than 1 million visitors. There were also 12.5 million cruise ship passenger visits to the islands in 2004, and the Caribbean hosts approximately 50 percent of the berths of the world’s cruise tourism. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC 2004), travel and tourism demand in the Caribbean region (including the 32 member countries/territories of the Caribbean Tourism Organization excluding Mexico) amounted to $40.3 billion in 2004, and is expected to rise to $81.9 billion by 2014. Tourism is particularly important economically for some of the smaller Caribbean countries. In Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, and the British Virgin Islands, for instance, the travel and tourism sector accounted for 71.9 percent, 82.1 percent and 95.2 percent of GDP respectively in 2004 and over 50 percent in Aruba, the Bahamas and Barbados (WTTC 2004). In addition, the tourism industry accounts for more than 65 percent of the labor force on some islands (namely Anguilla, Aruba, Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, and British Virgin Islands; the figures being 95 percent for the latter two). The WTTC estimates that the travel and tourism sector will contribute about 14.8 percent to the region’s GDP in 2004, the highest tourism GDP dependency in the world (WTTC 2004).

In the insular Caribbean, tourism is dependent on the coastal and marine areas, and the concentration of tourism infrastructure and activities on the coast causes major environmental problems for coastal habitats. The tourism sector is expected to continue to grow in the region (WTTC 2004), which will require further land for construction (hotels, golf courses, marinas) and resources (water, imported and local food, energy, building materials). For instance, the government of the Bahamas’ current economic thrust is to put an anchor resort on each of the major Family Islands (the out islands) that will have huge implications for the biodiversity of these otherwise relatively untouched islands. Community-based nature and heritage tourism are being developed in several countries, including Dominica, Jamaica, St. Lucia and Montserrat, which can be of significant economic value (Caribbean islands – especially Jamaica, Barbados and Aruba – are considered to be among the world leaders in sustainable tourism; almost 40 percent of the eco-certificates awarded by Green Globe, for example, have gone to this region.). However, the relatively low levels of investment in these ventures compared with the continued construction of large-scale resorts across the region, the encouragement provided to the cruising industry and recent investments in major yacht facilities in several countries, point to a disconnect between government policy and action.


Mining is an important source of foreign exchange for some countries (Heileman 2005), especially for Jamaica (bauxite and alumina from the Cockpit Country Corridor), Cuba (cobalt and nickel) and the Dominican Republic (bauxite, cement, ferronickel, gypsum, limestone, marble, nickel, salt, sand and gravel), and is expected to increase in the region. Cuba, for instance, is increasing its exploitation of oil and nickel reserves (Caribbean Net News, 21 March 2007). There is also salt mining on Inagua in the Bahamas, which is an important local employer. Concern about the negative impacts of mining activities, particularly open-pit bauxite mining, on human health, communities and the environment is growing.

Energy Production and Distribution

Per capita energy use is generally high in the Caribbean, especially in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Netherlands Antilles. Due to limited development of other sources, 90 percent of all energy utilized in the region is derived from petroleum, most of which is imported at high cost to the countries. Some countries, including the Bahamas, Jamaica, St. Lucia and Grenada are particularly dependent on imported fuel. Due to high prices and limited electricity distribution networks, the more remote and poorer rural communities, tend to be strongly dependent on fuelwood and charcoal for cooking and crop-drying, but over-collecting has led to degradation and loss of forest and scrub areas, and rising energy demand is only likely to increase this.

Faced with high imported energy prices, some countries have begun to invest in renewable energy alternatives such as wind power on Barbados and St. Lucia, hydroelectricity in Dominican Republic (especially within the Cordillera Central Corridor) and Haiti (where it delivers 5 percent of the energy used), and small-scale hydroelectricity in Dominica and St.Vincent (within the Central Mountain Range Corridor). The generation of electricity from ethanol produced from biomass feedstock is also being considered in sugar-producing countries such as Barbados, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. Bagasse, a byproduct of sugarcane, is already used in electricity generation in Cuba (Heileman 2005). There are also local schemes that use solar energy for domestic and hotel water heating on some islands. CARICOM is currently implementing the 13-country Caribbean Renewable Energy Development Project (CREDP), which aims to “reduce barriers to the increased use of renewable energy thus reducing the dependence on fossil fuels while contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.” It is partially funded by GEF. Other key regional energy initiatives include the Task Force on Regional Energy, Brasilia Platform on Renewable Energies (adopted at the Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean in Brasilia, October 2003), and the Caribbean Energy Information System (CEIS).

Most governments have also been actively promoting the efficient use of non-renewable energy sources and some countries have adopted energy saving targets and introduced cleaner energy technologies and demand management programs. However, only a few countries (Barbados, St. Lucia and Cuba) have adopted (or are in the process of adopting) National Energy Policies and Action Plans. Lack of progress in adopting alternative energy sources is attributed to costs (currently higher than traditional sources - few countries have yet to introduce adequate tax and fiscal incentives to promote uptake of such technologies, exceptions being Barbados, St.Lucia and Jamaica), and there is a lack of public information about energy-efficient technologies and renewable energy options that needs to be addressed.

The region has more renewable energy than agricultural resources available and there is concern that increased focus on bio-fuels from agriculture could lead to increased clearance of natural habitat for crops. Instead, greater emphasis needs to be given to pursuing the development and introduction of alternative renewable energy sources.

Fisheries and Aquaculture

It is important to note that fish is the most important source of protein after poultry in the Caribbean, especially in rural areas where the incidence of poverty may be high, and that fish, fish products and other marine biodiversity form an important source of employment and foreign exchange earnings. Unfortunately, increased erosion from poor land management, particularly clearance of forest and overuse of agricultural soils, and pollution from agricultural, urban and land-based commercial/industrial sources is negatively impacting coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds which are critical for island fisheries in the region. Similarly, aquaculture on land has been developed on many islands, but has caused serious environmental impacts, such as the clearance of mangroves and other coastal vegetation for ponds, declining water quality caused by nutrient enrichment, oxygen depletion of out-flowing water and escape of invasive species.

Globalization and the Impact of the Global Economic Crisis

As noted above, Caribbean economies are heavily dependent on external trade and the loss of non-reciprocal and preferential trade agreements as part of recent globalization measures has contributed to the decline of the traditional agricultural sector in the region and increased competition in the international marketplace (particularly for bananas, rice, sugar and rum) and the liberalization of domestic markets under globalization has been an area of serious concern among governments (ECLAC 2008). In addition, Caribbean countries have not been immune to the global economic crisis and most have very high levels of public debt (which combined with small taxable populations challenges long-term economic viability), with Barbados, Jamaica, Dominica, Grenada and St. Kitts and Nevis recording public debt above 100 percent of GDP (ECLAC 2009b). Growth forecasts point to a further slowdown of economic activity in the Caribbean, especially because of the region’s reliance on trade with countries whose economies are in recession (ECLAC 2009b).

The long-term impacts of globalization and the current economic recession on biodiversity and ecosystems in the region are uncertain, although an expected response is change in government policy to promote greater economic diversification and self-sufficiency in key sectors such as agriculture, energy and tourism and less public-sector funding available for environmental management. Short-term responses have focused on fiscal stimulus, sectoral and social policies, with infrastructure developments to help cushion the fall-out on growth and employment (e.g. the $120 million New Providence Road on the Bahamas and J$2.5 billion earmarked by the Jamaican government for infrastructure, including roads, drains and gullies) which are likely to have negative impacts on the natural environment. In view of these potential impacts there is a clear need for wider uptake of Strategic Environment Assessments, which are not routinely applied in the Caribbean.


Based on their gross national income per capita, Caribbean countries are considered middle and high income, except Haiti, which is classified as low income (see Table 8). Similarly, all Caribbean countries fall within the high and medium development categories of the Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), except Haiti, where the level of development ranks low (UNDP 2006, 2007). However, there are high levels of economic inequity even in some of the richer countries and poverty is a concern across the region (UNDP 2006, 2007). The percentage of the population below the poverty line (on an average income of <$1 per day) ranges from 12 percent in Antigua and Barbuda to 79 percent in Haiti (World Bank 2005a), which remains the least-developed country in the Americas. Unfortunately, contractions in the traditional agricultural sector have contributed to increasing poverty among rural populations in the eastern Caribbean, and there is also concern about the growth in urban poverty and its associated social problems of crime and insecurity, the socioeconomic impact of HIV/AIDS (the Caribbean is the region most affected by HIV/AIDS in the Western Hemisphere), and the ageing of populations, and high debt burdens in some countries e.g. Jamaica, have led to restrictions in social sector spending which affects the poor and the marginalized in particular (CANARI 2005, CDB 2007). Poverty affects women more than men in the Caribbean with unequal access to natural, economic and household resources and higher unemployment rates.

The majority of Caribbean countries have maintained a positive trend in key social and health indicators. For example, the average under-five mortality rate per 1,000 live births, which is often used as a surrogate for social state, has been reduced from 39 to 30 (UNDP, 2003) and Caribbean states are at the top of all developing country groups in the world, exceeded only by high-income countries. However, among the Caribbean islands, Haiti still has a high under-five mortality rate (120/1,000 live births in 2005 but down from 221/1,000 in 1970), whereas Cuba has a figure of only 7 in 2005 (down from 43 in 1970), the lowest for the islands for which data are available (UNDP 2007). The Caribbean islands continue to perform well as a whole on education, which is reflected by relatively high public spending on education and lower illiteracy rates than other developing regions. Haiti, however, continues to be an outlier with respect to all social indicators, demonstrating the strong link between economic performance, social-well being and the condition of the environment.

Ecosystem Services and the Relationship between Environment, Development and Poverty

As the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005) showed, biodiversity and ecosystems provide a huge range of essential goods and services to human kind, and without these ecosystem services (the multitude of resources and processes supplied by natural ecosystems from which humans benefit, including food, bio-fuels, water supply and hydropower, soil formation, pollination, storm protection and flood amelioration, carbon storage and climate stabilization and others) humans would not survive.

A variety of ecosystem services have been identified for the Caribbean (see Appendix 2) and have long been important to human wellbeing and livelihoods. For instance, apart from their timber value, forests (primary, secondary, upland, coastal) provide wood for fuel for large numbers of people on some islands (e.g. Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and the Windward Islands), ecotourism related employment for rural people in several countries (e.g. Dominica, Dominican Republic, Jamaica and St. Lucia), and recreation and education opportunities throughout the region, and a wide range of non-timber forest products of social, economic and medicinal importance are also harvested in virtually every country in the Caribbean (John 2005). In addition, forests (and many key biodiversity areas) provide a critically important role in protecting against floods and storms (illustrated by the tragic losses of life from floods following major storms in deforested upland areas of Haiti, such as the Massifs de la Hotte and de la Selle key biodiversity areas), in regulating water supplies for local communities and tourism developments (e.g. Cockpit Country and North Coast Forest Corridor), and also provide a crucial climate mitigation service as absorbers of CO2. Caribbean mangrove forests (such as those in the key biodiversity areas of Jaragua National Park, Haitises, Portland Ridge and Bight, Black River Great Morass, Bluefields and Southern Great Lake), also provide multiple benefits including: nursery habitat for commercially important fish species; protection against storm and wave erosion; absorption of nutrients and trapping of sediments deposited by rivers, thereby reducing eutrophication and sedimentation in coastal waters; and restriction of the flow of seawater into the river systems and inland water sources (especially important for low-lying countries).

Table 8. Key Human and Development Statistics for the Insular Caribbean  (PDF - 18 KB)

Valuation of Ecosystem Services

To date, there have been few economic valuations of terrestrial ecosystem services in the region (partly a reflection of the costs of such research and lack of appropriate and agreed methodology), and the human and economic costs of their loss, which represents a key area in need of further investment. Existing studies have focused on valuation of watersheds and/or water services in Jamaica (in Cockpit Country key biodiversity areas: Pantin and Reid, 2005, Springer 2005a), St.Lucia (Springer 2005b) and in the Dominican Republic (Bonilla 2008); forests on Montserrat; protected areas on Jamaica (Cesar et al. 2000, Guingand 2008); and sand and beach resources on Antigua and Barbuda (Parker 2002).

For example, the Centre Hills, the largest intact forest area remaining on Montserrat, was found to provide a number of important environmental goods and services to the people of the island. An economic valuation study of this forest was conducted to increase the understanding of the economic importance of the forest and further the case for conservation of the area. First, a choice experiment was conducted on the Montserrat population to estimate monetary values for the aesthetic, species conservation and recreational services provided by the forest. On average, each household was willing to pay $80 per year for the control of invasive species. Second, the Total Economic Value (TEV) was calculated to indicate the relative importance of the ecosystem services from the Centre Hills forest, which produced a tentative estimate of around $1.4 million per year. The tourism value comprised 32 percent of the TEV, and, because the Centre Hills are the only source of drinking water on Montserrat, more than 30 percent of the TEV of the areas was due to water services. Species abundance (18 percent) and forest products for domestic consumption (15 percent) were also highly valued ecosystem services on Montserrat. Interestingly, one of the main messages to come out of the Economic Valuation was that tourists are willing to pay to visit the Centre Hills but the Montserrat Government is not currently capitalizing on this. Source: Van Beukering et al. (2008)

Unfortunately, there is very limited awareness of the critical importance of ecosystem services – the benefits from preserving them and risks and costs from their loss – and they are poorly understood and undervalued by markets, politicians and civil society in the Caribbean. As a result, they have not received the necessary focus, resources and investment, and the contribution of ecosystem services is not fully internalized in the price of the goods and services they provide. Consequently, areas important for these services (e.g. many protected areas, forest reserves, wetlands, low intensity agricultural areas, and indeed the highest priority key biodiversity areas are undervalued, and destroyed for “economic development” or managed in ways that undermine or degrade provision of the services. Encouragingly, there are signs that this ignorance is beginning to change. For instance, the President of the Caribbean Development Bank made an important speech on the issue at a recent international conference in the Turks and Caicos islands, the National Environment and Planning Agency of Jamaica is due to begin a project to undertake economic valuation of its natural resources in 2009, and the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI) has been promoting market-based approaches to watershed services for some years (see www.canari.org/alg2.htm) that are attracting increased attention. Equally important is collection and presentation of data on the costs and risks of the loss of ecosystem services, which can have enormous economic costs. The European Commission (2008) estimated the global loss of ecosystem services to be worth the equivalent of $75 billion every year from land-based ecosystems, and that current rates of environmental decline could reduce global GDP by 7 percent by 2050, with most impact on the poorer sections of society. Tourism revenues and associated employment, for instance, are often directly impacted by habitat degradation because of the loss of amenity value for activities such as hiking, birdwatching, fishing, swimming, and diving (estimates of economic losses from coral reef degradation in the Caribbean range from $350 million to $870 million/year by 2015). Maintenance of ecosystem services is likely to become even more important in the region as global food prices rise, urban centers expand and demands on water supplies increase, and as climate change impacts accumulate, and valuation of ecosystem services needs to be seen as an integral part of any major development program or project and more widely adopted in the region. Ecosystem services need to be treated as part of the infrastructure investment for national economies and a critical input for economic growth (ecosystem services treated as inputs to sectoral outputs), and decisionmakers across all development sectors need to consider the cost of loss of ecosystem services on sectoral productivity and economies.

Impact of Environmental Degradation on the Poor

Poor people are often directly dependent on goods and services from ecosystems, either as a primary or supplementary source of food, fodder, building materials and fuel. In the Caribbean, the poorer sections of society have had to rely more on the natural environment for food, shelter, livelihoods and healthcare than richer groups and have traditionally exploited common “free” resources such as wood, other forest products, fish and mangroves in the Caribbean for centuries. This makes them highly vulnerable to the impacts of ecosystem degradation and poor environmental management, such as floods and pollution, and climate change further erodes the quality of the natural resource base, thereby reinforcing conditions of poverty. On the other hand, it is also the poor that participate in illegal logging and hunting when no other resources are available to them. Both of these make biodiversity conservation and sustainable management of natural resources an essential tool in the fight against poverty.

A significant number of both public- and private-sector funded programs and projects have sought to address poverty alleviation and improve livelihoods of poorer communities through biodiversity conservation and sustainable environmental management. Examples include the OECS Protected Areas and Associated Livelihoods Project, which examines approaches to enhancing livelihoods benefits through protection of biodiversity in protected areas.

Policy, Legislation and Planning

Environmental policy in the Caribbean tends to mostly address environmental issues and impacts rather than their underlying root causes/drivers, such as population increase. In the case of climate change, Caribbean countries do not consider themselves to be net contributors and therefore policy responses are largely limited to adaptation (however, the Caribbean’s tourism industry depends heavily on air travel and cruise ships, and there is an argument that these emissions should be considered in calculations of the region’s CO2 contribution).

International and Regional Environmental Agreements and Plans

All the countries in the hotspot are active participants in the main multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). All are signatories to the three “Rio conventions”– the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, UN Convention to Combat Desertification, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change —and most are members of the other key biodiversity related agreements, such as Ramsar, World Heritage Convention and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, except for the Convention on Migratory Species.

At the regional level, the main agreement is the Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region (Cartagena Convention) and its three Protocols, which together constitute the only legal instrument for regional cooperation on environmental issues for the wider Caribbean. Thirteen of a possible 28 countries have ratified the Protocol, representing 22 Caribbean Islands Hotspot countries and territories. Five additional countries are signatories without having ratified. The dependent territories participate in these agreements through their respective metropolitan (or mainland) countries, and France, the Netherlands, the U.K. and the United States are all full participants in the regional multilateral agreements and processes, although not all are properly meeting their commitments, e.g. required legislation has not been enacted, management plans not developed, and there is a lack of biodiversity action plans.

There are a number of important environment and sustainable development related regional and sub-regional strategies and action plans for the Caribbean, namely:
  • The Barbados Programme of Action (BPOA) that was adopted in 1994 to facilitate the implementation of Agenda 21 in SIDS and sets out sustainable development priorities for the Caribbean SIDS.
  • The St. George’s Declaration of Principles of Environmental Sustainability in the OECS, signed by all OECS Member States in 2001 that seeks to provide an indigenous approach to implementing the BPOA within the context of the specific vulnerabilities and special needs of the OECS sub-region.
  • The OECS Environmental Management Strategy (2000, revised 2002).
  • The Caribbean Action Plan adopted in 1981, which covers the Wider Caribbean Region and led to the creation of the Caribbean Environment Programme and the Cartagena Convention.
  • The Caribbean Planning for Adaptation to Climate Change Project, which addresses adaptation to climate change and involves a combination of national pilot/demonstration activities and regional training and technology transfer.

However, the complexity of the international and regional policy framework and the demands it places on governments often overstretch the limited staff and technical resources of national environmental management institutions (particularly in the smaller states) and as a result, obligations under these agreements are sometimes not adequately carried out. Reporting, particularly in the absence of adequate systems for monitoring and data management, is perceived by many as a costly exercise that yields few tangible benefits, consequently reporting on many of these international environmental obligations is often inadequate. The cross-cutting nature of some MEAs is also a challenge. Countries are required to adopt sectorally integrated, socially inclusive implementation strategies and to create multi-sectoral awareness about their purpose. As a consequence, a number of countries have established national mechanisms to coordinate implementation of MEAs, such as the Cabinet-level National Coordinating Mechanism on Antigua and Barbuda, and the Environmental Coordinating Unit on Dominica.

National Policy and Legislation

Most countries have significantly updated, or are in the process of updating (e.g. Haiti and St. Vincent), their policies and legislation on biodiversity, environmental management and sustainable development, in the last 20 years, and obligations under international agreements have helped drive this process (Brown et al. 2007). However, there exists significant variation among countries with regard to their comprehensiveness and effectiveness, particularly with regard to the protection of threatened biodiversity and ecosystems (BirdLife International 2008), and there is a need for specific analyses of “gaps” in legislation and policies, which very few countries (e.g. Jamaica [NEPA 2003]) have undertaken recently. Overall, national public policy frameworks for environmental management remain largely oriented toward control, regulation and a reactive approach to environmental issues, although new approaches and instruments, including environment service markets, have begun to be promoted by some donors, governments and NGOs as means of changing destructive patterns of behavior.

Although only a few countries have developed a National Sustainable Development Strategy (NSDS), most have formulated a national environmental policy, a National Environmental Management Strategy (NEMS) or National Environmental Action Plan, National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plan (NBSAP), and National Action Plans (NAP) to Combat Desertification, which guide environmental management. Unfortunately, the limited government capacity, especially in the smaller island states, has slowed development of policy and legislation.

Donor agencies have supported development of key strategies and plans e.g. a regional project funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has enabled most OECS countries to develop a NEMS, and GEF financing has been provided to enable the development of NBSAPs and National Reports to the Rio Conventions, as well as to prepare National Capacity Self Assessments (NCSAs). However, donor support to build capacity to meet reporting obligations has often meant employing external consultants to prepare reports, which does not address the issue in the longer term (Renard and Geoghegan 2005). The situation is made worse by the fact that international conventions and leading donor agencies frequently require countries to prepare specific programs and plans of actions which often duplicate each other, fail to build on earlier efforts and cause a significant drain in the resources of the agencies that are expected to prepare them (Brown et al. 2007).

Protected Area Networks

Protected areas have long been used as a key legislative and management instrument for conservation and development at the local and national levels in the Caribbean islands. The first such site—the Kings Hill Reserve in St. Vincent—was established in 1791 for “the purpose of attracting clouds and rain…the benefit and advantage of the owners and possessors of lands in the neighborhood thereof” (Birdsey et al. 1986). Other early protected areas were established in Jamaica in 1907 (the Morant and Pedro Cays, still nominally protected), Puerto Rico (the Caribbean or Luquillo National Forest, 1907), Grenada (Grand Etang Forest Reserve, 1910) and Cuba (Sierra Cristal National Park, 1930).

The World Database on Protected Areas lists some 749 protected areas in the region, covering 67,719 km2 (Table 9), with more than half this area being marine (Chape et al. 2008). Protected areas are concentrated in IUCN Management Categories II, IV, and VI, with the stricter levels of protection (I-III) making up less than one third of the total number of sites. The breakdown by country shows that there is considerable variation in the total area protected. Cuba and the Dominican Republic have about 15 percent of their land area in managed conservation units, while Dominica has around 20 percent of its territory designated for protection, including marine site. In other countries, however, protected areas are effectively non-existent, as is the case in Haiti and Grenada, which both have less than 1.7 percent of their area protected (Haiti has only four reserves totaling approximately 25,000 hectares: Macaya Biosphere Reserve in the Massif de la Hotte Key Biodiversity Area; Parc National La Visite and Forêt des Pins in the Massif de la Selle Key Biodiversity Area; and Parc Historique La Citadelle, Sans Souci, les Ramiers (La Citadelle Key Biodiversity Area). Apart from national parks and wildlife reserves, many countries also have significant numbers of forest reserves, whose primary roles are watershed and biodiversity protection and timber management and have been critical components of most countries’ environmental management strategies.

Most Caribbean countries have not had a systematic approach to the establishment of protected areas, although protected area reviews and gap analyses have been undertaken recently on some islands. Jamaica, for instance, is currently completing its Protected Area System Master Plan that will provide a framework for the sustainable management of Jamaica’s existing and future protected areas. Protected area gap analyses have been produced for the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, and some OECS countries (Antigua and Barbuda Dominica, Grenada, St.Kitts and Nevis, St.Lucia, and St.Vincent and the Grenadines) under the OECS Protected Areas and Associated Livelihoods Project discussed in the Current Investment section of this profile. These have shown that many national protected area networks are not comprehensive with key ecosystem types missing or under-represented, such as montane forest in the Dominican Republic, deciduous forest, dry woodlands, dry coastal scrub and mangrove forest on Grenada, and lowland and coastal ecosystems on Jamaica. Many important sites are also judged too small to be viable. For example, populations within the small protected area of forest in La Visite (Massif de la Selle Key Biodiversity Area) and Macaya (Massif de la Hotte Key Biodiversity Area) national parks on Haiti, for instance, may not be viable in the long term.

Apart from inadequate coverage and under-representation, protected area management is weak and ineffective on many islands and only a few countries have strong centralized and well-coordinated institutional arrangements for the management of protected areas. Chief amongst these are Cuba, with the Centro Nacional de Áreas Protegidas, and the Dominican Republic, with the Subsecretaría de Áreas Protegidas y Biodiversidad. National Parks and other protected areas are well established in many dependent territories, for example the Netherlands Antilles (Bonaire and Saba Marine Parks), the French départements (Parc National de la Guadeloupe, Parc National de la Guyane and Parc Naturel Ré gional de la Martinique), Puerto Rico (a comprehensive system of state forests as well as the federally managed Caribbean National Forest), and the British and U.S. Virgin Islands.

Table 9. Nationally and Internationally Protected Areas in the Caribbean Islands Hotspot, 2005
   National Protected Areas Biosphere Reserves Ramsar Sites World Heritage Sites
Country / Territory Number of Sites Total Protected Area (km2) Number of Sites Total Protected Area (km2) Number of Sites Total Protected Area (km2) Number of Sites Total Protected Area (km2)
Anguilla 8 <1                  
Antigua and Barbuda 13 66       1 36      
Aruba 4 3       1 1      
Bahamas 45 2,832       1 326      
Barbados 7 3       1 0      
Cayman Islands 48 241       1 1      
Cuba 70 35,192 6 13,837 6 11,884 2 1,038
Dominica 7 204             1 69
Dominica Republic 62 20,451 1 4,767 1 200      
Grenada 2 7                  
Guadeloupe 22 456 1 697            
Haiti 9 74                  
Jamaica 168 3,909       2 132      
Martinique 25 774                  
Montserrat 18 11                  
Netherlands Antilles 15 144       5 19      
Puerto Rico 58 2,187 2 41            
St.Kitts and Nevis 2 26                  
St.Lucia 52 104       2 1 1 29
St.Vincent/ Grenadines 28 83                  
Turks and Caicos 34 717       1 586      
Virgin Islands (British) 35 52                  
Virgin Islands (U.S.) 17 183 1 61            
Total 749 67,719 11 19,403 22 13,186 4 1,136

Source: Chape et al. (2008)

Figure 14. Map of Marine Protected Areas in the Caribbean Islands Hotspot
Map of Marine Protected Areas in the Caribbean Islands Hotspot

Overall, there is a lack of resources or political will to establish new protected areas and, to date, there have been few attempts to link protected areas together to create more coherent and effective landscape-level protected systems. Linking protected areas would help maintain the viability of small, often ecologically isolated populations through improving opportunities for dispersal and gene exchange, migration and evolutionary processes, and buffer against the additional stress climate change is likely to place on protected areas (Chape et al. 2008). However, the Caribbean Biological Corridor initiative established by the governments of Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti could prove a useful model for other parts of the region, and help link important biodiversity areas that could be particularly valuable in the face of climate change impacts. It includes important areas in each country: Massif du Nord Conservation Corridor (Haiti), Massif de la Hotte Key Biodiversity Area (Haiti), Massif de la Selle – Bahoruco-Jaragua Conservation Corridor (Haiti/Dominican Republic), Cordillera Central Conservation Corridor (Dominican Republic); and the Sierra Maestra mountain range, Baracoa, Nipe and Saguá (eastern Cuba). Along with expected participation from the European Commission, UNEP and the World Food Program, the initiative includes preparing a Plan of Action, signing relevant accords, strengthening protected area management and other activities.

Some countries offer tax incentives to landowners of biologically important areas to maintain their land, which offers the opportunity to link existing protected areas or forest reserves through private land corridors. In Jamaica, for instance, private lands declared as forest reserves or forest management areas can be entitled (under the Forestry Act of 1996) to property tax exemptions (498 hectares of land have been thus declared), and in Puerto Rico, local and federal laws provide for private entities to set aside part of their land as conservation easements (BirdLife International 2008). These may be suitable approaches for other islands where private lands contain large, mature tracts of secondary forest or wetland habitat. However, legislation for private reserve establishment is non-existant in most countries in the Caribbean.

In many countries, NGOs and other nonprofit organizations have responsibility for the management of some or all protected areas. These include the STINAPA Bonaire (three national parks), the Bahamas National Trust (25 parks and protected areas), the British Virgin Islands National Parks Trust (21 national parks and protected areas), the CARMABI Foundation in Curaçao (nine conservation areas), Grupo Jaragua for Jaragua National Park on Dominica, the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico, and the Turks and Caicos National Trust. These have often received support (capacity building, training, costs of materials and other financial assistance) from international NGOs and private organizations active in the region including The Nature Conservancy, CANARI and BirdLife International. In many cases, these management arrangements work well, but they have not been so successful in others.

Generally, protected area establishment and management have been less successful in the smaller, less developed countries, and traditional terrestrial protected area models may not be well suited to small ecosystems with diverse uses and weak institutional capacities (Brown et al. 2007, Parsram 2007). Another challenge to establishing comprehensive networks of protected areas (and land-use planning generally) is that frequently only a small percentage of the land is in government ownership, e.g. 3 percent on Anguilla. Consequently, new models for protecting biodiversity and ecosystems through multi-stakeholder management arrangements (including local groups and the private sector) have been developed in recent years and are seen as a key area for further research and investment. Despite the progress made during the past decade, in general, the Caribbean Islands emerge as a top priority for the expansion of the global protected areas network (Chape et al. 2008, Brown et al. 2007).

Sustainable financing for protected areas remains one of the biggest challenges in the insular Caribbean, and probably all protected areas are under-funded, which impacts their management and hence long-term survival. Payment for the services provided by protected areas, such as tourism and recreational activities, watershed protection, and seed and seedling source banks are not fully captured and where payments are made (usually as entrance fees) these frequently havee little relationship to the true cost of maintaining the protected area or the real value of the ecosystem services provided by the protected area. Some countries have instituted a “visitor” or “departure” tax that is being used to fund protected areas, e.g. the Cayman Islands Government Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) was established in 1997 through a levy of $2 to $4 tax on every person departing the country. One of the main purposes of the fund is the purchase of conservation land and the government has recently confirmed its intent to use the EPF to purchase land in the Barkers area on Grand Cayman, as a move toward establishing the country’s first national park. The Turks and Caicos Islands have also instigated a visitor tax that is used to fund protected area management. Many of the GEF- and other donor-funded protected area projects in the region have been focusing on trying to improve the financial sustainability of national protected area networks (see Current Investments) through the creation of protected area trust funds, debt-for-nature swaps and other approaches, but financing continues to be a challenge especially for the smaller or less visited protected areas that may need new, innovative local solutions involving greater community and business sector arrangements to ensure sustainability.

Mainstreaming of Environment into Other Sectors

Most governments have made some attempt to incorporate environmental concerns into broader non-environment national policy and programs, such as national economic development plans, sector plans and poverty reduction strategies, and public sector investments in environmental management have been significant in some countries, particularly for sewage treatment, solid waste management and water catchment management. In addition, Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) are a requirement for all large development projects (mining, construction, transport) in most of the Caribbean countries and all countries have environmental standards regarding pollution levels, although monitoring and enforcement vary widely between countries and are generally low. Capacity to assess the quality of EIAs is limited in most countries, and political interference in favor of powerful economic interests is common.

The development of these policies and programs, as well as integrated coastal zone management policies and plans, have been key tools in the mainstreaming process because many of these were developed through a participatory process that has helped promote cross-sectoral linkages and raise awareness among decisionmakers in other key sectors (e.g. agriculture, tourism and industry). However, biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of natural resources are still seen as “niche” issues to a large extent and the responsibility of environment agencies in many countries, which a not politically powerful.

Indeed, strategic instruments, such as Strategic Environmental Assessments, are not yet widely used in development planning in the Caribbean to assess, limit and mitigate wider development programs and projects such as those for transport, industry or even tourism sectors. In addition, despite the critical importance of ecosystem services for the region’s economic development, links between protected and other natural areas and non-environment sectors, especially in policy development, legislation and land-use planning, are still weak and need to be addressed.

Civil Society Framework

Local and National Organizations

Almost all of the island states have at least one NGO with a mission that includes biodiversity and related conservation, and many have co-management responsibilities for protected areas. Almost every English-speaking Caribbean island, both independent and overseas territory, has a National Trust organization that, while separate from the national government, normally has close links to it (e.g. Bahamas National Trust, National Trust for the Cayman Islands). Several other islands also have trusts or similar quasi-governmental organizations (e.g. the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico). Typically the national or territorial government will have passed enabling legislation for the trust, will reserve membership on the board of directors, and may transfer funding to the trust. The Bahamas National Trust, Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust and Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico are larger organizations with full time staffs and they compete for international funding. Others reflect the smaller size and population of their islands.

The trusts have a key role in management of state-owned properties (some have historical or cultural values) and in public-oriented activities around these sites. The Bahamas National Trust, for example, has responsibility for management of the entire national protected areas system (25 national parks, 700,000 hectares), and provides environmental education for thousands of Bahamian children. The Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico owns and manages 20 natural and historic properties covering more than 7,000 hectares. Formal linkages among the trusts do not seem to exist.

NGOs in other islands have evolved in different ways, often through an interest in an important site (for example, the organization Grupo Jaragua for Parque Nacional Jaragua in the Dominican Republic), or resource (Société Audubon de Haiti/birds; AMAZONA, Guadeloupe/parrots). The larger island of Jamaica has both trusts (Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust, Dolphin Head Trust) and conservation-related nonprofits (Windsor Research Centre). Some of these organizations are Partners in the BirdLife International network and/ or members of IUCN, which is now establishing a Caribbean Program. An informal network of conservation and sustainable development organizations, REZO-EKOLO, has developed in Haiti under the leadership of the Federation des Amies de la Nature (Friends of Nature Federation). At least two of the 13 member organizations concentrate on environmental restoration and community development efforts at key biodiversity areas in Haiti: Fondation Seguin works in La Visite National Park (Massif de la Selle Key Biodiversity Area), and Fondation Macaya pour la Developpement Local (Macaya Foundation for Local Development) in Macaya National Park (Massif de la Hotte Key Biodiversity Area).

Community-based organizations, generally smaller and more narrowly focused than the NGOs described above (although without a firm distinction), are playing an increasingly important role in biodiversity conservation in the Caribbean. These organizations may be organized around a business or productive activity like agriculture or fisheries, and may indirectly benefit conservation. In recent years, the Jamaican Forestry Department has established Local Forest Management Committees (LFMCs) to enable local communities to participate in the planning, management, protection and sustainable use of local forests. In the Cockpit Country Key Biodiversity Area, for example, there are about 30,000 hectares of state-owned Forest Reserve in parcels of differing sizes, interspersed with rural communities. LFMCs there have identified sustainable livelihoods, developed local capacity in forest management and resource monitoring, established environmental education programs, and other activities. In the Dominican Republic, three community organizations have developed in the Jaragua-Bahoruco-Enriquillo Biosphere Reserve; one of these is centered on the Fondo Paradí región of the reserve’s buffer zone, and promotes ecotourism and sustainable use for the area’s impoverished communities. Other successful regional experiences of community co-management of natural resources include collaborative management of the Mankòtè Mangrove in St. Lucia (Geoghegan and Smith 2002).

In Cuba, there are a number of institutions with active involvement in biodiversity conservation. In addition to the agencies directly responsible for conservation (e.g. Centro Nacional de Areas Protegidas, CNAP), the Universidad de Habana and BIOECO fulfill a similar function to the trusts in other islands. Others include Pronaturaleza (partner with Wildlife Trust) and Fundacion Nunez Jimenez. The latter has been an important partner of the Environmental Defense Fund, WWF-Canada and other international organizations working in Cuba.

Regional Organizations

Regional organizations such as the Association of Caribbean States and the Caribbean Community have offices dealing with a number of environmental and sustainable development themes, however, few relate directly to non-marine conservation. For an excellent discussion of these, see “A Situation Analysis for the Wider Caribbean” undertaken by IUCN (Brown et al. 2007). CANARI is a non-profit multi-disciplinary research institute, which was established more than 20 years ago. Its main office is in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad with a small office in Barbados. CANARI’s mission, which is focused on the islands of the Caribbean, is to promote equitable participation and effective collaboration in managing the natural resources critical to development through: applied and action research on, and analysis, monitoring and evaluation of, innovative policies, institutions and approaches to participation and governance; sharing and dissemination of lessons learned, including capacity building; and fostering partnerships, particularly those that build on regional assets and talents and contribute to closer regional cooperation. CANARI has been particularly active in the area of building capacity for participatory natural resource management, including development of a framework for understanding and assessing organizational capacities for co-management (Krishnarayan et al. 2002) and has reviewed participatory forest management in the insular Caribbean (CANARI 2002). The Caribbean Conservation Association, based in Barbados, has provided environmental education and capacity building for many of the islands, through, for example, the recently concluded Caribbean Environmental Program.

The Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds (SCSCB) has become a leading network for science-based species-level conservation in the region. SCSCB members and member organizations have pursued bird-centered conservation science, education and on-the-ground activities in their own countries and territories, much of which has broader biodiversity benefits. In an example of cross-cultural and cross-regional conservation, the Society’s West Indian whistling-duck project has brought critical education and awareness of wetland conservation to thousands of students and teachers throughout the region. Most of the SCSCB partners are also part of the global BirdLife International partnership for bird conservation. BirdLife has recently completed an exhaustive process to identify IBAs in the region (recognized as key biodiversity areas in this profile), and conservation efforts are beginning to coalesce around these sites with the establishment of site support groups. The Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network is a similar regional network that has promoted science, environmental education, and management of these species. This profile includes sea-turtle nesting beaches among its key biodiversity areas.

The Panos Institute Caribbean is a regional organization that sponsors training for journalists, exhibits, briefings and reports to increase media coverage on sustainable development issues throughout the region. It works with local communities, journalists and media outlets on issues such as climate change, land degradation, energy, mining, coastal resources management and sanitation.

International Organizations

The involvement of international NGOs is surprisingly limited in the region, given the proximity of the Caribbean to North America and its popularity among vacationers. The Nature Conservancy is one of the few larger NGOs active in the Caribbean, and maintains offices in the Bahamas, St. Croix, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. The Nature Conservancy Caribbean staff work with in-country organizations in many activities with direct biodiversity benefits, including control of invasive species and fire, land securement and protected area management. The Nature Conservancy was also instrumental in organizing the Caribbean Challenge. IUCN has recently developed a Programme of Work for 2009 to 2012 for the Caribbean region under its IUCN Caribbean Initiative (IUCN 2008), and started to implement this program in August 2009.

BirdLife International is a global network of nongovernmental conservation organizations with a special focus on birds. In the Caribbean, BirdLife is formally represented by the Bahamas National Trust, Centro Nacional de Áreas Protegidas (Cuba), Grupo Jaragua (Dominican Republic), Sociedad Ornitológica Puertorriqueña (Puerto Rico), Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (U.K. Overseas Territories), Vogelbescherming Nederland (Netherlands Antilles), Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (French Overseas Territories), and National Audubon Society (U.S. Territories). The BirdLife Caribbean Program is also working with organizations in a number of other Caribbean countries (including Barbados, Haiti and Jamaica) and maintains contacts in all countries and territories where there is currently no formal Partner organization. At the regional level BirdLife works closely with SCSCB. The BirdLife Caribbean Program maintains a small coordinating office in Puerto Rico supported by the Americas Regional Secretariat. BirdLife has worked with local people for many years to secure the conservation of IBAs; many different approaches have been adopted, from communities in action, local advisory committees, stewardship groups, community co-operatives and friends of an IBA. Collectively they are known as Site Support Groups (SSGs, sometimes referred to as Local Conservation Groups). SSGs—groups of voluntary individuals who, in partnership with relevant stakeholders, help promote conservation and sustainable development at IBAs and other key biodiversity sites—are active at some IBAs in the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Puerto Rico.

Fauna and Flora International (FFI), a global conservation organization based in the U.K. has been active in the Lesser Antilles since 1995, including running or supporting biodiversity projects in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Montserrat, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Lucia. FFI is a founding member of the Antiguan Racer Conservation Project (Offshore Islands Conservation Project), which has eradicated invasive rats and mongooses from 11 islands to date. This has enabled many threatened native wildlife to increase significantly, including the Critically Endangered Antiguan racer (Alsophis antiguae) snake, and prompted the creation of Antigua's largest protected area for biodiversity conservation. FFI has also eradicated alien invasive species as part of wildlife restoration projects in Anguilla, St. Lucia and the Bahamas, and specializes in building local capacity to monitor and conserve threatened wildlife, the sustainable use of forests and bush meat species, and protected area management.

Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust is an international conservation organization based on Jersey in the Channel Islands (U.K.) that carries out species-led conservation projects around the world. With an emphasis on rare and endemic species, Durrell focuses on conservation of islands and isolated highland regions that harbor a unique and often fragile biodiversity. Durrell has worked with in-country partners in the Eastern Caribbean since the 1970s and established a permanent presence on St. Lucia in 2002. Durrell has long-standing conservation projects on St. Lucia for endemic species such as the Amazon parrot, the whiptail lizard and iguana. On Antigua Durrell was a founding a member of the Antiguan Racer Conservation Project and is currently studying the population genetics of the species. On Montserrat Durrell led a biodiversity assessment of the Centre Hills region and is now leading the recovery of the highly threatened mountain chicken frog. In the Greater Antilles, Durrell has focused on iguanas; it has been a long-term member of the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme on Grand Cayman and is studying the Little Cayman rock iguana. On Hispaniola Durrell has started a three year Darwin-funded project on the endemic solenondon and hutia found there. Durrell also provides technical assistance to its in-country partners and builds links between them and its ex situ and training facilities in Jersey.

Rare, an international conservation organization based in the United States, ran its first signature “Pride campaign” more than 20 years ago on the island of St.Lucia, helping save the St.Lucia Parrot from the brink of extinction. These two-year social marketing campaigns are designed to equip local conservation leaders with the tools and skills to achieve conservation results. By raising local awareness of and support for wildlife conservation, the campaigns inspire communities to take pride in and protect local endangered species. Post Pride campaign studies revealed that of the eight parrot-focused Pride campaigns run in the Caribbean, seven of the eight target species have increasing or stable populations.

TRAFFIC, the wildlife monitoring network of WWF and IUCN, is currently working in the Caribbean on marine turtles with projects to develop brochures and other materials aimed at cruise ships visitors to encourage them not to buy illegal sea turtle parts and a government campaign in the Dominican Republic to crack down on shops illegally trading such items.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has been involved in biodiversity conservation in Cuba since 1999 on efforts ranging from applied research on threatened wildlife, to facilitating exchanges between U.S. and Cuban educators, scientists and protected area managers. It has collaborated closely with several governmental agencies and local organizations, including Cuba’s foremost biodiversity nongovernmental organization, ProNaturaleza. It is currently involved in joint projects to protect the three largest wetlands in the country: Ciénaga de Zapata, the Delta de Cauto and Ciénaga de Lanier. In eastern Cuba, WCS has partnered with the Centro Oriental de Ecosistemas y Biodiversidad to promote biodiversity cooperation between Cuba and other Caribbean nations, evaluate climate change in montane ecosystems and promote the conservation of migratory birds and rare endemic bird and amphibian species. In addition, WCS has built an environmental education programs and supported the training of Cubans.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has worked in Cuba since 2000 on scientific research and conservation strategies for protecting coastal and marine resources. EDF collaborated with Cuban scientists to help create Cuba's extensive network of marine protected areas, finalize the boundaries to protect critical fish spawning grounds, and produce various articles and publications, including a handbook on coastal conservation in Cuba. Currently, EDF is working with Cuban partners on a variety of projects related to fisheries science and management and the conservation of vulnerable coastal ecosystems.

Also in Cuba, WWF-Netherlands is taking over responsibility for several activities previously supported by WWF-Canada. Plans call for maintaining an office in Havana (which is the only office occupied by an international environmental NGO in the country), and for focusing on marine and coastal priorities, mostly for protection of marine turtles.

Private Sector

Efforts to involve the Caribbean’s largest industry, tourism, in biodiversity conservation have not been successful except on a small and local scale. Some resort companies have participated in environmental certification schemes such as Blue Flag (clean beaches), and Green Globe (hotels), and Quality Tourism for the Caribbean through the Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism but have generally not ventured out into the larger watershed upon which they depend. Smaller adventure- and outdoor recreation-oriented hotels have supported conservation of the resources upon which they depend (e.g. Dominica Nature Island Standard of Excellence). Small-scale, community-run ecotourism ventures are now open for business in several countries (e.g. Jaragua National Park Key Biodiversity Area, Dominican Republic), and the potential exists for such operations to expand with spin-off from the larger resorts and cruise ships. The Small Tourism Enterprise Program of the Organization of American States recently unveiled the Caribbean Experiences website (www.caribbean-experiences.com) featuring properties that demonstrate innovation, authentic cultural, and off the beaten-path experiences, high quality vacations and environmental stewardship while staying at small, handpicked properties as an alternative to large chain resorts.

The National Confederation of Dominican Cacao Producers (CONACADO) provides technical and business assistance to more than 10,000 small producers on almost 30,000 hectares. While helping to guarantee a living wage to poor families, CONACADO devotes funds to projects in education, health and community development. Dominican partners are beginning to establish these farms in the buffer zones of protected areas in the north-east, providing a stable, forest-like habitat and helping to deter the advancing agricultural frontier.


While there are a small number of excellent universities in the region, much of the primary research in the region is still carried out by researchers based in North America, Europe and elsewhere (although it is often done in partnership with local universities) and there is growing awareness that visiting researchers and international projects have a responsibility to help with this training and capacity issue. For instance, the Kirtland’s Warbler Training and Research Program, which is a collaboration between Bahamas National Trust, the U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy and the College of the Bahamas, has been exemplary in providing opportunities for Bahamian students to gain expert field and academic training.

There are several strong programs in marine biology and conservation in the Caribbean, but only a few universities offer curricula in natural resource conservation and management. The University of the West Indies offers a Master of Science (MSc) in Natural Resource and Environmental Management through its Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies at the Barbados campus, with streams in coastal and marine resource management, climate change, and water resources management. The University of the West Indies' campus at St. Augustine, Trinidad currently offers a MSc and Diploma course in the Science and Management of Tropical Biodiversity, and is currently developing a joint MSc on Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development for the Caribbean in collaboration with the Universities of Belize and Guyana, the Anton de Kom University of Suriname and Oxford University, with funding from the European Union through its Edu-Link program. This new MSc is expected to begin in 2010-2011. The UWI campus at Mona, Jamaica now offers a MSc course in Tropical Ecosystem Assessment and Management.

The Universidad de Oriente in Santiago de Cuba offers a Master of Science degree in Integrated Coastal Zone Management through its Center for Multidisciplinary Coastal Zone Studies. The University of Puerto Rico offers an undergraduate degree in Wildlife Management at the Humacao campus, and several campuses offer courses in conservation biology and associated fields. Recently, UPR at Rio Piedras established a graduate program (MS and PhD) in Environmental Science, which will have a conservation and management focus and includes faculty from various departments. Undergraduate training is also provided in agroforestry at the Centro Universitario de Guantánamo in Cuba.

Progress has been made through the creation of the Consortium of Caribbean Universities for Natural Resource Management, an organization of 16 universities that promote incorporation of natural resource science and management into university curricula. Short courses have been offered by CANARI and through the UNEP Caribbean Program. Graduate level training in professional conservation disciplines (forestry, wildlife, fisheries, conservation biology) is often sought outside the region in countries of the student’s native language. The need for such training in-region, addressing Caribbean issues, has long been discussed, both in terms of traditional master’s degree level offerings, as well as short courses for professional development.

Institutional Limitations and Impacts on Environmental Management

Limited capacity was ranked by Caribbean partners as among the most significant barriers to be overcome in addressing threats to biodiversity, and this applies to the staff in both government agencies and NGOs. While most assessments of this problem emphasize government personnel, it is clear that NGOs, especially in the smaller islands of the Lesser Antilles, mostly do not have the capacity to fully participate in government decision-making processes and defend biodiversity conservation. A co-management role in protected areas has been successfully fulfilled in the Bahamas and Puerto Rico, however, in other countries this role is limited to single sites if at all, such that gaps in protected area and natural resources management are not being filled. Indeed, there seem to be limits to capacity building in the smaller islands that may only be overcome by shared regional approaches (Parsram 2007).

Some regional and international NGOs, notably CANARI and The Nature Conservancy, have targeted institutional capacity building as a major focus for their work in the hotspot, however much of the capacity building in the NGO community is done through specific project funding as core funds are usually very limited. In this regard, the region’s GEF Small Grants Programme is a particularly important source of funds for capacity building for both NGOs and community-based organizations, and investments to further build local capacity are encouraged.

Capacity issues frequently come down to lack of financial resources. Some funding has been short-term, project driven and rarely strategic, and this has worked against building both sustainable institutions and environmental management, whether in the private or government sector. Funding is particularly needed for building long-term sustainability of NGOs in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, due to small economies and tax receipts, the marginalization of the environment sector compared with other sectors such as tourism, and level of debt of many of the Caribbean governments (increasing due to the global crisis) the outlook for additional government investment in capacity building for biodiversity conservation and sustainable environmental management is not encouraging, and there are concerns about capacity to deal with emerging concerns, such as employment of new technologies, e.g. biotechnology and biosafety, alternative energy, climate change, and environment and trade. It is likely that capacity building will need to continue to be a key focus for donor and international NGO investment in the Caribbean islands for the foreseeable future.

Many of the region’s environmental and community organizations also still work in relative isolation from each other, with weak networks due to often intense competition between groups for limited funding and a project-centered approach to much of their work. While there are some examples of successful collaborative groupings in the Caribbean (perhaps the best example being SCSCB, the effectiveness of the region’s civil society could be improved by more linkage, liaison and partnerships and particularly support for networks and development of common strategies, especially to improve dialogue with the private sector and government. Many NGOs rely heavily on membership subscriptions and consequently there is a high need to service members’ wishes, which often places a heavy drain on staff time and resources and reduce their effectiveness in dealing with other priorities, such as engagement with government.

Document: The Caribbean Islands Ecosystem Profile, January 2010
English (PDF - 1.63 MB) / Français (PDF - 2.6 MB)