Protecting Nature's Hotspots for people and prosperity


Caribbean Islands


Information on threats to biodiversity and their root causes and barriers to effective conservation in the insular Caribbean is scattered and there are few regional reviews (the most recent being Brown et al. 2007 for the whole region and for the EU overseas countries and territories EU/NIRAS (2007)). In many cases, statistics for the Caribbean are lumped with those for Latin America or Central America or presented for the wider Caribbean. However, national overviews of threats do exist as part of National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs). These can vary considerably in the depth and quality of information and analysis. As part of this review, key threats and barriers were identified through the national and regional workshops.

Terrestrial biodiversity in the hotspot has been impacted by humans since the arrival of the Amerindians in the Caribbean some 6,000 to 7,000 years ago, but negative impacts increased substantially following the arrival of Europeans in the 1490s (Brooks et al. 2002) and have escalated in the last 50 years due to the rapidly increasing island populations and economies in the region. The main threats to the terrestrial biodiversity of the insular Caribbean are habitat destruction and fragmentation due to agricultural, urban tourism and industrial/commercial development driven by increasing population and affluence; overexploitation of living resources; and predation and competition by invasive alien species (see Table 10). Climate change is viewed as an increasingly significant threat. Pollution and sedimentation also pose a threat, particularly to freshwater biodiversity, but are considered less important. Due to the relatively small size of most Caribbean islands, pollution from terrestrial sources tends to end up in neighboring coastal waters and pollution is considered a major threat to the marine environment in the Caribbean (CEP, 2003). Sedimentation and pollutants flowing downstream affect coastal water quality, smother corals, kill fish and reduce the touristic and recreational value of beaches in many countries.

Table 10. Prioritized Threats in the Caribbean Islands Hotspot
THREATS Average prioritization score
(on a scale from 1–4)
Invasive Species 3.7
Residential, Commercial Development 3.5
Severe Weather, Climate Change 3.3
Human Disturbance 2.8
Agricultural Expansion, Intensification 2.7
Over-exploitation 2.7
Mining, Energy Production 2.6
Pollution 2.4
Transportation 2.3
Geological Events 1.2
Note: Threats were scored from 1 (insignificant threat or impact) to 4 (highly significant national threat/ impact), for each of a broad cross-section of Caribbean countries. The average of these scores is presented as a “Caribbean” score.

Major Threats

Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Infectious Diseases

Like other islands, Caribbean habitats are vulnerable to impacts of invasive species because of the generally small populations of indigenous species, evolutionary effects of isolation (such as loss of defensive behaviors) and the release of introduced species from natural enemies (Kairo et al. 2003). The spread of invasive aliens is generally considered the greatest threat to the native biodiversity of the Caribbean Islands Hotspot, especially to its endemic species, with invasive aliens recorded in a wide range of habitats throughout the hotspot.

The most damaging invasive aliens on islands are typically terrestrial vertebrates such as goats, feral cats, pigs and rats. These species are responsible for more than half of all animal extinctions on islands globally (Island Conservation analysis of IUCN data). The spread of invasive aliens is facilitated in the Caribbean region by its political, social and economic complexity and dependency upon imports (especially fresh food and live plants and animals), high degree of exposure to extreme weather events and the multiplicity of pathways and routes that alien species may use to reach the islands.

Even before the arrival of Europeans, people in the Caribbean were transporting food species from one island to another. However, as Europeans colonized the New World, the Caribbean became an important center for global commerce, linking the Spanish Pacific, European and African trade. Many species were either deliberately or accidentally introduced and this process has continued to the present. In many places these populations have persisted, causing ongoing devastation. For many other invasive aliens, such as marine species, the potential for introduction has grown in recent years through globalization and the associated increase in international trade, tourism and transport links. In addition, changes and development of some sectors, notably agriculture and aquaculture, have offered opportunities for introduction and spread of invasive aliens.

A review of invasive species threats in the Caribbean region identified 552 alien species, comprising 449 terrestrial (390 naturalized/invasive), 55 freshwater (10 naturalized/invasive), and 18 marine (16 naturalized/invasive) species, with 281 plant species reported as naturalized or invasive, of which 179 are trees (Kairo et al. 2003). Introduced terrestrial species vastly outnumber introduced freshwater and marine species, although this is probably a reflection of under-sampling of the marine environment (Kairo et al. 2003). Numbers on individual islands can be very high. For instance, 138 species have been reported as invasive in the Dominican Republic, including 17 of the 100 world’s worst invaders (Lowe et al. 2001). Current information on species known to be naturalized or invasive in the insular Caribbean can be found on the Global Invasive Species Database of the IUCN Invasive Species Specialist Group (www.issg.org), and through the Inter-American Biodiversity Information Network Invasives Information Network (http://i3n.iabin.net/), although it is recognized as incomplete.

At the national level, most countries in the region have identified invasive aliens as one of the major threats to their biodiversity and the need for control activities. The Bahamas, for instance, established a National Invasive Species Strategy in 2003 and the Jamaica National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan outlines 45 specific goals relating to invasive aliens, with the preparation of an invasive alien species management strategy listed as a key priority. However, quantitative data on Caribbean invasive species are still considered inadequate (Kairo et al. 2003) and limits the ability to design effective responses. There is also a low level of awareness from public to policymakers of the threats posed by invasive aliens and their environmental and economic impacts. A particular challenge to addressing invasive aliens arises from the fact that many of the major pathways for species introductions are critical to national economies.

Emerging infectious diseases are a newly recognized threat to biodiversity globally and in the Caribbean (Daszak et al. 2000), and amphibian chytridiomycosis is a striking example of this threat. Caused by the recently described chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis), chytridiomycosis is capable of driving amphibian populations and species to extinction (Skerratt et al. 2007). More than 200 species of frogs and salamanders are known to be susceptible to infection, and population declines attributed to the disease have occurred throughout Australia, the Americas and Europe (Berger et al. 1998, Lips et al. 2006, Bosch and Rincon 2008). In many of the 122 amphibian species extinctions that have occurred since 1980, particularly those that have disappeared from pristine areas, chytridiomycosis is suspected as the primary cause (Skerratt et al. 2007, IUCN 2008).

Within the Caribbean, the amphibian chytrid is known to occur on the islands of Cuba, Dominica, Montserrat, Puerto Rico and Tobago. The disease has been implicated in the decline of one of the world’s largest frogs, the Critically Endangered mountain chicken (Leptodactylus fallax), on Dominica and Montserrat and is suspected in the probable extinction of three species from Puerto Rico (Burrowes et al. 2004). Chytridiomycosis presents a unique challenge for biodiversity conservation because the pathways of transmission and the way it kills amphibians are not well understood. It is thought to be transmitted by the introduction of infected animals, water, vegetation or soil to a new region. In addition, species are differentially affected by the disease: it is highly lethal for some species, while others can harbor sub-lethal infections and spread the fungus to naïve or highly susceptible species.

Residential, Commercial, Industrial and Tourism Development

The population and economies of most Caribbean countries have grown considerably in the last 50 years, leading to extensive development and much of which has occurred without adequate planning. This has led to the destruction and degradation of huge areas of natural habitats, transforming the coastal landscape and character of many Caribbean islands. Impacts have included pollution from untreated sewage from residential and tourism developments and contamination from industrial sites; clearance of natural coastal vegetation for construction; clearance, dredging, channelization or in-filling of coastal wetlands and mangroves for marinas and ports; sand mining and beach and dune erosion; and increased consumption of water from surface and ground water sources leading to salt intrusion and changes in ecosystem function, and decreased availability of water supplies. In addition, housing and commercial/industrial initiatives are being sited on agricultural lands, displacing farmers to more marginal lands.

Of greatest concern has been the uncontrolled growth of tourism in the Caribbean region over the past five decades, with the widespread construction of hotels, marinas and associated developments, especially along coasts with white-sand beaches and coral reefs offshore. These are typically leeward, low wave energy beaches preferred by remnant populations of Critically Endangered hawksbill turtles for nesting. Development has often meant the removal of natural littoral vegetation, planting of ornamental trees, shrubs and grass for lawns and golf courses, filling-in of mangrove areas for marina developments and mosquito control, and construction of new roads to give access to coastal areas that previously could only be reached on foot or by sea. Overall figures for the area of natural habitats lost to tourism development in the hotspot are not available, but very few coastal areas now unaffected. For instance, around 80 percent of the mangroves of the British Virgin Islands have been destroyed, largely to make way for tourist development (BVIHCG 2007) and this is continuing.

Even legally protected areas have not been immune to tourism development pressure especially when it involves major international investment. In recent years, some Caribbean governments have moved to change and undermine the legal status of previously protected conservation sites to facilitate tourism development. Furthermore, some infrastructure projects such as road construction are often inextricably linked to major tourist developments and can have profound effects on biodiversity. A current example of this is the proposed “cross-country” road in St. Vincent. The road is planned to cut through the proposed forest reserves that make up the Central Mountain Range Corridor to provide access from a new airport to major tourist sites.

Many tourist sites are operating beyond their carrying capacities, both from biophysical and management perspectives. Influxes of high numbers of tourists during high season, for instance, frequently overtax public services, reduce local food stocks and water supplies, and generate vast amounts of solid and liquid wastes that must be accommodated by local municipalities that have very limited waste management facilities.

Severe Weather and Climate Change

The Caribbean is one of the most hurricane prone regions of the world and has had 260 tropical storms and hurricanes pass through the Eastern Caribbean and 347 through the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos region between 1851 and 2008 (Caribbean Hurricane network).

Damage to hurricane-hit natural environments can be enormous. For example, in 1988 Hurricane Gilbert (one of the most powerful ever recorded) hit Jamaica causing widespread damage, with 43 percent of trees in the John Crow mountains in the east of the island either toppled or with crowns broken and similar levels of damage in the Blue Mountains and Cockpit Country in Jamaica (Varty 1991, Bellingham et al. 1992). Heavy rainfall accompanies hurricanes and tropical storms, and may, especially in places where forest cover has been destroyed or degraded, cause landslips on steep hillsides and result in flooding and further damage. Hurricanes also destroy important lowland and coastal habitats. For instance, the storm surge from Hurricane Ivan in 2004 swamped the central mangrove area in the Cayman Islands leaving standing salt water that eventually destroyed vast areas of virgin mangrove swamp. Similarly, red mangroves in Guadeloupe lost as much as 75 percent of their surface area (80 percent of the biomass) after Hurricane Hugo (Imbert 2002). Haiti is considered especially susceptible to impacts from hurricanes because it lies on the primary pathway of tropical storms that originate in the Atlantic and strike Caribbean islands every hurricane season, and because it has low resilience due to the huge loss of forests and high degree of environmental degradation (Smucker et al. 2007).

To a certain extent, Caribbean ecosystems are adapted to these extreme storms, and they have been a driving force for evolutionary change. Consequently, in one sense these natural phenomena cannot be considered a threat except that the loss of resilience of biodiversity due to reduction in population sizes and fragmentation from human activities increases their impacts and the risk of extinction. Many species of montane forest trees depend on the gaps and landslides created by hurricanes for regeneration, which is reflected in the growth characteristics of the trees and the ecology of climax forest in these islands (Lugo 2008). However, the loss, fragmentation and degradation of natural habitats in the Caribbean islands, especially in the last 50 years, has reduced the resilience of the region’s remaining biodiversity to survive hurricanes and tropical storms, with species possessing small and often isolated populations (many threatened species) and specialist groups, such as montane nectar-feeding and fruit-/seed-eating birds (which may lose virtually all of their food sources from the storm), particularly at risk (Wunderle et al. 1992, Wiley and Wunderle 1993).

Hurricanes in the Caribbean are predicted to increase in intensity and possibly frequency under current climate change scenarios, addressed more fully in the next section of this report.

Human-Related Disturbance

The increase in the human population in the region, spread of agriculture and urban and tourism developments means that there are now few relatively undisturbed natural areas outside of protected areas and inaccessible mountain regions that are not subject to some form of human disturbance. Even within protected areas the growth in the numbers of visitors in recent years has led to degradation of vegetation and disturbance of fauna, due to carrying capacities being exceeded, such as along the Blue Mountain Peak trail in the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park (two key biodiversity areas) in Jamaica.

Fire is a major cause of human-induced disturbance in the Caribbean and is commonly used to clear land for agriculture and settlements, prepare sugar-cane fields for cutting, to "clean" undergrowth in forests and to encourage new growth in grassland and lightly wooded areas in the dry season for pasturage (FAO 2006b). Forest fires in the insular Caribbean mostly affect dry forest types, but even montane forests with higher rainfall will burn in exceptionally dry years (Robbins et al. 2008). Much of the vegetation of the Caribbean islands (such as in Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the Lesser Antilles) is not fire-adapted and is adversely affected by fire, and indeed conservation efforts to protect forests are often thwarted by deliberate setting of fires, even within protected areas and forest reserves, to convert them to grasslands or agricultural land. However, Bahamian (including Turks and Caicos), Hispaniolan and Cuban pine forests, several species of palm that form extensive savannas on Cuba, and some herbaceous wetland types and localities on these and other islands (e.g. Zapata Swamp on Cuba) have evolved with fire, and are fire-dependent for their continued existence in their present forms. Other species are indirectly dependent in fire. For instance, the primary nest tree (Colpothrinax wrightii) of the Cuban parrot (Amazona leucocephala) is a fire-adapted savanna palm. Consequently, fire is not only a threat in the region, but a critically important natural process in some systems and an important land-management tool with potential to be managed to minimize its negative or maximize its positive aspects (Myers et al. 2004a, b).

A Caribbean Fire Management Cooperation Strategy (FAO 2005) was developed between 2005 and 2006 under auspices of the FAO, which aims to strengthen Caribbean fire management networking by encouraging closer collaboration among countries with similar ecological conditions. The strategy for the Caribbean identifies a number of research, training and management activities to improve wildfire management capacity in the Caribbean.

Agricultural Expansion and Intensification

Large-scale clearance of land for agriculture, principally sugarcane plantations at lower elevations, started in the 16th century shortly after European colonization began and increased through the 18th and 19th centuries, leading to widespread deforestation throughout the region (the timber being used for building and fuel for the sugar factories). This led to destabilizing erosion, loss of some permanent streams and a decline in land fertility (McElroy et al. 1990). Some of the smaller islands, including Antigua, Barbados, the Bahamas, Bonaire, St. Kitts and Nevis, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, lost virtually all of their native forest at this time or have been completely altered by agricultural developments. For instance, most of Antigua’s land area—up to 92 percent—was under sugarcane cultivation for 300 years (the industry closed in the 1960s), virtually all trees on the island on Bonaire were removed by the early 19th century, and the deciduous and semi-deciduous forest that once covered Barbados was almost entirely cleared for cultivation (especially for sugarcane) within approximately 60 years of British settlement in 1627.

After the abolition of slavery, people dispersed into the areas surrounding the plantations and developed their own small plots, which led to further degradation of forests and wetlands. The later rise of new agricultural export markets led to further periods of intense deforestation. Recent threats to rainforest from agriculture come from extension of cocoa, coffee and tobacco plantations, such as for Blue Mountain coffee in Jamaica.

The abandonment of sugar and other major crops such as cotton on some islands due to changed economic conditions or a reduction in soil fertility often resulted in transformation to pasture and an increase of livestock production, especially cattle. Consequently, overgrazing has significantly altered the vegetation of many forest areas, leading to degraded scrub vegetation, and continues to be a threat to native vegetation, especially on those islands with significant numbers of free-roaming sheep and goats, such as Bonaire, Carriacou, Petit Martinique and St. Barts, and many offshore cays that have been traditionally used as natural corrals for goats. Unfortunately, agricultural expansion has resulted in unacceptable levels of cultivation and grazing on unsuitable land (Rojas et al. 1988) that has led to soil erosion, further land degradation and landslides that cause substantial economic losses each year and are especially damaging on steep islands with flat coastal plains such as Hispaniola and Jamaica (see Box 1).

Most of the Caribbean’s forests have been lost to agricultural development, and today no more than an estimated 23,000 km2 or approximately 10 percent of the original vegetation remains in a pristine state in the Caribbean Islands Hotspot (CI 2009). Cuba possesses the largest remaining tracts of forest in the Caribbean but these still represent only 24 percent of the original area (FAO 2006a, 2009) and a significant part of this comprises reforested land.

Box 1. A Tale of Two Countries – Forest Loss on Hispaniola
The lowland forests of Hispaniola were converted to sugarcane plantations between 1630 and the 1880s, which was followed by the destruction of montane forest as many freed slaves established themselves in the mountains following the abolition of slavery. However, even in 1925, Haiti was considered lush with 60 percent of its original forest cover, but since then the population, which is now more than 9 million, has cut down all but about 2 percent, with the largest remaining blocks being in the Massif de la Hotte and Massif de la Selle key biodiversity areas. In the process fertile farmland soils have been destroyed and there is severe erosion in the mountainous areas, which has led to land degradation with watercourses laden with sediment and erratic water flows with periodic (and often catastrophic) flooding in the lowlands. In addition, invasive species, such as molasses grass, have frequently taking over abandoned land. As a result, today Haiti is one of the most environmentally degraded countries in the world.

On the other side of the border, the Dominican Republic still has about 10 percent of its land forested, and it appears to have stabilized the rate of loss of its forests (FAO 2006a). However, its forests continue to be threatened. Its rain and cloud forests are subject to shifting (slash-and-burn) agriculture, and the remaining areas are fragmented and widely dispersed through the country, its dry forests have been altered considerably by charcoal production and very few pristine areas are left. The country’s remaining pine forests have also been subject to indiscriminate logging and clear-cutting. Furthermore, reforestation with exotic pine species provides an unsuitable habitat for native species and species diversity is generally poor.

Global statistics on forest cover are compiled by FAO every 10 years. The most recent figures (for 2005) indicate that the majority of the hotspot’s remaining forests are found in Cuba (2,713,000 hectares), the Dominican Republic (1,376,000 hectares), the Bahamas (515,000 hectares), Puerto Rico (408,000 hectares) and Jamaica (339,000 hectares) (FAO 2006). In the Lesser Antilles, there are regionally significant forest holdings on Guadeloupe (80,000 hectares), Dominica (46,000 hectares) and Martinique (46,000 hectares), although as in the case of the Greater Antilles, the best preserved tracts are at higher, less-accessible, elevations. Total forest cover of the insular Caribbean amounts to 5,747,000 hectares, or 26 percent of the land area (FAO 2006). The FAO figures show that forest cover is still declining in some of the hotspot countries (particularly Haiti and Jamaica), holding steady in others (particularly the Leeward Islands and Dominican Republic), and increasing in only a few (Cuba, Puerto Rico, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines). However, these conclusions need to be treated with caution, as there are differences between authorities on what constitutes “forest,” and no reliable systems of monitoring are in place in most Caribbean countries. For example, Jamaica’s Department of Forestry has published work contesting FAO’s figure and maintaining that the rate of loss of Jamaica’s forests during the 1990s was virtually negligible (Evelyn and Camirand 2003)

Although clearance for agriculture has been one of the greatest threats to native forests in the insular Caribbean, declines in some agricultural markets has led to the abandonment of degraded areas with an expansion of secondary forest, which often still has good biodiversity value and can be of critical importance for ecosystem services. Secondary forests provide important ecosystem services, with protection of watersheds and provision of water supply and fuelwood being particularly important in the Caribbean, and could potentially provide important opportunities for carbon capture as part of climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies. However, to date, forest conservation efforts have largely focused on the remaining areas of primary forest, and secondary forest areas and abandoned agricultural areas are frequently targeted by planners for development as they are perceived to have much less importance (Massol González et al. 2006).

Inappropriate land-use practices are unfortunately common in the region and the root cause of much erosion, pollution and sedimentation that threaten both the marine, as well as terrestrial, environment (Burke and Maidens 2004). Such practices and can also increase the likelihood of fires.

Extensive areas of freshwater wetland habitat in the Caribbean, such as marshes and ponds, have also been drained and reduced due to agricultural schemes or degraded through overgrazing by livestock, although accurate recent figures for the area of wetland lost do not exist. A survey of 220 Eastern Caribbean coastal wetlands (predominantly mangroves) between 1989 and 1991 revealed that virtually every site visited in the 16 islands showed evidence of damage, and more than 50 percent showed severe damage (Bacon 1993). In addition, uncontrolled development of aquaculture has resulted in loss and degradation of wetland habitats in some coastal areas, including coastal lagoons and mangroves in some countries.

Over-Exploitation of Natural Resources

The main activities that constitute threats in this category include unsustainable hunting and egg collecting, over-collection of wood for fuel, trapping of animals for the pet and aquarium trades, collection of plants for horticulture and timber extraction. A full list of which species are exploited is not available and there have been no regional overviews. Furthermore, quantitative data on many of these activities are scarce in part because exploitation is often illegal and not adequately monitored due to lack of resources in the relevant agencies. Consequently, it is difficult to gauge the true impact of these activities relative to other threats, but they are considered significant for some species.


Many species of animal are hunted for food or sport in the region. Species hunted for food (or for sale as food) include many threatened species of amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Amphibians include the globally threatened mountain chicken on Dominica and Montserrat; reptiles include marine turtles (especially adult females and eggs), and iguanas (Haiti, Dominican Republic and the Lesser Antilles); and mammals include hutias (Capromyidae). Many species of birds are hunted for food, particularly waterbirds and game birds, including threatened species such as West Indian whistling-duck (Dendrocygna arborea). Hunting of birds for sport, especially pigeons and doves, such as white-winged dove (Zenaida asiatica) and Zenaida dove (Zenaida aurita) in the Greater Antilles, is popular on many islands, but unfortunately some target species that can be legally hunted in some countries are becoming scarcer, such as. the white-crowned pigeon (Patagioenas leucocephala).

Egg Collecting and Harvesting for Medicinal Properties

Seabird colonies on offshore cays throughout the Caribbean have also been traditionally harvested for their eggs by fishermen during the breeding season, and, although most colonies are now protected under national legislation, illegal egg collecting still occurs. On Hispaniola, the sooty tern colony at Isla Alto Velo was estimated at 175,000 pairs in 1950 but had dropped to 40-50,000 pairs by 1980, which has been explained by systematic large-scale egg robbing by humans (Keith 2009). Egg collecting still occurred on islets off Grenada in the early 1990s and still occurs in the Grenadines (Frost et al. 2009). The collection of sea turtle eggs is intensive and pervasive throughout the Caribbean Islands Hotspot. Some islands report egg poaching levels approaching 100 percent on some beaches. The exploitation is largely unquantified, and its impact on turtle populations is impossible to judge (Bräutigam and Eckert 2006).

Some threatened or endemic animals are also shot or collected for medicinal use. These include the rufous-breasted cuckoo (Hyetornis rufigularis) on Hispaniola and the clouded boa or “tete-chiens” (Boa onstrictor nebulosus) on Dominica, which is collected by locals who believe the fat under the skin, used to make “snake oil,” helps cure joint problems and back ache. Medicinal oil is obtained from leatherback turtles in several Caribbean islands (J. Horrocks in litt. 2009).

Timber Extraction

Originally, hardwood was used to construct ships (and Carib communities on Dominica still cut large hardwood trees for canoes), homes and furniture by the early colonists, and the rest of the forest was treated as a source of fuelwood and then burned for plantations. Today, few of the islands have any significant primary forest cover, and a number of species that were once common and heavily traded are now commercially exhausted. These include Caribbean mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni), which has been lost from portions of its range with its old growth stands virtually eliminated and is now listed as Endangered and restricted in international commercial trade under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Because of its value, this species was introduced elsewhere and has now become naturalized on many islands. Other economically valuable timber species in the Caribbean Islands include walnut (Juglans jamaicensis) (listed as Vulnerable), West Indian ebony (Brya ebenus) and poui (Tabebuia heterophylla). Illegal logging threatens commercial forest concessions and critical protected areas and buffer zones.

Firewood Collection and Charcoal Production

Because energy infrastructure in rural areas of the poorer countries in the hotspot is still poorly developed, communities in these areas rely heavily on fuelwood and charcoal from neighboring forested areas, including mangroves. In Haiti, fuelwood provides the main source of household energy charcoal and fuelwood currently provide 75 percent of Haiti’s energy consumption (Smucker et al. 2007), and 80 percent of wood extracted in Jamaica is ultimately consumed as fuelwood (FAO 2001). A range of approaches have been tried to address this problem. Cuba, for instance, has long suffered from an intermittent energy crisis, but daily 16-hour electricity cuts in 2004 encouraged the government to pursue a policy of energy conservation drives, a review of the electricity grid and increased use of solar and wind power, which is likely to have had a knock-on effect of reducing the demand for fuelwood from native forests.

It is recognized that addressing the lack of energy sources for poorer rural communities can help reduce fuelwood collection and take pressure off the remaining forests and its threatened biodiversity. In the Dominican Republic, for instance, a government policy of subsidizing propane gas and cooking stoves was set in place in the mid-1980s, which helped reduce the consumption of wood for charcoal used for cooking by most of the population, from 1,596,000 sacks in 1982 to 26,465 sacks in 2000 (Gomez 2001). More recently, there have been efforts to promote energy efficient wood-burning stoves in the Dominican Republic.

In some countries, such as Haiti, cutting of mangroves for charcoal and firewood has become more common as more traditional and accessible timber reserves have become exhausted. Unfortunately, loss of mangrove forests makes the coast more vulnerable to erosion from storms, and destroys essential nursery areas of many commercially important fisheries and coral reef species, such as lobster and parrotfish (CEP 2003, Mumby et al. 2004). Mangroves also buffer the near-shore marine environment from many land-based impacts, such as nutrients, pollution and sediments. While awareness of their ecological importance has increased considerably during the past 20 years and appropriate management measures have been introduced, mangrove forest continues to be lost.

Collection of Non-Timber Forest Products

Non-wood forest products, such as fruits, fibers, resins, tannins, essential oils, tree seeds, honey, fodder, yam and bean poles, ornamental plants, tree fern trunks (for cultivation of orchids), bamboo, medicinal plants, spices, edible oils, dyestuffs, gums and mushrooms are often said to be an important part of the rural economy, especially for poorer families, but their value—socially and economically—has not been quantified and is only partially documented for some countries, e.g. Cuba and in the Windward Islands (John 2005). Cuba, for instance, lists production of 1,474t of raw material for medicine and aromatic products, 68t of raw material for colorants and dyes, and 18,400t of other non-edible animal products harvested from its forests in 2005 (FAO 2006). Collection of some non-timber forest products is known to be taking place at unsustainable levels or using destructive practices. In Haiti, bois gras is harvested by slashing the trunk of a mature pine under conditions of heavy sap production and collecting the sap-laden chips for kindling. This kindling is sold primarily to urban households to start charcoal cooking fires. The tree is left standing but vulnerable to disease, fire and strong winds. Bois gras harvesting is a direct consequence of poverty and demographic change, and is leading to forest resource degradation, particularly in the key biodiversity areas of Massif de la Hotte and Massif de la Selle.

Collection for Live Animal and Plant Trade

Collecting for the pet, aquarium and horticultural trades, both local and international, is also believed to present a direct threat to some species in the hotspot particularly for the more attractive and rarer (so more commercially valuable) species, such as parrots, iguanas, orchids, bromeliads and cacti. Unfortunately, trade statistics for local markets are not generally kept (and protected species tend to be sold clandestinely) and most of the countries in the hotspot have not submitted recent annual and biannual reports on trade to CITES (exceptions being Barbados, Cuba, Jamaica and St. Lucia). As a result, national and international trade statistics for animals and plants are not comprehensive for the Caribbean.

A 2006 survey carried out by TRAFFIC found more than 23,000 items made from Critically Endangered hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricate) for sale. A February 2009 revisit to the same locations revealed a dramatic reduction with only 135 shell items (more than 99 percent withdrawn), which has been attributed to a widespread government-led action launched in November 2008. The Dominican Republic has encouraged the trade of alternative products, such as cow horn or bone, to present an alternative to shops trading in these turtle products.

Despite protection under national and international legislation, small numbers of threatened species continue to surface in markets outside the region. For instance, several specimens of St. Lucia amazon (Amazona versicolor) and Cuban amazon (Amazona leucocephala) have been reported in EU countries in recent years despite both being EU Annex-A/CITES Appendix-I listed (Anon. 2002 quoted in Theile et al. (2004). There has also been concern over illegal trade in the U.S., U.K., French and Dutch overseas territories in the region. However, the scale of illegal smuggling of Caribbean wildlife is not known.

Mining and Energy Production


Extensive loss of natural habitats has also occurred due to mining activities in some countries. This is most notable on Jamaica, where significant areas, particularly native forest, have been lost in central parts of the country to bauxite mining and limestone quarrying, and further largely pristine tracts of wet limestone forest are threatened.

Bauxite/aluminum is Jamaica’s principal mineral export and accounts for around 10 percent of GDP and Jamaica is the third largest producer of bauxite in the world after Australia and Guinea. Deposits underlie around one quarter of the island’s surface. Unfortunately, bauxite mining is considered to be one of the most significant reasons behind deforestation in Jamaica. The open-cast mining operations not only destroy forest and other surface habitats but also cause caustic soda contamination of water courses impacting freshwater biodiversity, and air pollution due to bauxite and alumina dust. In recent years there has been particular concern about the expansion of Jamaica’s bauxite industry into the Cockpit Country, which supports the largest remaining area of intact wet limestone forest in Jamaica. Cockpit Country is the major aquifer for central-western Jamaica. Bauxite mining also occurs in Cuba and Hispaniola, although nickel, cobalt, iron and copper from Holguin province are Cuba’s main mining products.

The region’s mining industries have a patchy record of meeting their requirements to “restore” lands devastated by mining (and governments have a similarly poor record of enforcing the penalties for failure to do so), and environmental impact assessments are little more than paper exercises in many countries. Moreover, restoration attempts have not been very successful in repopulating areas with native species (common, widespread, usually weedy species tend to dominate), and, given the long history of mining in the region and continued importance of the mining sector to the national economies of some of the high-biodiversity countries, ecological restoration of mine workings remains a priority.

Apart from direct damage, mining activities in the Caribbean have also opened up the access to previously remote areas, which has led to movement of people into these areas and increased small-scale agricultural developments, especially slash-and-burn agriculture, illegal hunting, collection of fuelwood and production of charcoal.

There has also been an increase in illegal extraction of gravel from riverbeds and sand from beaches for the construction of hotels, resorts and residential houses, practices which are common and widespread in the Caribbean islands. Apart from destroying turtle and seabird nesting areas and unique littoral fauna and flora communities, beach sand mining causes sedimentation, and disturbs the hydrology, which has negative impacts on neighboring coral reefs and other marine ecosystems. Unfortunately, these activities tend to be localized and small-scale and are difficult to monitor and police, although their cumulative impact is thought to be significant.

Energy Production

The insular Caribbean relies heavily on imported petroleum for its energy (90 percent of all energy used) and there are no significant coal deposits on the islands. Wind (e.g. in Barbados), hydro (in Dominica, Dominican Republic and St. Vincent) and solar energy are seen as potential alternative sources of energy. Installation of such energy farms does involve a certain amount of habitat destruction. Wind farms may represent a threat to bats and both migratory and resident birds, which may be vulnerable to injury and death from wind turbines blades. Consequently, the siting of future wind facilities is critical and needs to ensure that thorough environmental impact assessments are undertaken in all cases. For example, a proposed wind farm in the Karso del Sur Important Bird Area in Puerto Rico could destroy 5 percent of the global population of the Critically Endangered Puerto Rican nightjar (Caprimulgus noctitherus) because of accidental collisions with the wind turbines.


The main sources of pollution in the insular Caribbean are sewage and wastewater from urban sources (often untreated or insufficiently treated), excessive pesticide and nutrient additives from agricultural activity, discharges and accidents involving heavy metals and oils from industrial facilities, and dumping of solid waste from a variety of sources in mangroves, drainage channels, rivers and other wetlands. Eutrophication is also caused by the disposal of large quantities of waste from sugarcane extraction on some islands, which is dumped into drains and rivers. Waste management and disposal capability is very limited in the insular Caribbean countries, and as a result, pollution of coastal areas is a major threat to coastal biodiversity. Waste management is considered to be one of the major environmental issues in the CARICOM region (CARICOM Secretariat 2003).

Figures for overall pollution loads of soils and rivers in the region are not available due to inadequate monitoring on most islands, and their impact on terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity is poorly known, so it is difficult to evaluate how serious this threat is in relation to other threats. Much more research has been focused on the impact of pollution on the marine environment, where municipal, industrial and agricultural wastes and run-off account for as much as 90 percent of all marine pollution in the region (CEP 2003, Heileman and Corbin 2006). Pollution is also recognized as having significant socioeconomic impacts in the region, including on human health (UNEP 2004a, b).

Geological Events

There are about 30 active or potentially active volcanoes in the Lesser Antilles (volcanic activity no longer affects the northern part of the region directly) but major events in the last 100 years have only taken place on the major peaks of Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Vincent, and most recently on Montserrat, although the eruption on Martinique in 1902 was responsible for the extinction of an endemic rodent Megalomys demarestii. Following a major eruption, the vegetation takes several decades to return to an appearance of normality. Interestingly, the vegetation close to permanent active fumaroles and sulfur springs, such as on Montserrat, Dominica and St. Lucia, is specialized and limited to a few sulfur-tolerant species such as Clusia and Pitcairnia.

Root Causes and Barriers

There is a complex mix of interacting socioeconomic, political, cultural and environmental factors and driving environmental change and threatening biodiversity in the insular Caribbean. Principal among these are increasing population and material consumption, poverty and inequitable access to resources, the inherent economic and environmental vulnerability of the islands to external forces such as changes in global trade regimes, and climate change. Some of these, such as poverty, are local or national issues, whilst others, such as climate change, require attention at the global level to solve. All these drivers can be either exacerbated or mitigated by public policies and institutional arrangements, at national, regional and international levels. The following section presents a brief overview of these major root causes and barriers.

Root Causes

Population Growth and Movements

At a fundamental level, many trends affecting biodiversity and ecosystems in the insular Caribbean are a reflection of the limited land available for an ever-increasing number of users. The Caribbean islands have some of the highest population densities in the world. The current population stands at around 38.4 million (mid-2007 figure) and the population of most countries in the region is expected to increase over the coming decades to around 44 million in 2025 and over 48 million in 2050 (Population Reference Bureau 2008), with some countries facing a substantial population rise, e.g. Haiti (see Section: Demographic Trends). These increases are due to both natural population growth and inter- and intra-country migration but the significance of these vary between countries.

All countries are witnessing rapid rates of urbanization and migration from rural to urban areas, resulting in increased demands for natural resources, particularly for water and energy, and land for building, with increased problems associated with waste management and sanitation. These demographic changes have increased the concentration of people in ecologically sensitive areas, particularly coastal zones and mountain slopes, and led to severe environmental degradation in some countries (see Box 2). The islands’ relatively high population densities also mean that there is the potential for conflict over scarce resources, especially over land (as well as water in the drier islands), particularly in the coastal zone.

Rapid Economic Growth and Increasing Consumption

Along with increasing populations, many countries in the region have seen a rise in GDP and average incomes in recent decades with the rise of a middle class that has generated demand for developed world goods and lifestyles. Along with increased trade (which has increased the incidence and risk of introduction of invasive alien species), this has led to increased pressure on land for housing and urban development, and environmental services, particularly for energy and freshwater. In the case of water, particularly reliable provision of clean water, demand is exceeding the natural supply capacity, caused in part by the huge needs of the agricultural and tourism sectors, and by a reduction in supply, quality and reliability as a result of upper watershed forest conversion, pollution and soil erosion. Agriculture is the largest consumer of water in the Caribbean, and accounts for more than 90 percent of the total water used in Haiti. The tourism sector also consumes enormous amounts of water, however, the countries that experience the highest rates of water scarcity (the low limestone islands of the eastern Caribbean where rainfall is highly seasonal (Heileman, 2005)) are also among the most attractive for mass tourism. By international standards, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis are already considered “water-scarce” countries (a water supply below 1,000 m3 per capita per year, UNEP 2008). Changes in rainfall pattern and pronounced periods of localized drought associated with climate change are expected to only increase water stress.

Poverty and Inequity

Apart from Haiti, the Caribbean islands are all middle- to high-income countries. However, there are high levels of economic inequity in some countries. Poor people in the Caribbean often depend directly on natural resources, but are frequently forced to use them unsustainably because of immediate survival needs. Consequently, poverty is considered a root cause of biodiversity and ecosystem loss and degradation on many of the islands.

Lack of legal ownership of, and access to, land and resources are two of the key determinants of poverty in the Caribbean. In addition, poor groups and individuals are often displaced or dispossessed by existing power structures and vested interests. Control over natural resources and their use has been, and remains, in the hands of the wealthy and powerful, including governments. Consequently, poor farmers and the rural communities have few alternatives to cutting down the remaining forests and growing subsistence crops on marginal erosion-prone lands or overexploit other natural resources for food and to earn essential cash for their short-term survival. Lacking technical support, agricultural practices on hillsides tend to be poor, resulting in low yields, increased soil erosion and disruption of hydrological systems (most dramatically demonstrated in Haiti, although the problem exists throughout the region), which after a short period leads to further demand for land with additional clearance of forests and other natural habitats. Furthermore, a lack of or unclear property rights acts as a disincentive to invest in sustainable land management practices. Given their reliance on biodiversity and ecosystem services, those most hurt by environmental degradation are usually the rural poor themselves.

Box 2. Population and Land Degradation in Haiti
Many of Haiti’s rural poor population depend on subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods, and population pressure has led to an expansion of agricultural lands, notably for slash and burn agriculture, with the loss of a significant proportion of the country’s native forest. With the increased population, Haiti has gone from more than 670 people/ km2 of arable land in 1987 to more than 961 people per square km of arable land, which is the highest density pressure on arable land in the Western Hemisphere. Unfortunately, because of soil and climatic conditions, only 11.3 percent of Haiti’s land area offers the potential for high agricultural yields and these productive lands (usually plains – 63 percent of Haiti has slopes of more than 20 percent) are often under-utilized or are lost because of residential development (frequently slum sprawl) or salinization. As a result, a high percentage of less productive cultivated lands are being used beyond their carrying capacity, resulting in a relentless process of land degradation. It is estimated that the equivalent of 6,000 hectares of all types of arable land is lost each year to erosion, an annual decline of 3 percent (Ehrlich et al. 1987). Also forest areas attract peasants from other regions in search of land, which is leading to degradation of forest resources. These represent the primary source of energy for Haitian people but less than 2 percent of its forest is now left and harvesting is continuing at an unsustainable rate. There are increasing numbers of encroachments, even within the Massif de la Selle and Massif de la Hotte key biodiversity areas, leading to their degradation. Extracted from Swartley and Toussaint (2006).

Policies and Incentives that Damage the Environment

With the exception of Cuba, governments in the Caribbean have followed the dominant (non-sustainable) global economic models, through policies based on export-orientated development, especially for agriculture, and, in recent years, provision of services, especially in the tourism and financial sectors. These development policies have failed to integrate conservation and resource management considerations in a systematic and participatory way. Associated with these policies have been economic incentives/subsidies, grants and financial arrangements to favored sectors, such as reduced tariffs on water and electricity, tax exemptions on investments and exports, subsidized prices on imported fertilizers and pesticides, and construction of transport and communication infrastructure to facilitate development, that have encouraged non-sustainable natural resource extraction and environmental degradation. For instance, government policy in many countries has been to expand tourism as a means of generating jobs and foreign exchange, and external investment has been pursued with developers frequently given favorable terms.

Dependency, Isolation and Inherent Vulnerability

The Caribbean islands, like other Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) worldwide, share a number of natural and anthropogenic features that make them particularly vulnerable to impacts from a wide range of internal and external forces that can threaten biodiversity and natural environments and constrain the pursuit of sustainable development (Griffith and Ashe 1993, Kaly et al. 2002).

Because of their small size, insularity and characteristics of their natural resource base, most countries are dependent on trade and external sources of energy, and consequently are exposed to external and global changes in trade and markets. For instance, many of the islands have traditionally been mono-crop economies, relying on preferential trade arrangements for their main exports. Some governments have sought to reduce dependence on monoculture agriculture by promoting agricultural diversification, however, there has been concern in some countries at the rates at which natural forests are cleared in response to the diversification thrust. Commercial barriers for Caribbean island exports to North America and Europe have increased in recent years, and the region's export markets have been threatened by large trade arrangements such as the North American Free Trade Association and the Economic Partnership Agreement and preferential markets, such as for bananas and rum, have been lost.

Many countries also have high levels of external debt but small taxable populations, which presents a challenge to their long-term economic viability. Their openness to external influences also makes them susceptible to diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, and alien invasive species. The islands are also vulnerable due to their ecological uniqueness and environmental fragility, and high susceptibility to natural disasters and global climate-related change. Preliminary classifications from the SIDS environmental vulnerability index, which measures ecological fragility and economic vulnerability, shows that 17 of the countries/territories can be classified as extremely vulnerable to highly vulnerable, four as vulnerable, and one as at risk, while none can be said to be resilient (see Table 11).

Table 11. Vulnerability of Some Insular Caribbean Countries According to the SOPAC Environmental Vulnerability Index
Extremely Vulnerable Highly Vulnerable Vulnerable At Risk Resilient
U.K. Virgin
U.S. Virgin

Cayman Islands*
Dominican Republic
Netherlands Antilles*
Puerto Rico*
St.Kitts and Nevis*
St.Vincent and the
Antigua and
Turks and

Bahamas* None
  • Environmental Vulnerability Index trends for countries that are data deficient.
  • Data from www.vulnerabilityindex.net/ (accessed 5 June 2009) and see Kaly et al. (2005a,b).

  • Global Climate Change

    Climate change is expected to become a major driver of environmental change in the Caribbean, and indeed it is already having substantial impacts (Magrin et al. 2007). Climate change is treated more fully in the next section of this report.

    Barriers to Biodiversity Conservation

    There are a number of constraints that need to be overcome to address the environmental threats outlined above and achieve more effective conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services. The main ones discussed during the national workshops and consultations for this profile include poor land-use planning, limited capacity and lack of awareness of biodiversity and ecosystem services (particularly their value) among decisionmakers and the general public (see Table 12).

    Poor Land-use Planning

    Because many environmental problems and risks either derive from or are exacerbated by the pattern of human land use, the quality of urban and rural planning is often of critical importance for achieving environmental sustainability. On the small islands of the Caribbean with their dense coastal populations, inappropriate land use can have much more significant impacts on the environment than in larger states, and there is less room for error in land-use planning and management (Griffith and Ashe 1993). Land-use planning for agriculture, tourism, industry, forestry and urban development is still largely confined to their own sectors in the region with little consideration of the impacts of these plans on other economic sectors or the environment.

    Integrated land-use plans are uncommon in the insular Caribbean, and there are cases where such plans have been blocked. In addition, although the locations of many key biodiversity and ecosystem services sites have been identified through surveys and mapping exercises in recent years, this information is still not fully integrated into decisionmaking in planning processes, consequently ecologically important sites are still targeted for inappropriate developments.

    Limited Capacity and Financial Resources

    Although Caribbean island governments have made significant efforts to build institutional and individual capacity (in terms of staffing and financial resources) in the areas of biodiversity conservation, waste management, integrated watershed management, and climate change and disaster mitigation over the last two decades, the lack of adequate capacity remains and continues to be recognized as a major barrier to achieving effective environmental management and sustainable development. The need for capacity building within the ministries of environment around the region was highlighted as a major issue at the 7th Meeting of the OECS Ministers of Environment Policy Committee in 2003.

    Table 12. Prioritized Barriers to Conservation in the Caribbean Islands Hotspot
    BARRIERS Average Prioritization Score
    (on a scale from 1–4)
    Poor Land-Use Planning 3.8
    Limited Capacity, Financial Resources 3.4
    Lack of Awareness 3.3
    Lack of Political Support 3.2
    Weak, Ineffective Policy, Legislation 3.1
    Inefficient Institutional Organization 3.1
    Inadequate Participation in Decisions 2.9
    Limited Information, Availability 2.8
    Language, Culture 1.2
    Note: Barriers were scored from 1 (insignificant barrier) to 4 (highly significant national barrier), for each of a broad cross-section of Caribbean countries (Haiti, Dominican republic, Jamaica, Bahamas and 4 Lesser Antillean nations). The average of these scores is presented as a “Caribbean” score.

    Most of the island states have populations of less than 1 million people with small pools of skilled labor and very limited government budgets for spending on the environment sector, which seriously constrains capacity building efforts. This has a particular impact on staffing in government agencies. Individuals frequently seek higher education outside of the region due to limited opportunities for training in natural resource management and biodiversity conservation at universities in the Caribbean, often in the United States or Canada where many chose to remain due to better salaries and career development opportunities. If they do return, many then enter the private sector or seek employment in unrelated but higher salaried professions in the financial or legal sectors. Consequently, a “brain drain” from the Caribbean and staff retention by government agencies remain important issues affecting capacity. Even on the larger islands, the size of government environmental departments, in terms of manpower and financial resources allocated to them, is not sufficient.

    A number of initiatives to assess capacity needs have been undertaken in the Caribbean in the last 10 years, principally supported through donor programs and projects. These include the GEF-funded National Capacity Self Assessments (NCSA), which have placed particular emphasis on identifying needs to meet obligations under the three Rio Conventions, and have been prepared for Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Jamaica, and St.Kitts and Nevis, with other countries at various stages in the process (Barbados is at the inception stage, Cuba and Haiti are engaged on the thematic analysis, and St.Lucia is completing its Action Plan). The need for capacity building is also highlighted in many of the NBSAPs, NEAPs, national protected area gap analyses, and other national strategies and plans. Protected area management is also highlighted as generally weak in the Caribbean, which despite considerable investment in recent years by governments and external donors are still under resourced and many continue to be considered as little more than “paper parks” and threatened by invasions and illegal activities, as patrolling and enforcement actions are deficient. For instance, only 10 of the Dominican Republic’s national parks have management plans (including the key biodiversity areas of Armando Bermudez National Park, Loma Quita Espuela, and Jaragua National Park), and only six of these have had some degree of implementation.

    However, perhaps the biggest capacity issue is the lack of staff and resource among agencies tasked with the monitoring, surveillance and enforcement of existing national legislation and regulations governing biodiversity conservation and environmental management (such as monitoring and enforcing compliance with EIAs and planning restrictions), particularly given the continuing pressures from tourism, urban and industrial development in the region. Indeed in several countries (for example, Jamaica), policy and legislation is viewed as largely adequate but lack of enforcement and monitoring, as well as poor coordination between agencies, undermines the implementation of the law.

    Lack of Awareness of Importance of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

    As well as lack of knowledge, there is a poor awareness and limited understanding of the ecological, economic, social and cultural values of biodiversity, costs of its loss and its critical importance to human wealth and well-being among decisionmakers and the general public in the Caribbean. Even in relatively developed countries, such as Puerto Rico, the level of public awareness on local biodiversity is low. Some governments are taking a longer-term strategy with an emphasis on improving coverage of environmental issues in the national school curriculum. Barbados, for instance, has introduced environment and development concerns into teacher-training programs, while environmental education is an integrated part of primary- and secondary-level school curricula in the Bahamas. These initiatives will, in the long run, increase the proportion of the population with environmental awareness and interest, leading to a greater call for environmental issues to be properly addressed, and an increase in the overall pool of individuals with the technical skills required for biodiversity conservation.

    Lack of Political Support

    Although there have been a number of important regional environmental agreements, commitment among high-level decisionmakers is still not often translated into the necessary political support for biodiversity conservation. Short-term and frequently shifting national economic and political interests often take precedence over long-term local social and environmental impacts. This lack of political will is evidenced by continuing permission for destructive developments in ecologically sensitive areas, usually the result of strong lobbying by vested economic interests, especially the industrialists and land developers, who argue that environmental protection costs and safeguards will reduce international competitiveness.

    Weak and Ineffective Policy and Legislation

    Although there has been good progress on updating and harmonizing environmental policy and legislation in many states in the region in recent years, this process is still incomplete. For instance, legislation for private reserve establishment and co-management of protected areas is non-existent in most countries in the Caribbean. Also, while a few countries, such as Barbados and the French départements and U.S. territories have legislation specifically dealing with the coastal zone, many countries have no special instruments for regulating development in this ecologically critical area. Furthermore, there has been limited integration of biodiversity conservation and sustainable environmental management objectives into non-environment sector policy and legislation, and relatively little coverage in development and sector plans. Policy and legislation needs to be particularly tightened to better protect threatened species and protected areas (e.g. on Jamaica lack of clarity on definitions of protected areas hinders effective regulation).

    In some cases, laws do not have clear regulations that provide guidance to developers, which is exacerbated by inadequate environmental codes and standards for land development, buildings, resource utilization, and waste treatment and disposal, which limits the ability of government authorities to enforce environmental protection. Furthermore, individual developments often taken place without adequate assessment of their impact on local environment and resources or knowledge of environmental carrying capacity.

    Inefficient Institutional Frameworks, Networks and Collaboration

    Previous assessments have also identified a number of weaknesses in institutional frameworks and operation that constrain the effectiveness of environmental management. Chief among these is that management authority for environment is frequently split between ministries and other statutory bodies and often responsibilities overlap or are unclear. This is exacerbated by a lack of institutional mechanisms for coordination and collaboration. The lack of coordination and collaboration between governments and nongovernmental groups is paralleled by insufficient inter-donor collaboration at a national level. This has been identified as a significant issue in, for example, Haiti (Smucker et al. 2007) where heightened inter-donor collaboration at policy levels as well as the targeting of field interventions was seen as a critical need.

    The prevalent view of the environment as a niche issue is reflected in the lack of integration of environmental objectives into broader sector policies and programs, which is partly a reflection of poor understanding of the linkages between biodiversity and ecosystem services and local livelihoods, employment and national economies among decisionmakers in non-environment sectors. This gives rise to politically weak and under-funded environment agencies and biodiversity conservation policy still being seen as incompatible with and restricting development policy, despite the presence of national sustainable development strategies in many countries that highlight the importance of biodiversity. However, attitudes toward the environment at senior level do seem to be changing, due to the increasing awareness and international profile of the impact of climate change, which is having a real effect in the Caribbean.

    Inadequate Public Participation in Decision-making Processes

    National and local governance frameworks for environmental planning and management vary greatly from country to country, but governments are generally highly centralized with often high levels of state control, especially in the smaller island states (Cuba as well). Although most recent national policy frameworks include provisions for private sector and public stakeholder participation in environment and development decisionmaking, such as National Sustainable Development Councils, and stakeholder participation is promoted under many regional and international initiatives in which Caribbean governments participate (Agenda 21 and the Barbados Programme of Action for Sustainable Development in Small Island Developing States encourage stakeholder participation in sustainable development processes), government consultation processes have been criticized for being largely “cosmetic” in many countries, with involvement of public stakeholders only at the end of processes when decisions have essentially already been made (CANARI, 2005). Consequently, there is a clear need to improve civil society participation in environmental decisionmaking and governance. The benefits of public involvement in decisionmaking are well documented (Borrini-Feyerabend et al. 2004).

    Limited Technical and Scientific Knowledge and Poor Availability of Information Needed for Effective Decisionmaking

    Although the Caribbean countries have shown major improvement in research and assessment of their living natural resources in recent years, considerable gaps in baseline data still exist and there is a often a lack of accurate, up-to-date information which limits effective evidence-based decisionmaking for biodiversity conservation, the ability to prepare effective land-use plans, EIAs and environmental monitoring, and complicates the enforcement of regulations. Information is also frequently scattered and difficult to access and with poor coordination/linkage between databases (even within governments), although there are some good regional reviews and attempts have been made to overcome some of these problems through the creation of national Clearing House Mechanisms (see www.cbd.int/chm/network/?tab=3) for biodiversity data under the CBD and regional data-gathering programs such as the Inter-American Biodiversity Information Network (www.iabin.net/).
    Document: The Caribbean Islands Ecosystem Profile, January 2010
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