The Caribbean region is characterized by an enormous ecological, cultural, political and economic diversity. Insular and coastal ecosystems are predominant. High biodiversity and a great variety of landforms and habitats is also marked by by high population densities, especially in the Insular Caribbean.
Caribbean economies are strongly dependent on natural resources and while tourism, in addition to mining and oil exploration, represents a major income source, there are significant impacts of these activities on the environment.
Main threats and challenges
Excessive resource exploitation, such as overfishing, puts pressure on natural resources. Caribbean coral reefs are threatened by climate change, including rising sea levels and temperatures. Invasive alien species are a widespread threat to native biodiversity.
Present environmental degradation is aggravated by unsustainable consumption patterns, increased demand for environmental goods and services, demographic change towards high population density in environmentally sensitive areas such as coastal zones, and ecosystem fragmentation.
Language barriers and limited conservation experience and skills present difficulties for project implementation, as do a lack of regional cooperation and institutional coordination. Most institutions in the region are constrained by lack of staff and resources.
Protected areas in the Caribbean region
Less than seven percent of the islands and waters of the Caribbean are protected. Protected area networks have developed unevenly in the region and are incomplete, with some countries, having major gaps.
Establishment of marine protected areas has focused on coral reefs and mangroves, with important seagrass ecosystems being underrepresented. Public knowledge of the value of protected areas is inadequate, and their economic benefits are not being realized sufficiently. Institutions involved with protected areas are usually small, understaffed, and under-trained.
Lack of experience at the institutional and individual level is another issue, stemming from the fact that many protected areas were established only recently. This stands in stark contrast to the extremely complex ecological, social and economic challenges that protected area managers face. Major conflicts often occur within marine protected areas between the fish and tourism industries, particularly between fisher folk and divers.